Gaius Publius: Two Ways of Looking at a Plagiarism

By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. Originally published at at Down With Tyranny. GP article here

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

–Wallace Stevens, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Sometimes the thing that matters is not the thing seen, but the way of seeing it. Thus it is, I think, with Melania Trump’s plagiarism of Michelle Obama’s words in a speech Trump gave before the Republican national convention.

What They Said

Melania Trump (quoted here and here; my emphasis):

“From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect. They taught and showed me values and morals in their daily life. …

“Because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”

Michelle Obama:

“And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: like, you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond, that 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. …

“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.”

Now for two ways of looking at this event, we turn to two “blackbirds,” writers who’ve examined the story in some detail.

David Frum: “Plagiarism draws attention to content of the passage plagiarized”

David Frum reacted to this clear literary theft by focusing on Trump. In a piece in The Atlantic entitled “Ten Reasons Why Melania Trump’s Speech Will Have a Lasting Impact,” he wrote this…

9) Plagiarism draws attention to content of the passage plagiarized. In 2008, Michelle Obama summed up the values that she had learned from her parents and that she and Barack Obama now tried to instill in their children: work hard; tell the truth; keep your promises; treat others with dignity and respect. Donald Trump epically does not tell the truth, does not keep his promises, and does not treat others with dignity and respect. A plagiarized speech (and the failure to detect the plagiarism) pretty strongly confirms that the Trumps do not much care about hard work, either. “Thine own mouth condemneth thee, and not I: yea, thine own lips testify against thee.”

…which proves, to my mind, that he missed his own point: “Plagiarism draws attention to content of the passage plagiarized.” The eye of his blackbird, in other words, looked at the subject, then looked away. We need to consider what both of these women actually said, the actual message.

Is What Michelle Obama Said a True Statement?

Consider for a second the bare statement — “the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them” (Obama’s version). Is this true? Is it true that if you dream big enough and work hard enough, the “limit to the height of your achievements” disappears?

Obviously not. As a young high school graduate, working summers in a General Motors assembly plant to earn college money, I saw hundreds of men and women, many the lowest of the low, the sweepers, for example, whose lives mark “lie” to that statement. The next time you stay in a hotel, look at the woman who cleans your room and ask if she’s where she is because she won’t work hard. Most people like these are trapped, the way billions are trapped around the world, working in powerless service to others for the scraps those others allow them?

Oren Nimni: Obama’s statement “is an insult to every tomato-picker and hotel cleaner in the country”

The fact that Michelle Obama’s statement is blatantly false (and that a woman of color in the United States said it) is revealing. Current Affairs writer Oren Nimni on that (emphasis in original):

If anything, the whole plagiarism scandal reflects somewhat poorly on Michelle Obama. One reason Obama’s words were able to play so well at the RNC was that in the lifted passages, Obama was speaking using the conservative language of “bootstrapping.” Obama’s sentence, that “the only limit” to one’s achievements is the height of one’s goal and the “willingness to work” toward it, is the Republican story about America. It’s the story of personal responsibility, in which the U.S. is overflowing with opportunity, and anyone who fails to succeed in such a land of abundance must simply not be trying hard enough.

People on the left are supposed to know that it is a cruel lie to tell people that all they need to do is work hard. There are plenty of people with dreams who work very hard indeed but get nothing, because the American economy is fundamentally skewed and unfair. This rhetoric, about “hard work” being the only thing needed for the pursuit of prosperity, is an insult to every tomato-picker and hotel cleaner in the country. It’s a fact that those who work the hardest in this country, those come home from work exhausted and who break their backs to feed their families, are almost always rewarded the least.

Far from embarrassing Melania Trump and the GOP, then, it should be deeply humiliating for Democrats that their rhetoric is so bloodless and hollow that it can easily be spoken word-for-word in front of a gang of crazed racists. Instead of asking “why is Melania Trump using Michelle Obama’s words?” we might think to ask “why is Michelle Obama using the right-wing rhetoric of self-reliance?”

This is, of course, the myth of “meritocracy” that Thomas Frank has exposed with scalpel-like precision in his latest book Listen, Liberal. It’s clear that the Democratic Party, at its core, believes with Michelle (and Barack) Obama the comfortable and self-serving lie that no individual has anyone to blame but herself if she fails to achieve high goals. She should just have reached higher; she should just have worked harder.

