Melania Trump found herself in an uncomfortable position after her speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Her speechwriter lifted whole sections from Michelle Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. When you put the two speeches side by side, there is no doubt—regardless of what the Trump campaign might say—that Melania Trump’s speechwriters plagiarized Michelle Obama’s speech. No doubt about it.
I felt sorry for Melania (and being absolutely no fan of Trump, that’s saying something). She didn’t know her speech had been plagiarized. She gave a good speech. She overcame any nervousness which would naturally come from standing before a live national audience and spoke on behalf of her husband. Because her speechwriters did such a poor job, Melania finds herself in the middle of a controversy.
Plagiarism in political speeches is an old trick. President Obama, when running in the 2008 Democratic primaries, plagiarized Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. Hillary Clinton stole lines from former Senator John Edwards. Joe Biden had to end his 1988 presidential bid over plagiarized speeches. Ben Carson and Senator Rand Paul both found themselves in controversy over plagiarism. In fact, one of the most famous lines in American political history—“Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country”—was stolen from JFK’s headmaster at Choate School.
I can’t imagine the difficulty political speechwriters face when they attempt to help a candidate prepare his or her remarks. What new can you say? What new theme can you bring to the political discussion? That is a tall challenge.
You know why the challenge is difficult: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Nothing is new under the sun. No political speech. No American patriotism. No discussion about taxes or abortion or work ethic or terrorism or war and peace or anything else you might imagine. Long before this country was ever established, men developed and spoke the same themes.
But, not Jesus. Jesus stands in a different category altogether. No, he never plagiarized a single word; in fact, he spoke differently from those in his own age. Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord would remind his hearers of the rabbinic interpretation of the Torah and then declare, “But I say unto you….” At the conclusion of the Sermon, Jesus’ hearers “were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29).
The scribes and Pharisees sent officers to arrest Jesus, but the guards returned to their superiors empty handed. When asked why they had not arrested Jesus, the guards replied, “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46). Jesus spoke differently. No rhetoric borrowed from those who had gone before him. No hint of plagiarism. His teaching was totally different from what they people had heard before.
What made Jesus’ teaching so different? He didn’t pander for votes. He didn’t concern himself with a short sound bite that would be played over and over in the media. He didn’t check with polls and focus groups before he spoke. He spoke truth—always truth, only truth.
Jesus’ words have value that no politician or politician’s spouse can ever have: “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). The disciples recognized Jesus’ words to have value above any word from man: Peter said to Jesus, “You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). No one by the name of Clinton or Trump or Obama or Kennedy or Bush or Reagan or Nixon has the words of eternal life. No one by the name of Francis or Muhammad or Confucius or Campbell or Stone or Hardeman or Lipscomb has the words of eternal life. Jesus has the words of eternal life.
Because Jesus alone has the words of eternal life, is it any wonder that the Father declared on the Mount of Transfiguration, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5)? If you want eternal life, listen to Jesus. His speech is different from anything else—his words lead to life. Are you following his words?