If Barack Obama wants to run a campaign on rhetoric, he should at least use his own words.
That was the word from Hillary Clinton's campaign on Monday as it accused the Illinois senator of lifting rhetoric from a speech delivered by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick when he was running for office two years ago.
In a speech on Oct. 15, 2006, then-candidate Patrick responded to accusations that he was uttering hollow words by saying:
"'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.' Just words? Just words? 'We have nothing to fear but fear itself.' Just words? 'Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.' Just words? ‘I have a dream.' Just words?"
On Saturday, speaking to the Wisconsin Democratic Party Dinner in Milwaukee, Obama echoed Patrick's remarks almost verbatim:
"Don't tell me words don't matter," Obama said. "'I have a dream.' Just words? 'We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.' Just words? 'We have nothing to fear but fear itself.' Just words? Just speeches?"
Some critics leaped to accuse Obama of "plagiarism," and on Monday the candidate said he should have given Patrick credit for the speech. But he added that the governor is a longtime friend and adviser whose speech techniques are something the two men share.
"Look, I was on the stump and he had suggested we use these lines. I thought they were good lines," Obama said during a tour of a titanium plant in Ohio. Asked if he should have given Patrick credit, Obama said: "I'm sure I should have. Didn't this time."
"I'm happy to give Deval credit, as I give to a lot of people for spurring all kinds of ideas," Obama said. "But I think it's fair to say that everything that we've been doing and generating, the excitement and the interest people have in the election, is based on the core belief in me that we need change in America. And that's been heartfelt and that's why I think it's been so effective."
Later at a speech in Youngstown, Ohio, Obama said he thought it was cynical for Clinton to complain about his ability to motivate voters.
"If you are not involved, if young people especially are not involved, so that we can form a working majority for change, then nothing's going to happen. So I make no apologies for being able to talk good," he said.
In a telephone interview on Sunday, Patrick told The New York Times that he and Obama discussed attacks by their respective rivals last summer and again last week. He said he advised Obama how to get around Clinton's criticism about his speechmaking, but didn't want credit for the counterpunch.
"Who knows who I am? The point is more important than whose argument it is,” Patrick told The New York Times. "It’s a transcendent argument."
Told about Patrick's remarks to the Times, Clinton Communications Director Howard Wolfson said the governor's permission to use his language is not the point.
"The issue of whether or not Governor Patrick approves or doesn't approve of this, I think, is immaterial to the larger point that the public did not know that these words had come from Governor Patrick and that they would probably be surprised to know," Wolfson said.
Obama Campaign Manager David Plouffe argued that Clinton's attack on the authorship of the remarks is the only way she can get around her inability to answer Obama's oratorical skills. He added that Clinton has frequently adopted Obama's language for her own speeches.
"I think it's a curious charge coming from Senator Clinton, who actually repeatedly throughout this campaign has used language that Senator Obama used. ... Senator Obama's language has been copied by the Clinton campaign," Plouffe said.
Wolfson said Plouffe's charge that Clinton is using Obama's phrases presumes that the senator can take ownership of anything he says.
"I’d be interested to see what other examples they have. I’m sure [Clinton] has said some words that [Obama] may have said ... and I’m sure that Senator Obama has said some words that Senator Clinton has said. We’re not talking about whether one of them has strung three words together that the other might have said."
Obama responded that it's a weak case to accuse him of plagiarism.
"Lets see. I've written two books, wrote most of my speeches, so I think putting aside the question that you just raised in terms of whether my words are my own, I think that would be carrying it too far," he told reporters.
FOX News' Bonney Kapp and Aaron Bruns contributed to this report.