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BTC: Before we move on


 

Just thinking this through.

So let’s say we’re deciding that the plagiarism of John Howard (and now Mike Harris) doesn’t matter because Stephen Harper didn’t write the speech. If that’s case, do any of Stephen Harper’s speeches, assuming almost all of them are at least partially written by someone else, matter? 

If he takes none of the blame, can he receive any of the credit? That doesn’t seem possible. Or rational. So are we collectively making some sort of post-modern decision that political speeches no longer matter? And is that a really enlightened point of view? Or a sign of profound apathy?


 

BTC: Before we move on

  1. I think speeches matter. Everybody expects political leaders to have speechwriters. But copying someone else’s speech, line by line, para by para, is just a tad over the line.

    At least they haven’t found any of his speeches as PM with external grafts, probably because he no longer writes his own speeches :-)

  2. Aaron, I guess the equivocation being used by the apologists is that he doesn’t write the speeches, and therefore didn’t plagiarize, but does agree with the content, and therefore claim the ideas are his. I’m not entirely sure what to make of it.

    Shouldn’t our Prime Minister be more than a parrot?

  3. This is ridiculous. We’re talking about 3 sentences in the middle of a speech.

    For Christ’s sake, this is not university. I have no problem with some speechwriter borrowing a line or two from other speeches.

    Any one of us in our jobs who have to write documents of some kind…how many of you have never lifted a line or two of material from other documents in your workplace? Anyone?

    And Canadian Press now has a MAJOR story about how Harper once accepted a pair of cowboy boots from Bush.

    Is this what our media has come to? Is this what they think is important???

  4. “And Canadian Press now has a MAJOR story about how Harper once accepted a pair of cowboy boots from Bush.”

    This would be a major story only if (a) these boots were worn by Bush,(b) if Harper kissed them on bended knees, and (c) if it has Muntean-applied lipstick on them.

  5. If you read the whole CP story, you’ll see that the issue is not that Harper received cowboy boots from Harper, but that he took months to report the gift, in violation of HARPER’S own legislation.

    The issue is Harper’s hyprocricy, of which there is enough to fuel many news stories.

  6. “If he takes none of the blame, can he receive any of the credit?”

    When, if ever, has he received credit for a speech from this blogger?

  7. I don’t think the words of political speeches matter. Never have. Do you consciously place votes based on eloquence rather than policy?

    Harper’s Howard-based speech was important insofar as it said “I think we should invade Iraq”. The phrasing was window dressing.

  8. Looking back at this election, I suspect the big loser (aside from Dion) will be the Media.

    They told us a cartoon bird “overshadowed” all other issues (the word was Paul Wells’),

    Three lines of a five year old speech was important, IMPORTANT (editorialization was applied liberally – excuse the pun – to “make the case” as to why it was a really big deal

    A single line of black humor in a private meeting, dominated headlines

    add in the dreaded squeeze of the daughter’s arm, and now the cowboy boots (and no it was obviously an attempt to link Harper to Bush, not a fifty dollar expense issue – let’s try and keep some honesty here),

    and yet Harper will win, and likely will win big.

    What’s remarkable is that with each successive “gotcha” moment the media tried to overplay, and which failed miserably, was met with another, even more frivolous yet headline grabbing story.

    Any business, media included, that assumes that its customers are ignorant fools who can be manipulated as desired, will not long survive.

    P.S. is it any wonder that one of the favorite lines in the debate highlighted by the press the next day, was the cheap shot, immature and completely irrelevant references to Harper’s sweater?

  9. I think what we’re talking about is accountability for words and actions and why it is such a rare commodity.
    The honourable losers we admire in retrospect.
    Stanfield, Clark, Broadbent, maybe Dion.
    Do we see them as honourable because they were losers or as losers because they were honourable?
    Harper is not honourable. Even his admirers seem to fear him a bit. Yet we let so much slide because apparently he’s clever and does whatever because he can do whatever.
    Much the same applied to Chretien and Trudeau who we see as winners.
    Apparently to be winner you have to be an asshole.

