Within minutes after Melania Trump’s outstanding speech at the GOP convention last night, Democrats and anti-Trump commentators were accusing her of plagiarizing portions of a paragraph, i.e. a few phrases and sentence fragments, from Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech. Here is the comparison, a brief portion of Michelle Obama’s speech with the words that Melania Trump duplicated in bold, via the Weekly Standard:
And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you wantin life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them.
And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and pass them on to the next generation. Because we want our children — and all children in this nation — to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.
It is likely that either Mrs. Trump or her speechwriter researched convention speeches given by other prospective first ladies, and she or the speechwriter may have cribbed a few phrases and sentence fragments from Mrs. Obama. That said, the sentiments are so commonplace that they probably could be drawn from any of a hundred speeches. But, is this supposed to be some kind of scandal? One could probably think of a less important issue, but it would take a while. And I wouldn’t think that either Barack Obama or Joe Biden would want to start a conversation about plagiarism.
More significantly, I think that most commentators are drawing precisely the wrong lesson from a comparison between Mrs. Trump’s speech and Mrs. Obama. The New York Times, for example, headlines: “Melania Trump’s Speech Bears Striking Similarities to Michelle Obama’s in 2008.” No: what Melania Trump intended to draw (or, in any event, did draw) was a sharp contrast between herself and Michelle Obama.
Michelle Obama’s best-remembered public pronouncement is her statement that “[f]or the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country.” Why? Because her husband was nominated for president. The heart of Melania Trump’s speech, on the other hand, was not the lines that she may have borrowed from Michelle Obama, but rather this tribute to America, delivered by an immigrant:
After living and working in Milan and Paris, I arrived in New York City twenty years ago, and I saw both the joys and the hardships of daily life. On July 28th, 2006, I was very proud to become a citizen of the United States — the greatest privilege on planet Earth. I cannot, or will not, take the freedoms this country offers for granted.
Do you think Michelle Obama (or Barack, for that matter) thinks it is the greatest privilege on planet Earth to be an American? No, I don’t either. I suspect that one of Melania Trump’s principal objectives in her speech was to draw that contrast between herself and Mr. and Mrs. Obama.
For now, at least, it seems that the Democrats have successfully negated Melania Trump’s strong performance last night. We probably shouldn’t be surprised: it wouldn’t be the Trump campaign, after all, if a stupid, self-imposed distraction didn’t cancel out a lot of good work. But over time, voters may be reminded of the real difference between Mrs. Trump and Mrs. Obama. That contrast is not entirely insignificant, because of the light it sheds, indirectly, on the vast philosophical differences between Mr. Trump and the current occupant of the White House.