It’s not only a lie, it’s a “cruel lie,” as Nimni says. So why is she, Michelle Obama, telling it? Clearly it serves her interests, her husband’s interests, her party’s interests, to tell the “rich person’s lie,” that his or her achievement came from his or her own efforts. To call most people’s success a product of luck (right color, right gender, right country, right neighborhood, right schools, right set of un-birth-damaged brain cells) or worse, inheritance (right parents), identifies the fundamental unfairness of our supposed “meritocratic” system of allocating wealth and undercuts the “goodness,” if you look at it writ large, of predatory capitalism. By that measure, neither the very wealthy themselves (Charles Koch, Jamie Dimon) nor those who serve them (Barack Obama et al) are “good” in any moral sense.

(The idea of the supposed “goodness” of the successful capitalist, by the way, his supposed “greater morality,” goes all the way back to the 18th Century attempt of the wealthy to counter the 17th Century bleakness of Protestant predestination. How could people, especially the very rich, know whether they are among the “elect” or the damned? God gives them wealth as a sign of his plans for them, just as God gives them morally deficient poverty-wage workers to take advantage of.)

A Third Blackbird

There’s a third issue arising from all this: What happens now that the Democrats and Republicans are in obvious and complete agreement? Under normal circumstances, not much more than has been happening. But with the rise of Trump, we are not looking at normal circumstances. Do the Democrat see an opportunity?

Answering my question involves a third blackbird, a very political one, with a third way of looking at this story.

I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

It involves another attempt to take over the Republican Party, this time by the Clinton-led Democratic leadership. I’ll discuss that in greater detail in a future piece, but it’s pretty clear by now that the Democratic Party thinks that if they attract all but the most crazed Republican voters, they can leave the Republican organization itself to rot, a half-empty shell useless for winning elections for a generation, for whoever may want it.

Blackbird number three says, of course they’re wrong and they’ll pay a price for that, win or lose in November. “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.” But more on that thought later.

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  1. Clive

    There’s also a flip side to the main point drawn out in the above article (“if you work hard you’ll be successful and rewarded”) which, dare I say, is rarely mentioned and even an anathema in U.S. culture (not, mind you, that I think British culture isn’t going the same way so I am not trying to throw stones in this glass house).

    Which is: quite often, you are rewarded if you don’t “work hard” and even if you work somewhat “hard” the rewards you receive are out of all proportion to the effort you have to make. But no-one (or few people) are willing to admit, if they are in that position, that — to put it crudely — they are really doing bugger all but raking it in.

    I, for example, do very little. What I do do certainly isn’t “hard work”. Now, I have expended a certain amount of mental effort on understanding the system — the dynamic — in play at my employer. And how to successfully exploit that to gain the maximum amount of financial reward for the least amount of effort. But I would hardly call that “work”, and certainly it is not of “hard” variety.

    U.S. cultural norms, as the piece describes accurately, glorify and misrepresent “work” especially of the “hard” kind. Hmm… I wonder where that notion came from and why it gained such a foothold in the prevailing groupthink?

    In Japanese culture, to introduce another nuance, the concept of “hard work” is still present as a thing to be looked up to but it is more tinged with an air of “doing your best” or “doing your upmost” rather than “hard” (i.e. demanding) work and lacks the “you’re going to get the payoff if you do” quid pro quo. The reward, in Japanese culture, comes from knowing you’ve done the best you can which is more a personal satisfaction than a financial compensator. But I am glossing over some complexity here so do not view what I’ve just said in this paragraph as anything other than a simplification.

    1. ambrit

      May I suggest that the “simplification” you mention is an essential part of any group control strategy. Simplified thinking may work wonders in efficiency studies or some sorts of high energy physics, but in the realm of social relations, simplicity masks diversity and complexity to the detriment of any version of “truth.” I was lucky in having skeptical parents and some excellent minds among my High School teachers. The present regime of “teach to the test” here in America almost completely short circuits the teaching of critical thinking skills. With stressed parents increasingly abdicating their responsibilities towards the upbringing of their offspring in favour of the State, is it any wonder that the narrow interests of the State, such as the Iron Law of Institutions, are supplanting enlightenment in the minds of the young? We now must begin to consider the divergence of the interests of the Society from the interests of the State. With the balance of power swinging heavily in favour of the State these recent decades, I am not sanguine about the near term future of our culture.

    2. timotheus

      As is so often the case in American culture, the “hard work” meme emerges from the slave system. Slaves had to be bullied and terrorized in order to extract “hard work” from them, given that they had zero rewards of any tangible sort for it. So “hard work” required constant vigilance and frequent punishments while slaves rationally attempted to do the least amount of work that enabled them to escape the many types of tortures they were regularly threatened with.