  10. I don’t think highlighting the bizarre lack of a conservative platform is a “cheap shot”. It was perfectly legitimate.

    The rushed platform next week is also going to be a bit of an issue as well. They clearly weren’t expecting to have to produce it, and will likely create it in haste. Unfortunately they also know it will be closely scrutinized by a re-energized Liberal war room for bad policy, economic denialism, and signs of plagiarism.

    That’s a lot of pressure for an embattled and depopulated “little house of Tories”, isn’t it?

  11. (sorry, that should be “little shop of Tories”. Kady certainly deserves to have her words copied as thoroughly as John Howard did!)

  12. If he takes none of the blame, can he receive any of the credit? That doesn’t seem possible. Or rational. So are we collectively making some sort of post-modern decision that political speeches no longer matter? And is that a really enlightened point of view? Or a sign of profound apathy?

    I think, actually, this is more of an acknowledgement by the public of the fact that speechwriters write speeches. Whether or not the Owen Lippert story is true (and it’s pretty much going to be impossible for us to know, unless someone leaks an alternative story someday) … I think it’s very simple. We know that political events are managed affairs, scripted and plotted out.

    The postmodern aspect might be the collective indifference to the knowledge that everything is managed and therefore, on some level, fake, but there is no reason that fake things shouldn’t matter. Great films and novels change people’s minds all the time. Western political oratory has been precision-engineered, by professionals of various pedigrees, for, what, 2500 years now?

    At least now, instead of pretending to ourselves that Harper pens every speech all by himself, we realize there is a system behind it. They took a minor hit, Lippert took a major hit, and that, it seems to me, is how it should be.

  13. Oops. First paragraph should be italicized. Or deleted.

  14. Gimme a break.

    No senior minister should or, indeed, could write his or her speeches. They are too busy. That’s why they have speechwriters. Does anybody remember Ted Sorensen?

  15. I am surprised how big of a deal some people are making of this. Over in another blog, Warren Kinsella talks a lot about writing speeches for Chretien. I think its just something we accept from leaders nowadays. Writing the speech is only half of the task. And I believe that the primeminister probably chooses among several alternate speeches. Delivering it is the other half. If they do a good job on delivery why shouldn’t they take credit.

  16. Three lousy sentences? Really? That’s all the Liberals could come up with?

    The Liberals were aware of the plagiarized passages in Harper’s Iraq speech for more than three months, and since then they undoubtedly deployed a small army of staffers and volunteers to comb through his past pronouncements, hunting for more “plagiarism”.
    I assume that they approached this task methodically – by compiling a database of every word Harper has ever written or spoken in public, from various sources: the Parliamentary Record, internet searches, the LexisNexis news database, and many others. They then filtered Harper’s words through commercially available software tools – the same tools college professors use to scan student papers for plagiarism.

    After exhaustively searching the millions of words that Harper has spoken in the past five years, the Liberals were only able to find three sentences that were not original? Mathematically speaking, wouldn’t this make Harper one of the LEAST likely political figures in history to plagiarize something? Doesn’t the Liberal analysis essentially confirm the Conservatives’ claim that Owen Lippert’s plagiarism was an isolated incident?

    Given that it is actually quite common for politicians, and their speechwriters, to “borrow” catchy phrases and passages from other politicians without attribution (Obama and Biden have done this numerous times, for example) I wonder how many other politicians could stand up to the same kind of scrutiny and pass with flying colours, as Harper did?
    But there’s more to come – I’m sure of it. The Liberals probably discovered Harris’s three sentences a long time ago and they waited until today to publish it, to achieve maximum effect by manipulating the media in order to build a narrative about “Harper’s plagiarism problem.”

    The Liberals probably have a few more examples in their pocket, even weaker and more trivial than this one, that they will make public every day or so until the election. This is one of the most transparently dishonest and despicable smears ever attempted by a Canadian political party, and I’m not even sure if the media are willing to call them on it.

  17. Three sentences from Harris. About half the speech from Brown.

  18. “About half the speech from Brown.”

    Howard. Brown/UK is left-wing.

