The video above shows Craig James and Hillary Clinton finding common ground on a killer line.
American politics is overstuffed with examples of plagiarism. Joe Biden’s promising run for the presidential nomination was knocked off course in 1988 by accusations that he’d borrowed chunks of a speech by British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock. The New York Times undid the career of Montana’s Democratic Sen. John Walsh of Montana when it revealed that he’d pilfered sections of his U.S. Army War College thesis. Ben Carson came under fire when sections of his book, America the Beautiful, rang a little too familiar. And this summer, Melania Trump’s speech at the RNC was deemed too close to a speech by Michelle Obama for the comfort of some.
Working as a political consultant in 2012, I made tons of spots for political candidates all over the country. One of my clients was Craig James, who was competing in the Republican primary for the US Senate seat being vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison. James had been an unstoppable running back in high school in Houston before being one-half of the fabled “pony express” backfield at SMU in Dallas, and then going onto NFL glory and a major career in sports broadcasting. That’s a resume that gives a Texas Republican at least a shot, and it didn’t hurt that James is extremely articulate and super handsome.
Craig James is also a down-the-line conservative, checking every possible box on the social issue matrix – on abortion, gay marriage, guns (there’s a movie of me shooting an automatic rifle at a wild boar on his West Texas ranch and nearly falling over as all of Craig’s rodeo buddies laugh), you name it, Craig’s position aligned with a GOP primary voter.
Our campaign consultant was the legendary Arthur Finkelstein, who has arguably elected more Republicans to the US Senate than anyone in America. I wrote a lot of Craig’s scripts, the candidate himself wrote others, and Arthur would lob in ideas and tweaks. But the best line of the campaign belonged to Arthur. I remember him phoning me up to tell me that Craig’s drawl would sound perfect over the line “America is great because Americans are good.” Gold, baby.
I went to Craig’s ranch in Denton, TX, and shot a killer spot with that as the featured line. I threw in some b-roll of him walking with his wife and even got him to toss a football, which he was reluctant to do. Arthur told me to change “Republican” in the supertext to “Conservative.” Bingo. Great spot, clean message.
So imagine my delight to discover a couple weeks ago that Hillary Clinton was just as big a fan of Arthur’s work. During an address, she intones:
“America is great because America is good.”
It’s not precisely the same line. And the truth is, there’s only so much crap you can say in a campaign before it all begins to sound the same, regardless of party or ideology. But it is funny and striking how quickly the roles have shifted – the flag-waving and chants of USA! were more prominent at the Democratic convention this year while sharp criticisms of America were loudly heard from Republicans.
So perhaps the message here is not about plagiarism, but one of unity. However much Hillary Clinton and Craig James may disagree about policy, at least they clearly both appreciate the writing of Arthur Finkelstein.
UPDATE: Readers have brought to the Observer’s attention that similar rhetoric has been used for years. In fact, the line “America is great because she is good” is often attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America but even that attribution is suspect. In other words, as is written above, there’s only so much crap you can say in a campaign before it all begins to sound the same.