      Then after “emancipation,” plantation owners complained that they could not get any of those lazy, shiftless Negroes to perform “hard work” for them, given that the newly freed men and women were much more interested in getting ahead for themselves than continuing to pick cotton or harvest rice for starvation wages. Ever since, we have lived with the embittered voice of the slaveowner infuriated at the loss of all that labor power he once had at his disposal for free. Thus the mythology that “hard work” is all you need to perform to get ahead and the implicit wink-wink-we-know-who-won’t-do-that racism that goes along with it.

    3. MsExPat

      I don’t think you are over-simplifying, Clive–in Hong Kong, too, my experience has been that most people I deal with in the work world take a great deal of intrinsic pride in doing a job efficiently and well, for its own sake, not because it will necessarily make you more money. (Although often that is the result– over-performing and exceeding expectations is a great way of ensuring repeat customers and a thriving business.) Coming from the US, where every corporate smile and “Have a Nice Day” is being recorded for performance review, I find this a most refreshing cultural trait, one that I have tried my best to assimilate.

    4. Uahsenaa

      I would add to what Clive said that in Japan the ganbare ethos is also underlined by a certain expectation that your wider social group will back you up, or at least make certain your life doesn’t fall off a cliff. This doesn’t always work in practice, and there are obvious examples of social groups that the Japanese polity like to pretend simply doesn’t exist, but it is a cultural expectation. You even see it among homeless camps in Japan, which constitute a very clear in group.

      In the US, a great of anxiety stems from the realization that you could do your best in all circumstances and still have your life fall apart, since that social backstop just isn’t there, especially not in the world of meritocracy, in which you’re expected to basically give up your pre-existing social networks in order to even participate.

    5. Portia

      I remember one job where my Boss warned me: “Nice guys finish last here.”
      Nice of him, eh?
      Figure out the culture of your workplace, and if you can stomach it, do what you have to do to succeed. This is what the Obamas and the Clintons have done. And geez, they can stomach a lot. But I do know people who have “worked hard” and been successful in their own businesses, and musicians are a prime example of having to really do the work to get the work. It’s who you want to be recognized by, in my way of thinking.

  2. ewmayer

    I often think the better saying would be “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make outrageously successful.”

    With outrageous – as in wildly-disproportionate-to-effort-and-actual-talent – success comes a sense of infallibility, inevitability, hubris. A self-centered personality-cult delusion – ergo a form of madness – which often ends in a spectacular undoing. Alas, not nearly often enough, when it comes to the DC cabal of hubristic upward-failing sociopaths.

    GOP convention finished with a bang tonight, and thankfully the dire pre-convention worries about the streets of Cleveland flowing with rivers of blood proved unfounded – I’d studiously avoided the previous evenings, aside from a few brief nauseating while-channel-flipping glimpses – but happened to catch Trump himself tonight. While I disliked Trump’s police-centric take on American security at home, I thought he really effectively hammered the issues of economic inequality – including a mention of soaring unemployment rates in the latino and black communities (I wish he would have said more in that vein, but he did at least say something) and governmental corruption at the highest levels, as well as Hillary’s multiple foreign-policy debacles; the whole “what has 15 years of blowing shit up in the middle east done for us?” issue. Also made a very pronounced point of embracing Sanders’ “top issue” of bad so-called-free-trade deals, while emphasizing the degree to which things were rigged against Bernie. And closed with a nifty turning of Hillary’s pet slogan against her [I paraphrase, too tired to dig the exact quote out]: “she demands a three-word loyalty oath ‘I`m with her’ … well I’m here to tell you tonight that I’m with you.”

    And the speeches by his kids (Donald Jr last night, Ivanka tonight) were both good, and I think likely surprising – in a positive way – to many people. The image of the whole family onstage post-speech will likely resonate with the traditional Republican base – clean-cut successful-looking guys and attractive ladies of a leggy-blond (but not Barbie-esque/ditzy) type … I expect even folks of a conservative Mormon bent will have found something to like in that image. Scott Adams comments on the kids:

    What I’m starting to sniff in the zeitgeist today is that Trump’s kids are totally changing what people think of the father. People are making the semi-rational assumption that anyone who can raise such good kids must be very different in private than he is on the campaign trail.

    Would be interested to hear the takes of other NC readers who watched the nomination acceptance speech.

