Hillary Clinton’s new favorite line might be borrowed from O’Malley

At Tuesday night’s debate, Hillary Clinton came prepared to answer questions about a seeming contradiction that she had talked herself into. Having declared that she takes “a back seat to no one” regarding her progressive principles, only to later “plead guilty” to being a moderate, Anderson Cooper asked her to explain. And she did:

As Clinton said, when Cooper asked her to pick between the progressive and moderate labels, “I’m a progressive who likes to get things done.”

In the context of a Democratic primary debate, this is a great line, as it allows her to technically answer the question without using the word “moderate.” What’s more, it underscores what is perhaps the strongest case she has for the nomination: However much progressives might like Bernie Sanders, the guy stands no chance of passing any legislation with a Republican-controlled House of Representatives and less than sixty Democrats in the Senate. So you can vote for Bernie, punch Washington in the mouth and achieve nothing, or you can vote for Hillary and have a slightly smaller slice of progressive cake, but at least you’ll actually get to eat it too.

(Not for nothing, those same political fundamentals apply to Clinton, who said at the end of the debate that her greatest enemy during her presidency would be the Republicans, signaling a more confrontational presidency than what we saw in Obama’s first term.)

But as The Nation’s John Nichols pointed out on Twitter today, Clinton and her team may not have come up with the line themselves. As early as June, Martin O’Malley was saying something awfully similar:

The lede from that Quad-City Times article reads: “Selling himself as a progressive who gets things done, Martin O’Malley engaged in classic Iowa retail politics Thursday afternoon at a Mount Vernon house party.” A search for “progressive who likes to get things done” for the year preceding that article turns up no other uses of the term, suggesting O’Malley’s usage is the original. And while Clinton may feel the description applies to her, as well, one would think there are at least two ways to articulate it.

Given that it’s just one sentence, it’s certainly plausible that she came up with the line independently — intra-party talking points are often word-for-word identical — but the similarity is at least worth pointing out.

This is especially the case given that this isn’t the first time this cycle that Clinton has co-opted rhetoric from other prominent Democrats. Around the time she officially launched her campaign, she started sounding an awful lot like Elizabeth Warren, turning Warren’s “the game is rigged” into her now-familiar “the deck is stacked” when talking about the need to change how our political and economic systems are structured in relation to the middle class. Warren, for her part, wasn’t bothered by Clinton’s rhetorical similarity, but she isn’t running for president. O’Malley is. If he was running to win, rather than to secure a spot in Clinton’s administration, I’d imagine he’d be making a slightly bigger issue out of this.

During the 2008 primary, Hillary Clinton went after Barack Obama for delivering a passage in a speech that sounded awfully similar to one that Deval Patrick had delivered in 2006, saying it was “not change you can believe in; it’s change you can Xerox.” And she wasn’t wrong! Plagiarism is bad! And while what Clinton’s done here isn’t blind copy/pasting, but is rather a sentence here and a phrase there, it still seems a twinge unoriginal. It shows that she’s responding to her party, not leading it.

Which is problematic if you’re running to be your party’s standard-bearer.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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