Ted Sorensen quarrelled with Richard Goodwin who, in turn, quarrelled with Arthur M. Schlesinger (or "little Arthur," as he was known to those who knew or knew of his father, the great American historian by the same name) over who had authored that corny but pretentious dictum, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country," Once JFK had uttered these commandments, he morphed into an eloquent man.


Ghostwriters and speechwriters are very much with us.  ut they are barely acknowledged. It is the beneficiaries of their work who reap the rewards. (If a speechwriter is especially bad and there are people around discerning enough to recognize literary merit, the speechwriter will be fired, like the campaign manager. Has anybody noticed how flat Hillary's rabble rousing speeches are? Flat and rabble-rousing, at once, in that they don't really rouse the rabble? Yes.) 


So there are great exceptions to the norms of not taking credit for words produced by others. There are many people culpable in this fraud: magazine editors, book editors, op-ed page editors, all kinds of editors. They allow people who had no participation in the writing of an article or book (or a speech, for that matter) to be treated and referred to as if they had, in fact, written what was applauded when, in many cases, they hadn't even read what went out under their name.


That's why at TNR we had a rule that the only public servants whose writing we would print were Pat Moynihan and Al Gore. And editing their pieces was always a trial because they felt what was a real sense of ownership of their words.


Anyway, so what's all this about Barack Obama plagiarizing from Deval Patrick? In the first instance, the words Obama is accused of lifting were not Patrick's. They are words from the pen of Thomas Jefferson (who, assuredly, had no ghostwriters), from Franklin Roosevelt (whose hands are all over his speeches) and from Martin Luther King, Jr. (who was so word-inspired that he needed no ghosts.)  Alas, Dr. King's speeches and public pronouncements are now covered by the copyright conventions.  David Garrow, one of King's biographers, has pointed out that writers on the man and the era are now in terror of violating these laws and are aware that the estate will dun them from quoting "I have a dream..." What a travesty.


Of course, even Jeffersonian rhetoric doesn't assure good government. As Patrick's year as governor of Massachusetts proves. He's been a complete flop, and has been reduced to robbing from the poor by sponsoring gaming casinos whose revenues to the government will pay for winter heating for the poor. 


It is desparation that has animated poor Hillary and her surely depressed band to jump on a classic Jeffersonian text that Obama used -- and used deftly -- in a campaign that evokes the true eloquence built into democratic hopes and a democratic reality.