    1. Clive

      For me, and, goodness knows, I’m often so off beam that I am all too frequently in a minority of one so I may well be out on a limb here, watching the convention made me evaluate all sorts of things about the Trump family but not because of his children but rather the whole concept of a trophy wife. Why men get them, why women become them, who is really exploiting whom and why.

      Not that I have answers, but like you I have lots of questions I can’t resolve without seeking other opinions as I am not a woman, not pretty, not a squillionaire, and so on. I just don’t think in the same way as a man like Trump and others in his mold do. And I’ve never been a woman who can trade on her looks.

      1. ambrit

        Re “..a minority of one..” At least you go in for nuance and reflection. My take on H Clinton and her claque is that they all perceive the Candidate as a ‘majority of one.’
        Your comment about the wife of Trump reminds me of the old saying by Caesar that : ” Caesars’ wife must be above suspicion.” Thus, the genesis of the “plagiarism” attacks. The mud slinging has started early in this campaign. However, if Trumps’ family can exude some sense of charm and class, the entire mud slinging strategy can be ‘stood on its’ head.’

    2. Kokuanani

      I found Trump’s speech terrifying — the terror being in how effective I expect it to be. Despite the bombast, it was loaded with cliches and dog whistles, and I could imagine folks at home nodding in agreement, even if not as robotically enthusiastically as the folks in the hall.

      It’s hard to imagine Hillary giving a speech that effective, both because she lacks the content to rebut its claims [“jobs are great; there is no crime”] and because to do so that energetically will add to her already well-established tendency to screech.

      It’s also terrifying to think about how wrong the Very Important People will be in their estimation of Trump’s “appeal.” Just because he’s full of lies doesn’t mean he’s not appealing to far too many; look at ads for car sales and pay-day loans, to say nothing of arguments touting foreign adventures and the TPP.

      Yes, the speech sounded straight out of Russia, North Korea or Hitler’s Germany, but the appeals to fear, and the attempts to calm those fears by tyranny and blaming “others”, are all too strong in a country as devastated and uncritical as ours.

      I’m frightened.

      1. JerseyJeffersonian

        Me, I’m terrified of Hillary Clinton and the devastation that her ascension to the Presidency might bring to this nation and to the world. She is not only a liar, a blatantly self-dealing criminal, but more devastating yet, a sociopath of the first water, willing to walk across the bodies to advance her personal and class agenda.

        Her time as President would go a long way toward cementing the Unitary Executive in place (i.e., a functional Dictator, as understood in the Roman Republican meaning of the term, a Tribune, in which a chief magistrate of the State like the President under our Constitution, whose writ as an authoritarian ruler ran so long as there was a national emergency. I serve as the clerk for government documents in a university law library, and I can tell you that the number of House Documents announcing a “National Emergency” or the continuation of a previously announced “National Emergency” is very alarming. These “emergencies” are the camel’s nose under the tent in my estimation for the slow accretion of Dictatorial powers (again, in the Roman Republican sense of the term “dictator”) toward the Caesar-like role of Unitary Executive. These “National Emergencies” functionally invest power into the hands of the President and those forces military, legal, and regulatory under the control of the Executive by which the President can wage military, legal/diplomatic, and economic warfare against those who refuse to bend the knee to US-dominated global hegemony.

        Our well-nigh useless Legislative branch has largely surrendered its Constitutional responsibilities to the Executive through such trash as Authorizations of Military Force rather than engaging in the mandated procedure of the Declaration of War found in the Constitution to authorize extended use of military (and legal and economic) force. This gives the Executive carte blanche to engage in unending wars (beginning to sound familiar?) with all that that implies concerning the dominance of the MIC in the formulation of national policies.

        Hillary is practically salivating to grasp the rod of power embodied in the Unitary Executive. Warfare will follow her tenure in office like a dire shadow, and due to her belief in the right of and necessity of the US to enforce a global hegemony, she is inevitably moving toward a deadly clash with other nuclear powers unwilling to submit to the yoke of globalized, stateless, culturally-anodyne finance capitalism. Good times await.

        And that is only the beginning, as the plans she has for the US citizenry are scarcely less dire, what with the inevitability of the Grand Bargain in service of Finance Capitalism looming dead ahead.

        Clinton delenda est.

        1. Russ Zimmerman

          “Our well-nigh useless Legislative branch has largely surrendered its Constitutional responsibilities to the Executive through such trash as Authorizations of Military Force rather than engaging in the mandated procedure of the Declaration of War found in the Constitution to authorize extended use of military (and legal and economic) force.”

