Obama plants embarrassing reminder of Martin Luther King’s plagiarism in Oval Office
, it would be embarrassing, if King’s plagiarism of his Ph.D thesis hadn’t been systematically covered up so that few know about it. In fact, King did not plagiarize the quote by Theodore Parker that was falsely attributed to him by Obama’s rug. But King’s word for word stealing of massive parts of his Ph.D thesis forever taints his reputation. What kind of person would do something like that?
On third thought, it is very embarrassing. As we see from the photo, the new carpet, with its outer border of pithy liberal statements, most of them by U.S. presidents, dominates the Oval Office. Now that the misattributed quotation has been discovered, what is Obama going to do? Have the carpet redone, with Martin Luther King’s name replaced by Theodore Parker’s? But that would spoil what is undoubtedly the carpet’s main appeal for Obama, that it memorializes King and puts him on the same level with several presidents. Or leave the carpet as is, with the false attribution intact, thus serving as a permanent reminder that the main hero of black and liberal/neocon America was a serious plagiarist?
The September 4 Washington Post reports
Oval Office rug gets history wrong
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By Jamie Stiehm [What a stupid name for an adult human being. Is this Jamie male, female, who knows?]
A mistake has been made in the Oval Office makeover that goes beyond the beige.
President Obama’s new presidential rug seemed beyond reproach, with quotations from Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. woven along its curved edge.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” According media reports, this quote keeping Obama company on his wheat-colored carpet is from King.
Except it’s not a King quote. The words belong to a long-gone Bostonian champion of social progress. His roots in the republic ran so deep that his grandfather commanded the Minutemen at the Battle of Lexington.
For the record, Theodore Parker is your man, President Obama. Unless you’re fascinated by antebellum American reformers, you may not know of the lyrically gifted Parker, an abolitionist, Unitarian minister and Transcendentalist thinker who foresaw the end of slavery, though he did not live to see emancipation. He died at age 49 in 1860, on the eve of the Civil War.
A century later, during the civil rights movement, King, an admirer of Parker, quoted the Bostonian’s lofty prophecy during marches and speeches. Often he’d ask in a refrain, “How long? Not long.” He would finish in a flourish: “Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
King made no secret of the author of this idea. As a Baptist preacher on the front lines of racial justice, he regarded Parker, a religious leader, as a kindred spirit.
Yet somehow a mistake was made and magnified in our culture to the point that a New England antebellum abolitionist’s words have been enshrined in the Oval Office while attributed to a major 20th-century figure. That is a shame, because the slain civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate was so eloquent in his own right. Obama, who is known for his rhetorical skills, is likely to feel the slight to King—and Parker.
My investigation into this error led me to David Remnick’s biography of Obama, “The Bridge,” published this year. Early in the narrative, Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, presents this as “Barack Obama’s favorite quotation.” It appears that neither Remnick nor Obama has traced the language to its true source.
Parker said in 1853: “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one…. But from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”
The president is at minimum well-served by Parker’s presence in the room. Parker embodied the early 19th-century reformer’s passionate zeal for taking on several social causes at once. Many of these reformers were Unitarians or Quakers; some were Transcendentalists. Most courageously, as early as the 1830s, they opposed the laws on slavery and eventually harbored fugitives in the Underground Railroad network of safe houses. Without 30 years of a movement agitating and petitioning for slave emancipation, Lincoln could not have ended slavery with the stroke of a pen in the midst of war. Parker was in the vanguard that laid the social and intellectual groundwork.
The familiar quote from Lincoln woven into Obama’s rug is “government of the people, by the people and for the people,” the well-known utterance from the close of his Gettysburg Address in 1863.
Funny that in 1850, Parker wrote, “A democracy—that is a government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people.”
Theodore Parker, Oval Office wordmeister for the ages.
Jamie Stiehm, a journalist, is writing a book on the life of Lucretia Mott, a 19th-century abolitionist and women’s rights leader. [I suppose we can assume that this Jamie is a female.]
Keith J. writes from England:
Imagine if Jamie Stiehm had attributed the statement—“Government of the people, by the people and for the people”—not to Lincoln, not to Theodore Parker, but to its actual originator, at least in English, John Wycliffe (d. 1384 AD).
I may be wrong on this, but it is not my impression that it has ever been claimed that the phrase, “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” was originated by Abraham Lincoln, that no one had ever used something like those words before Lincoln. Rather, I think the phrase is famous in the context of the Gettysburg Address, and for the unprecedented importance that Lincoln was giving it, as the cause to which the Civil War and the United States itself are dedicated:
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
James N. writes:
Jamie Sez: “Obama, who is known for his rhetorical skills, is likely to feel the slight to King—and Parker”.
Sure he will, Jamie, sure he will. Just keep on believin’. The dream is alive. Don’t stop thinkin’ about tomorrow. Imagine no possessions. Si se puede. Think of it always, speak of it never. Venceremos!
