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In polls here and abroad, plagiarism abounds

Is plagiarism such a big deal for candidates in elections? This is an interesting question arising from the presidential campaigns in the United States, and Taiwan in particular.

Many new ideas and new catchphrases are created to win voters’ support. In this year’s U.S. presidential campaign, for example, “change” is the name of the game. In Taiwan, “referendum for U.N. entry” is the dominating theme.

“Change” is the battle cry of Sen. Barack Obama from Illinois, who is ahead of Sen. Hillary Clinton from New York in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Obama, young and black, has electrified the campaign with the magical word “change,” and has changed the tone of the campaign. He has forced his rivals, in both parties, to embrace change.

It is interesting to note that Obama could not claim a copyright to “change,” because the word has been used widely, directly or indirectly, in the United States and the rest of the world. Bill Clinton, Sen. Clinton’s husband, while campaigning for president in 1991, used the theme against the Republicans which had held the White House for 12 years. He told voters that the country should not try the “same old things over and over and over again” and expect a different result. You may say Obama has stolen Bill Clinton’s idea to create a theme of his own. Obama is smart enough to catch on to the nation’s mood, which is a thirst for change. His trademark slogan, “Yes, We Can” has been turned into a music video that has touched the hearts and minds of millions of Americans.

But “Yes, We Can” is not Obama’s invention. The copy-right owner is the late Cesar Chavez, a Mexican-American labor leader and human rights activist, whose “Si Se Puede!” slogan had fired up millions of Mexican farm workers in the United States.

Small wonder that Mrs. Clinton, who has lost 10 primary caucuses in a row since the Feb. 5 Super Tuesday, is attacking Obama for plagiarism. “If your whole candidacy is about words, they should be your own words,” she said after her defeat in Wisconsin Tuesday. Not only she, but also John McCain, the Republican’s shoo-in for nomination, also opened fire on his most likely rival in November. “I’ll do all I can to defeat the eloquent cheat of change,” he said this week. “Yes, We Can” may not be Obama’s own words, to be sure. But Hillary is shrewd enough to put these words in separate slogans, “Yes, We Will,” and “Americans still have that can-do spirit.” These words are not original, either.

As the front-runner in the Democratic presidential nomination, Obama is now in the bull’s-eye for both the former first lady and McCain — the only candidate supporting the war in Iraq. McCain, 71, is the opposite of Obama, not only in age and skin color, but also policies. McCain represents exactly what Obama is campaigning against: the same old, same old in Washington.

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