          That allows individuals to claim they had no responsibility for the war, something Pence and Clinton cannot claim because of their votes. But on what other things do you see Obama as being a strong “unitary executive.” I thought it was generally viewed that Congress had thwarted his (almost) every wish.

          1. tegnost

            Indeed, the republicans twisted barack’s arm behind his back and forced him to allow insurance company lobbyists to write the “Affordable Care Act”. Since you have tsa pre check I’ll guess that your cadillac plan is still operational, or if not that that all the people who pay for insurance they can’t use are subsidising you, and your own health care costs have been ameliorated. They also forced him to nominate merrick garland. They forced him to foam the runway for the banks and forced him to let all the bankster crimes go unpunished. My view is that obama, like hillary, is a republican because for both of them the policies they worked to advance are republican policies. TPP, ISDS, ACA, Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning…I could go on and on. I agree with the author that dems like obama and hillary are interested in serving the top sliver of the population that has the lions share of the wealth. It’s not right/left anymore, it’s top/bottom . And how about that patriot act renewal, US out of iraq/afganistan? Vicky nuland and the ukraine? I guess the problem is that you get your information as it is generally viewed, but you fail to indicate who it is that generally views things that way, however, it should help you understand why trump will win because hillary is generally viewed as corrupt.

      2. Russ Zimmerman

        I am weak on historic knowledge. During the rise of Hitler, were there a lot of people saying, “It can’t happen here,” or was that just Sinclair Lewis? What did we call Fascism before Mussolini who I thought was credited with coining the word (from a sheaf of wheat)?

        As you listened to the speech was there nothing you could agree with? Or did you just start with the old idea, I think Emerson’s, that “What you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say”?

        The problem is that most can agree with parts of what these people say–once you ignore who is saying it.

        For example, I have TSA precheck. So I don’t agree with Trump’s objection to TSA, and furthermore, with his own plane, I wondered if he ever went through a TSA line; so I cannot see how he is affected. But those that object to TSA for one reason or another may have found something to like.

        1. Jim Young

          “…The problem is that most can agree with parts of what these people say–once you ignore who is saying it…”

          I’d copied the transcript of the ‘^9 inaugural speech and given my old party friends 3 months to stew over Obama’s election before I asked them to review it to see which parts of it they took exception to. After carefully reading the entire transcript, I heard a lengthy scathing review of just about every part of it. After the tirade ended and I was asked about my puzzled look, I looked again at the transcript.

          Then I pointed out the “typographical error,” the year should have been ’69, not ‘^9. It was Nixon’s inaugural speech, not Obama’s.

          Perhaps we should also point out that, “The problem is that most can [dis]agree with parts of what these people say–once you ignore who is saying it.”

          How to “talk-like-Newt” (describing anything anyone else does) is best described in the Newt Gingrich/Frank Luntz GoPac memo, “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.” See

          I quit the party over it (after 5 generations of loyalty), but the use of it seems to have become second nature to my old friends that stayed through the transformation of the “Perty of Lincoln” to something more like “The Party of John Wilkes Booth.”

        2. jrs

          The person who is saying it is everything if we have no other way to know people will do what they say in office nor to enforce they will and we don’t (ok their other prospective appointments offer some clue – and they aren’t all that promising with Trump).

          It’s why people liked Bernie, it isn’t just what he said, it is they thought he might have more integrity than most politicians (admittedly a very low bar) to follow through on it.

  3. flora

    I think both Obama and Trump were reciting a standard variation of the American Dream™. Horatio Alger stories are part of the US mythos. Bill Clinton used a variation in 1992. Most US pols use the “up from nothing by dint of hard work and good morals” line. The flap is that O and T used the exact same words instead of noting that the sentiment itself is boilerplate?

    I’m intrigued by author’s concluding idea. “It involves another attempt to take over the Republican Party, this time by the Clinton-led Democratic leadership.

    1. jrs

      Yea that sounds like tinfoil territory though it could be right. Trump could be a Clinton plant, can’t prove otherwise afterall.

      But this is clearly false:
      “but it’s pretty clear by now that the Democratic Party thinks that if they attract all but the most crazed Republican voters, they can leave the Republican organization itself to rot, a half-empty shell useless for winning elections for a generation, for whoever may want it.”