Alexis Zarkov writes:
Following the links from Wikipedia, I came across this posting by Ralph E. Luker who directed research on Martin Luther King Jr.’s early life. Evidently Luker was the first to discover the plagiarism in King’s doctoral thesis. Luker’s comments are devastating to King’s reputation because he shows that King’s tendency to plagiarize was an ongoing pattern throughout his life, not an isolated act done in a moment of weakness. In other words, he had a serious character flaw. Luker wrote:
What became clear was that they were a patchwork of his own language and the language of scholars, often without clear attribution. If anything, the pattern seemed to be that the more familiar King was with a subject, the less likely he was to plagiarize. On matters that were fairly alien to his experience, he borrowed heavily from others and often with only the slightest wink of attribution. To take two extreme examples, an autobiographical paper, “Autobiography of Religious Development” has no significant plagiarism in it; his paper on “The Chief Characteristics and Doctrines of Mahayana Buddhism,” however, is composed almost exclusively of paragraphs lifted from the best secondary sources available to him. Moreover, the further King went in his academic career, the more deeply ingrained the patterns of borrowing language without clear attribution became. Thus, the plagiarism in his dissertation seemed to be, by then, the product of his long established practice.
While Boston University concluded that King had indeed plagiarized major parts of his thesis, they refused to revoke his doctorate.
When word of our findings leaked to the press, it appeared first in England and only later in the American press. It was, for several days, very big news indeed. Our five minutes of infamy waned and scholarly reflection took over. Boston University convened a panel to assess the situation. It concluded that there were serious problems with King’s dissertation, made note of that, and concluded, nonetheless, that his doctorate should not be revoked. There were dissenting voices about that. Garry Wills, for one, argued that there was no statute of limitations on plagiarism. Neither death, nor Nobelity, nor immortality conferred immunity from the consequences of academic theft, he said. Boston should have revoked the doctorate.
It’s also evident that King received special patronage from his white liberal professors who gave him much higher grades than he got as an undergraduate at a black university.
The other thing that I think was going on, particularly in King’s later academic career, was that he was being patronized by his liberal, white professors. That clearly was not the case when his undergraduate teachers at Morehouse evaluated his work. But when he went to predominately white institutions in the North, King received extraordinarily high grades for academic work which was not only often heavily plagiarized, but was otherwise quite unexceptional. There’s probably no way to prove that King was being patronized, but I think that, in the context of the time, the temptation to over-reward a charming young African American student who told his liberal white professors in the North almost exactly what he knew they already deeply believed about a subject was simply overwhelming.
Our other highly successful community organizer, one Barack Hussein Obama, won’t have King’s problem because other than his two vanity books, he has virtually no paper trail. Is possible plagiarism the reason Obama won’t release his senior thesis at Columbia? As for his vanity books, did he write them? Stay tuned for the answer on this question.
Moreover, the further King went in his academic career, the more deeply ingrained the patterns of borrowing language without clear attribution became. Thus, the plagiarism in his dissertation seemed to be, by then, the product of his long established practice.
This is new to me. I was familiar with King’s massive, word-for-word plagiarism in his Ph.D thesis, from the important article at Chronicles in the 1990s which laid out the original and the lifted passages side by side (I forget the name of the Chronicles writer—he may also have done a book on the subject). I didn’t know that what King did in his Ph.D thesis was but the culmination of what he had been doing throughout his academic career. I’m impressed. (Can we used the word “impressed” to mean negatively impressed?)
Keith J. replies to LA:
Prima facie you are correct. However …
1) A persistent and major source of irritation (with consequent blockage of communication) between Americans and non-Americans is the notion of the former that they are special, and that if something apparently originated in the USA, there’s an end to it. No need to go back in time. This is an implicit denial of History—always very dangerous.
2) Having grown up in Australia I don’t have this burden. No one takes the Australians very seriously.
3) America is not special, The U.S. Constitution—I hope I don’t offend you—is not special. if Americans are freed from the burden of these delusions by living for a few years under the rule of the current repellent and mediocre shyster, then a small amount of good will have come of it.
Over here things are not too bad. We live within a Total State, but more and more obviously so. This is helping a few people to think clearly, and to take steps. I believe the damage is not irreparable. Dark Times ahead, of course, but then the same applies on your side of the Atlantic.
I agree with your point One but disagree with your point Three. The American belief in absolute American uniqueness, the belief that basically there was no civilization or liberty in the world prior to America,—almost as though there was no world itself prior to America—is very off-putting, and not just to non-Americans. I find it off-putting and embarrassing. However, America is certainly special and unique, and the U.S. Constitution is certainly special and unique, and it is going too far to deny it.
David B. writes:
The author of the Chronicles article on King’s plagiarism was Theodore Pappas. His book on the subject was Plagiarism and The Culture War.
Vincent Chiarello writes:
To understand why the solons of talk radio, even the most “conservative” amongst them, will give a wide lattitude to black callers, despite the drivel that they are spouting, is what I’ve called for years, “the Martin Luther King syndrome in reverse.” For certainly since his assassination more than four decades ago, no white politician, professor or pundit would question that in these situations, the “content of his character” is not as important as “the color of his skin.”