  19. It does matter and the fact that various Harper apologists can’t see that shows how far the Tories have taken the nation’s political culture towards nihilism.

    When you hire somebody to write a speech for you, the idea is that you’re getting exclusive access to that speech. Most politicians review what they’re going to say very carefully for that reason. They often change things around themselves. They’re not usually robots. Why? Because it’s they who are delivering the speech! The words on the page are going to become their words by virtue of the act of utterance! So if somebody else has already said those words, they cannot credibly be taken as the politician’s own.

    Whatever, henceforth we will know that Harper is merely grandstanding whenever he gives a speech and doesn’t mean a word of it as his own. I was drifting in that direction beforehand but now I know for sure. The man has the morals of a petty thief.

  20. The real question for me is, who wrote his famous Quebec speech from 2 years ago?

    Dumont?
    Bouchard?
    Duplessis?

  21. kody, you nailed it man.

    Don’t forget the attempt to smear Peter MacKay for the capital crime of buying lunch 2 years ago for his department staff that were working weekends.

    Harper’s “secretive government”, muzzling of his people, and media management strategies over the last 3 years have been more than justified by the performance of the media over the last 3 weeks.

  22. Liberal smears used to help them get elected. It’s wearing a little thin now.

    Why is it that the Liberal dirt never actually relates to the Conservative government’s actual governance? Because there is none.

    Why did Canadians continue to support Pierre Trudeau even though they knew that he was riding around on a motorcycle wearing Nazi insignia and supporting the Germans. Because it was old news and Canadians decided Aaron to, guess what,…move on.

  23. Aaron,

    This would actually make for a pretty cool book, based on the questions you pose. Not focussed on Harper exclusively, but looking at our cultural definition of authenticity. what it means to own an idea, and the whole tension between political leaders as people (their character, inviduality and ability to relate to “normal” folks) versus political leaders as superhumans (requiring knowledge and vision, serving as icons/symbols, grasping complex dynamics of policy and events, etc…).

    Authenticity seems to rest at the core of this. Was Elvis less authentic becuase he performed “black” music for white audiences? Does it matter if Obama coined the phrase “change you can believe in”? Is it more important that Harper was taking talking points from other world leaders, or that he was in favour of sending troops to Iraq?

    There was a good discussion on Paikin’s The Agenda last night, talking about “share a beer” politics – the idea that politicians need to be perceived as ultimately “average” jills/joes who would fit in just fine at the Legion Hall. I think this speaks to the notiion of a desire for authenticity on the part of voters – even though it’s largely an unrealistic fantasy in many ways (witness Harper’s claim to know what it’s like to be between jobs – even he seemed uncomfortable saying that).

    It’s funny. Jack Layton scored big points on Thursday night for his one liners, and you can be sure those weren’t spontaneous creations, and that they were prepared by writers. (I wonder if Mulroney came up with the “You had an opotion” lne by himself?).

    Sorry to prattle on for so long. I think you’re on to something here. Plagiarism isn’t the issue, precisely, but the idea of authenticity, political speeches as reflection of the leader, and the residual sin of sharing words with Howard/Bush are all fairly relevant to understanding how our society creates and empowers political leaders.

  24. So are we collectively making some sort of post-modern decision that political speeches no longer matter? And is that a really enlightened point of view? Or a sign of profound apathy?

    I don’t think it’s enlightenment or apathy, I think it’s profound cynicism. We don’t particularly care if a politician’s words are his own, his speech writers, or the words of someone else that his speech writer stole, because we don’t particularly believe anything any politician says to us. We don’t particularly care if a party has a well thought out and detailed platform that they present to the people well in advance to evaluate, or if they throw something together in a back room seven days before the election because they can no longer stand up to the scrutiny of not having a plan at all. Why not? Because whatever’s in the plan, we don’t particularly expect our politicians to actually implement it.

    Now, personally, I can’t wait to see the Tory platform (FINALLY) on Tuesday. I hope they release a five point list of priorities, so we can all ask if they plan to finish they’re first five before moving on to the new one’s (any one else satisfied with they’re shiny new health care wait times guarantees from the last go round? – didn’t think so).