      The Republican party is more than capable of winning general elections, who has the House and Senate again? Clinton is probably favored to win the Presidency but so …

      1. oh

        I’ve often wondered how much Trump’s getting paid to run a fake campaign. (Tin foil firmly placed on head)

      2. Bary

        But this just tells the Democratic Party that they still need to attract more Republican voters.

  4. James Levy

    Nice try at making this, as everything else, about Hillary and the Dems.

    Another “blackbird”: Trump, in best Charles Foster Kane style, wanted to show his wife as something she is not, so when the fact that the speech was written for her and not her own became apparent he reflexively and stupidly lied about it.

    And if the words were lies coming out of Obama’s mouth, what are they coming out of Trump’s mouth?

    1. Roger Smith

      And if the words were lies coming out of Obama’s mouth, what are they coming out of Trump’s mouth?

      They are still lies, but they are lies in keeping with the ideology that dominates the party of which Trump is the nominee. Nimni summarized this well:

      “Far from embarrassing Melania Trump and the GOP, then, it should be deeply humiliating for Democrats that their rhetoric is so bloodless and hollow that it can easily be spoken word-for-word in front of a gang of crazed racists. Instead of asking “why is Melania Trump using Michelle Obama’s words?” we might think to ask “why is Michelle Obama using the right-wing rhetoric of self-reliance?”

      A lot of this is related to the Democrats and what Bill made “successful” with his presidency. The lack of a truly left party that works for average citizens has created this environment when a character like Trump can gain such support. This article illustrates but another example of meritocratic nonsense being regurgitated by the party.

    2. jrs

      I think she initially claimed she wrote it didn’t she? But yea it’s clearly silly coming out of her mouth. Although being a model may be hard work (it could very well be frankly), she hasn’t worked hard for years by now, and didn’t get into such a privileged position by hard work (in whose definition exactly does marrying money count as hard work?).

      So while in Michelle Obama’s mouth the words are a lie, at least they might be a lie that’s kind of true for her, in Misses Trumps mouth it’s beyond silly. I have no idea if Mr Inherited Wealth and Misses Married Money do raise their kids that way or not. Wow the rich are crazy!!!

  5. Hana M

    A thought-provoking and unexpected take, Gaius Publius. I was struck by one item left off your list of lucky attributes: beauty. Both Michelle Obama and Melania Trump are undeniably beautiful women–tall, slim, with the elegantly symmetrical features prized in every culture. Sadly in beauty-obsessed America the doors opened for women who look this lovely are shut hard against women who are fat, or old, or ugly.

      1. Jim Young

        Jane is beautiful to the ear, and to those of us who see the beauty of a teacher from a young child’s eye.

        Some of the best marriages I’ve encountered seem to come from people who talked over the phone, falling in love without ever seeing the other. When they did meet, the physical looks hardly mattered at all.

      1. Hana M

        There is a strong correlation between height and compensation. “When it comes to height, every inch counts–in fact, in the workplace, each inch above average may be worth $789 more per year, according to a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology (Vol. 89, No. 3).

        The findings suggest that someone who is 6 feet tall earns, on average, nearly $166,000 more during a 30-year career than someone who is 5 feet 5 inches–even when controlling for gender, age and weight.”

      2. Hana M

        That apparently is not true. One study of lawyers “found that those rated attractive on the basis of their graduation photographs went on to earn higher salaries than their less well-favoured colleagues. Moreover, lawyers in private practice tended to be better looking than those working in government departments.” Even among economists, beauty pays and “attractive candidates were more successful in elections for office in the American Economic Association.”

        1. jrs

          If not strategically used it at best provides a very temporary minor advantage. Because a woman is not going to always be young, and just because a persons early career was promising (maybe because someone hired them because they were cute!) doesn’t mean they won’t be one of those people attempting suicide by middle age. Because it’s happening to so many, men and women, they once had at least someone good jobs and they just don’t anymore.

          Very deliberate use is often marrying rich like Trumps wife of course. That might pay off long term like no job in a world of disposable workers ever will. Lawyers and so on, where is the administrative assistant who was hired for their cuteness and their competence in 20 years? Homeless maybe.

        2. jrs

          with a good start in a career like law maybe one is set for life, I really don’t see how that applies to most people who are a lot closer to if not straight out working class.

        3. Yves Smith Post author

          Photographs are not a good proxy. Some people who are attractive are not photogenic. So the study methodology is flawed.

          Plus for women in particular, once they graduate from grad school and have a bit of $, many figure out what to do to make themselves look better (haircuts, perms, makeup, clothes). Remember as students, the incentives are weak, they don’t have the $, and the areas near universities are thin on the right resources.