It has been my experience that to raise, even obliquely, the facts about the hagiography masquerading as biography that whites and others have written about King is immediately met with: his life may have not been exemplary, but he died for a just cause. Few will doubt the cause; several, including your humble scribe, question the frenzied devotion toward King. More than twenty years ago, Taylor Branch’s, The Parting of the Waters, one of King’s hagiographical biographies, did raise the plagiarism question, but he did not think such an ethical lapse was sufficiently serious to question King’s apotheosis. Branch was a Southerner, undoubtedly afflicted with a serious sense of white guilt. Time and distance have made it now well nigh impossible even to raise such an issue, which is why younger people are unaware of King’s peccadilloes. But there were more.
In early 1971, while I was assigned to a U.S. embassy overseas, an FBI agent (in embassies, FBI agents are often called, “legal attaches”) recounted to me that, to amuse himself, LBJ, no devotee of King, would play the tapes of King speaking to his women friends, of which there were several. I recall with clarity the agent’s words: “The language King used would make a sailor blush.” Add to this indictment, serial adultery to plagiarism.
And let it be also said that King was in violation of the Logan Act: consorting with the enemy in time of war. That is why the FBI became interested in King, and to insist, as is done today, that the wiretapping of King’s phone, which was done with Johnson’s approval, was for his “civil rights” activities, is a blatant distortion of the truth. Add King’s rabid leftist politics to adultery and plagiarism. I cannot help but believe that President Reagan, knowing these facts, resisted in naming a national holiday for a man whose character was greatly flawed, to put it mildly.
All of this leads to the question, rhetorical perhaps, but valid, which should be answered, and to my mind, has not: why has this nation embarked on an almost totalitarian policy that eliminates any criticism of King, and calls his critics racists or worse? To cite my earlier posting to VFR in February, why are we, at private and public expense, erecting a monument to King that dwarfs other monuments in a city filled with them, and creates the imagery of “Americas first Pharaoh?”
As far as I can tell, the quotes on the new Oval Office rug do not have their attributions on the rug. So there is no need to replace the rug so as to make a correction.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 06, 2010 07:59 AM | Send
Interestingly, while folks are fussing over the misattribution of the MLK quote, nobody is commenting on the content of the quotes themselves, and what they might tell us about our President’s views. As a reminder, here are the quotes:
“The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself”—President Franklin D. Roosevelt
“The Arc of the Moral Universe is Long, But it Bends Towards Justice”—Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Government of the People, By the People, For the People”—President Abraham Lincoln
“No Problem of Human Destiny is Beyond Human Beings”—President John F. Kennedy
“The Welfare of Each of Us is Dependent Fundamentally Upon the Welfare of All of Us”—President Theodore Roosevelt
Here are my comments:
1) The Only Thing We Have to Fear …
This was Roosevelt’s argument that the public should place unquestioning trust in himself and in government to mend an economy that was in a credit bust brought about in large part by previous government mismanagement, particularly monetary mismanagement on the part of the Federal Reserve. FDR was in effect dismissing a host of legitimate fears, including fears of further government economic mismanagement and encroachment.
2) The Arc of the Moral Universe….
This highlights the left-liberal obsession with what they imagine to be justice. However, their notion of justice is a peculiar one. It is not the Aristotelian idea that people should get what they deserve, for better or worse, but rather the egalitarian idea that justice lies in the government equalizing people regardless of desserts-and of course, liberals should be in charge of who gets what. The idea of a moral teleology (“arc of the moral universe”) is of course a shibboleth of progressivism, which dismisses the classical view of man as tragically flawed and therefore limited in his ambitions, in favor of a notion of cumulative human improvement in the moral and political spheres. Only a person wilfully ignorant of history would be attracted to such nonsense.
3) Government of the people….
For people of Obama’s ideological orientation, this is a reference to the Rousseauan fictitious “Will of the People,” which is of course what is discovered, interpreted and announced by their leaders. Another whiff of totalitarian thinking.
4) No problem of human destiny….
This rehearses the liberals’ hubristic Enlightenment fantasy that there can be a technocratic collective rational management of human affairs, under their control and direction of course, that will ward off tragedy and contingency from our lives. It is a rejection of the idea of the transcendent (nothing is beyond human beings).
5) The Welfare of each of us….
Another egalitarian bromide that calls upon the citizen to accept that the government is responsible for the welfare of all, and implicitly negatives the idea that ours is a society in which each of us should shoulder responsibility, and look after himself, his family, and through charity, those in the proximate community.
These quotes provide an excellent outline of President Obama’s commitment to progressive ideology. Progressives see their fellow citizens as a servile and inferior mass, whose duties are to accept the tutelage of a self-anointed elite. The bloated self-regard and condescension of these people would be comical, did they not occupy such positions of responsibility.