    We may not believe anything politicians say, and we may not believe the policy platforms they put before us, but how embarrassing must it be for a party to literally have to be SHAMED into presenting the Canadian people with a plan of what they plan to do if they’re elected. I mean, I suppose it’s novel (we’re not going to tell you what we plan to do in government in any detail, but heck, you wouldn’t believe us anyway). I mean, it’s almost refreshing. However, it’s also kinda like saying “look, I know you’re not sure if you want me to be in charge of your money, so why don’t you just sign this blank cheque?” (except of course that we all know it’ll be the other way around, as the Tories spend the last week of the campaign using announcements from their new platform to try to bribe us with our own money, while doing their best to ignore the current economic crisis, and pretend it has no effect on us… I mean, who knew there was actually a REASON to keep a large surplus around just in case! – Oh, right. The Liberals).

  25. Sean S

    I was thinking of last night’s Agenda as well. I liked the section when Richard Gwyn and Theo Caldwell discussed how much of a bubble our pols live in now, and how many assistants they have, compared to 100 hundred years ago when you could basically walk up to the PM on the street and give him an earful, if that’s what you desired.

  26. Ah, but jwl, back in those days speeches really did make a difference. People, and I mean other politicians, actually listened to the ideas contained therein, and if you made a speech with enough good ideas and you spoke it passionately, people would actually change their minds on the issue.

    These days no matter what your leader says or does, it is the right thing to do. Other politicians and the party faithful no longer have minds of their own. They just work to ensure that whatever crazy fool thing the leader says or does has the right ‘spin’.

    Maybe because the ability to communicate around the globe has become so very easy, we’ve had to insulate our brains from idea overload. Whatever the cause, we simply no longer listen. Not just to the other guy, we don’t even listen to our own guy with any sense of rational thought.

  27. This is ridiculous. We’re talking about 3 sentences in the middle of a speech.

    Conservatives really hate being hoisted on their own petards. Listen up rubes. If you don’t want this to happen stop injecting these things into our political discourse. It wasn’t the Liberals or the NDP who made plagiarism a political issue.

  28. Jenn,

    You’re right in some ways. Speeches were far more complex and nuanced 100 years ago than they are today (John Rahlston Saul makes this point in one of his books – pointing out that speeches to barely literate rural populations in the late 1800s were far more intellectual and developed than those of today).

    On the other hand, when I was a kid (I’m 39) growing up just north of Toronto, there was a strong pattern of habitual partisanship, where often party allegiance would maintain for generations. Or consider the influence of the church in Quebec politics prior to the Quiet Revolution, etc..

    I’d be cautious of overstating the purity of political life in the past.

  29. How about we meet in the middle? A speech might get you to think about a specific ISSUE differently; but it would take a lot of issues over a long period of time to change your party allegiance. And that hasn’t changed, I don’t think.

    And please don’t think I think politics of the past were PURE. If anything, I suspect more shenanigans went on back then, simply because they were easier to hide. I wonder if the average joe knew MacDonald had a drinking problem, for example.

  30. Sean S

    There’s an interesting article by John McWhorter at the New Republic website called Speech!. It’s well worth a read if you have some free time.

    It starts:

    “If Abraham Lincoln were brought back to life, one thing that would throw him, other than electric power and the Internet, would be that audiences disrupted his speeches by clapping after every three or four lines. As ordinary as this seems now, this kind of applause is actually a custom of our times: Wesleyan political scientist Elvin Lim has documented that, in records of presidential addresses since Franklin D. Roosevelt, 97 percent of the applause lines appear in speeches by Richard Nixon and his successors. To speakers in Lincoln’s day, a public address was typically a lecture. In our time, it is more often a love-in, more about the speaker “connecting” with the audience than teaching it anything new; hence the constant interruptions for clapping.”

  31. Jarrid, you talk about smears, but this passage is quite inaccurate:

    Why did Canadians continue to support Pierre Trudeau even though they knew that he was riding around on a motorcycle wearing Nazi insignia and supporting the Germans. Because it was old news and Canadians decided Aaron to, guess what,…move on.