          It was true of my MBA class. The women who were natively very attractive looked pretty much the same, but most of the not so attractive ones looked a ton better and the mediocre in the looks category had moved into pretty 3 years out. Just look at the trashy magazines at the checkout counter at a grocery store. Every month or so there will be a photo series on actresses caught out of their make. Those stories are stories because those off-duty actresses looked terrible.

          Put it another way: tons of studies show pretty people are rated as being nicer and smarter than not pretty people. How is this not a plus in a profession like the law?

  6. I Have Strange Dreams

    Disappointingly, I still haven’t heard a better speech than Pedro’s speech from Napoleon Dynamite:

    Hello. I don’t have much to say. But I think it would be good to have some holy santos brought to the high school…to guard the hallway and to bring us good luck. El Santo Niño de Atocha is a good one. My Aunt Concha has seen him.

    And…and I’d like to see more of that. If you vote for me, all of your wildest dreams will come true. Thank you.

  7. steveB

    Does anyone EVER believe the speeches of politicians? Really? Their JOB is to get elected, period!

  8. Roquentin

    I had pretty much the exact same thought as your second “blackbird” when the video of Melania Trump plagiarizing Michele Obama’s speech and all my liberal friends were yuking it up. All I could think was “If the same speech could plausibly come out of either of their mouths without alienating the audience, we have much worse problems than her Mrs. Trump’s copycating.” The fact that this seemed to bother hardly anyone else made it worse. So much of these elections just get reduced down to rooting for your team at a sporting event. This works well to keep people from having to deal with a lot of unpleasant questions and conclusions.

    Or worse still, they’ve become so used to neoliberal platitudes like “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” that it’s become “common sense” or the don’t even recognize it as such.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      We live in a shallow age of presentation. Ask yourself this, do you remember any unique points relevant to the current era Obama has ever made which couldn’t be put in a speech by anyone in the Western world’s dominant center left and center right parties?

      The correct answer is “no.” About the only relevant and intriguing point, Obama has ever made was when he WROTE that people projected their values onto him. The rest is word salad and banality.

      Remember we are comparing speeches of the spouses’ of candidates, not candidates themselves or Hillary type spouses. Michelle is simply a traditional President’s wife at the end of the day. I doubt Melania would be much different. Hillary was very much a relevant adviser in the Clinton White House, so her words mattered.

  9. Steve H.

    I do not know which to prefer,
    The beauty of inflections
    Or the beauty of innuendoes,
    The blackbird whistling
    Or just after.

      1. clinical wasteman

        Yes, wild applause to G.P. for calling on Stevens (in the same way Gil Scott-Heron would “call on” Lady Day and John Coltrane) in lunging straight at the scabrous heart of ‘hard work’ superstition.

  10. A forgotten man

    In case you missed it, T’s entire speech was about the “forgotten man,” those that work hard and still cannot make a living wage. The height of their dreams count for nothing. The system is rigged. Read Roosevelt’s speech, Trump certainly did, for some real fear mongering and look at the coalition he has taken over the Republican party to form. FDR 1932.

  11. Lambert Strether

    > another attempt to take over the Republican Party

    Which shouldn’t be that hard, since both the Democrat and Republican parties are neoliberal.

    As always, the real enemy is the left.

  12. Hana M

    And on body fat and income. “These findings indicate that there is, in fact, a consistent wage penalty for body fat and a wage premium for muscle, but discrimination might not necessarily be the cause. While the results support the notion that appearance is an important determinant of wages, the average wage differentials could exist if employers believed health and productivity were related and/or if high body fat were taken as a signal of possible long-term poor health.”

  13. Jess

    I’m surprised Gaius failed to address this portion of Michelle’s speech which he quoted:

    “tell the truth; keep your promises; treat others with dignity and respect.”

    Since when has Obama told the truth, or kept his promises, or treated anyone except Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blanfein with respect?

  14. dingusansich

    you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise

    Put aside whether “Michelle Obama” or some speechwriting merc came up with the banal verbiage redolent of Sunday school and Horatio Alger. What gives the snippet its special Trumpian turn into hyper-unreality, an ever-expanding balloon of hot boast and hyperbolic deceit, is the way it transcends garden-variety plagiarism by laying claim to the very virtues that the appropriation itself falsifies.

