One part of President Obama’s State of the Union address was to put forward his new slogan for 2012, “Winning The Future.” As many have already noted, this phrase was made popular as the title of Newt Gingrich’s 2005 best-selling book. Since Mr. Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden, was forced in part to withdraw from the 1988 presidential race because he allegedly lifted (without attribution) a similar phrase from a then popular British politician (in fact, he did not, but the Michael Dukakis campaign made it appear that he did), we can only assume that this is a potentially serious matter.
In fact, President Obama clearly took the phrase from Mr. Gingrich, and gave no attribution. Even presidents don’t have the right to plagiarize, so I can only assume that Mr. Obama is in fact signaling he will endorse Newt Gingrich for president (in which case, there would be no plagiarism). On the other hand, Mr Gingrich understandably may not want to be endorsed by Mr. Obama (in which case there might be a legitimate (albeit token) complaint by him of literary theft). Legally, book titles and most short phrases that are used without attribution cannot be considered a tort (or liable for legal action). I’m sure Mr. Obama’s attorney general is relieved this is not something he would have to deal with.
Nontheless, we are going to take the positive side of this situation, and assume that President Obama was really signaling his approval of Mr. Gingrich. We will await his formal endorsement of the former speaker some time later in the year.