    The motorcycle thing, he wore a WW1 Helmet, you know, the goofy looking one with a spike on top . . . not Nazi insignia. Like most francophones at the time, he was anti conscription, but in fact while attending university undertook reserve officer training.

    Check your facts next time please

  32. I think speeches stopped relevant once it became possible to reach people through mass media.

    It’s like the uselessness of lectures at University Brad Delong talked about on his blog.

  33. “The motorcycle thing, he wore a WW1 Helmet, you know, the goofy looking one with a spike on top . . . not Nazi insignia.”

    Fine, but this was not Trudeau’s finest moment, neither was it Quebec’s. The Fascists in Europe had to be stopped and Quebec took a powder.

    I would add that I see Quebec’s self-indulgence today and think things haven’t improved all that much.

    I realize Duceppe is not necessarily representative, but that is one inward-looking, myopic-thinking and politically dépassé a leader as I’ve seen in some time.

  34. Thanks jwl, I found the article and read it. The distinction between logos and pathos is a good way to look at it.

  35. Sean S: “On the other hand, when I was a kid (I’m 39) growing up just north of Toronto, there was a strong pattern of habitual partisanship, where often party allegiance would maintain for generations. Or consider the influence of the church in Quebec politics prior to the Quiet Revolution, etc..”

    Yeah, those were the days, eh? My grandfather’s clan (Eastern Ontario Scots) would literally have voted Liberal if a dog had been the candidate. And there are still some ridings where party affiliation is written in stone – man, I grew up in Ottawa Vanier, the very safest Liberal seat in the country – nothing on God’s green earth would make the good franco-ontarians of Vanier & Overbrook not vote Liberal.

    Howbeit, while one shouldn’t wrongly glorify the past, I do think oratory was far more important before radio and television. For one thing, the speaking candidate, whether addressing supporters or an “undecided” crowd, was the main source of information and propaganda about where the party stood. For another, even in dyed-in-the-wool partisan ridings there would often have been a stage of the process at which one speaker’s ability outshone another’s – say, the nomination meeting, if the election itself were fixed.

    Besides, when you look at how incredibly low we’ve stooped – auto-applause, speechwriters, teleprompters, winking at the camera, and now plagiarism – you don’t have to glorify the past at all to see it as an idyllic time of positively Arcadian political speechmaking. It’s all relative, right?

  36. I agree, Jack – television in particular has not enriched our political and oratory life, it’s fair to say.

    I’m getting all nostalgic now. It wasn’t just voting patterns that were often entrenched. How about beer? You had your Molsons families and your Labatt families. A lot of folks would have probably started voting Communist and converted religions before they switched brews. And spaghtetti was viewed as a fairly adventurous foray into foreign food. (Okay, maybe life was too boring – pity we couldn’t have kept the substance to speeches while enjoying a micro-brew with some Thai food…)

  37. I think with Harper’s Iraq speech, the goal was not so much to convince anyone we should get involved so much as to establish Harper’s ethos as a statesman or whatever. It is a fairly eloquent speech. Unfortunately, looking back, that ethos was built on lies.

  38. Jack Mitchell – well put… this is nihilism and to the degree and we, as a whole, seem intent on sleep walking through the consequences. Sad.

  39. Hey Aaron, before we move on, I’d like your take on Dion ripping off speeches that he delivers to the United Nations.

    If Dion takes none of the blame, can he receive any of the credit? That doesn’t seem possible. Or rational. So are we collectively making some sort of post-modern decision that political speeches no longer matter? And is that a really enlightened point of view? Or a sign of profound apathy?

    Just wondering.


    It would appear as though over a quarter of Stephane Dion’s speech at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2005 was plagiarized directly from a 2004 speech given to the U.S. Senate committee chaired by none other than…..John McCain. That’s right, folks, Dion has ripped off Dr. Robert Corell, a a Senior Policy Fellow with the Atmospheric Policy Program of the American Meteorological Society, in order to look like a competent Minister of the Environment.

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