    That’s chutzpah! The stunning effrontery supersizes an overall meta-ness that’s less indicative of middle-class morality and meritocracy than the predatory opportunism of the exploitative rich, what C. Wright Mills might have recognized as the “higher immorality.” Here we have a colossally vain billionaire atop an empire of glitz and privilege kayfabing his way to a party nomination as the indignant voice of the brutalized working class he’s dedicated his life to disparaging as envious losers. The mind reels between giddiness and nausea.

    What then exists outside the genteel social Darwinism of meritocratic ideology and further descent into a society of the spectacle, the Reaganite sitcom devolved into the Trump unreality show? To the gnomic, sidelong mysticism of Stevens let’s add the frontal transvaluation of a sardonic Shaw:

    What am I, Governors both? I ask you, what am I? I’m one of the undeserving poor: that’s what I am. Think of what that means to a man. It means that he’s up agen middle class morality all the time. If there’s anything going, and I put in for a bit of it, it’s always the same story: ‘You’re undeserving; so you can’t have it.’ But my needs is as great as the most deserving widow’s that ever got money out of six different charities in one week for the death of the same husband. I don’t need less than a deserving man: I need more. I don’t eat less hearty than him; and I drink a lot more. I want a bit of amusement, cause I’m a thinking man. I want cheerfulness and a song and a band when I feel low. Well, they charge me just the same for everything as they charge the deserving. What is middle class morality? Just an excuse for never giving me anything.

    Governors both, Democrats and Republicans, the meritocrats and the masters. What must be taken in is that the unskilled, the uneducated, the out of step, the unlucky, all need the means to live. If that’s taken from them by the self-described deserving on the Acela and the higher immoralists in their towers and Gulfstreams, a democracy will begin to wobble like a spinning coin on the verge. You can’t educate that away. You can’t forever distract it away with Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and color counter-revolutions against exploitative freeloaders (the non-rich and famous ones, that is). It takes an philosophy of human worth apart from vanities over this or that temporarily adaptive skill or happy accident.

    When the market is be all and end all, an expression of natural law and supernatural giver of meaning, it’s hard to see how even a managed, minimal democracy can prevail except as grotesque, corrupt parody, a mood traced in the shadow a decipherable cause. Or did I read something like that somewhere, like in a poem?

  15. George S

    I don’t recall Ms. Obama’s speech. Based on the excerpts I heard during the recent news cycle (from both speeches) were pathetic. I think Oren Nimni basically gets it right: When you cut through the tautologies and the bromides that many parents deliver to their children, what you have is the message, “don’t expect government to be there for you; those days are over” (which, actually, sounds like Bubba Bill’s pitch–“the day’s of big government are over”).

    All that said, why is Ms. Trump’s speech such a big story, compared with some first-order outrages–notably, Rep. Smith doubling down on his belief that only white people have contributed anything of value to civilization, and the selection of Mike Pence as VP candidate. Even by NPR and PBS Newshour, Pence–who doesn’t believe in climate change or evolution, and would send all gay people to hell–is being depicted as congenial, avuncular, and wise. What an indictment of our educational system we have in Smith and Pence.

    As for Ms. Clinton, I don’t think she’s outstandingly evil. More of the same, really. If elected, she should, in the area of foreign policy, provide reliable continuity of U.S. policy going back to about 1898: the world’s resources are ours, and we’ll take them by force when we deem it necessary.

  16. DarkMatters

    I found Trump’s speech terrifying — the terror being in how effective I expect it to be.

    I fear it too. Trouble is, I fear what Hillary is likely to do even more. Political decisions are coming down to a competition between horrors. Who will do the most damage? How crazy will Trump get? How much strain can Hillary’s frightening history take before her support snaps?

    the Democratic Party thinks that if they attract all but the most crazed Republican voters, they can leave the Republican organization itself to rot

    …unless Democrats who go over to the republican party change the calculation.

  17. Tim

    If you work hard enough and have enough ambition you will succeed is not a lie to those born on 3rd base, it was true for them. The Obama’s the Trumps. They are really just guilty of not understanding the plight of those who were born at bat against a major league pitcher.

    However Trump himself at least is saying he has engaged those downtrodden people and is working for them, which will prove to be very effective at capturing them republican or democrat.

    Due to mi personal circumstances I desperately need Clinton to win, but I fear that with the slightest wiff of a recession she will be toast.

  18. g3

    Haha! Very good points.

    Those who managed to succeed and bloviate about hard work conveniently forget 2 key points : 1) we are occupying lands stolen from native Americans after their genocide 2) Then Black people built the country through their slave labor. Some head start right there for the so-called meritocrats. [

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