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Did Vivek Ramaswamy plagiarize Barack Obama speech during GOP debate?

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Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy is widely viewed as having attracted the most attention in Wednesday night’s first primary debate, but when it came to his snappy opening remarks, he may have a politician of an entirely different ilk to thank for them.

The tech entrepreneur turned anti-woke political figure has been accused of plagiarism after several people—including fellow GOP contender Chris Christie—noticed that one line in his first response was seemingly lifted from a speech that former Democratic president Barack Obama made nearly two decades ago.

“So let me just address a question that is on everybody’s mind at home tonight: who the heck is this skinny guy with the funny last name and what the heck is he doing in the middle of this debate stage?” Ramaswamy said at the outset of the eight-way debate.

During a keynote address to the Democratic National Convention in July 2004, Obama, the then-Democratic senator for Illinois, spoke of hope—a concept that would become the centerpiece of his White House bid—including self-referentially “the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too.”

Vivek Ramaswamy GOP primary debate
Vivek Ramaswamy gestures as he arrives to take part in the first Republican Presidential primary debate at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on August 23, 2023. He has been accused of plagiarizing Barack Obama in his opening remarks.
KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images

As well as the similar wording being picked up on by social media users, it was alluded to by Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, during the debate, who later noted the similarity with Obama’s remarks, adding: “I’ve had enough of a guy who stands up here who sounds like ChatGPT,” a reference to a popular artificial intelligence copywriting program that cribs text from existing sources.

“Vivek Ramaswamy pulled a Melania [Trump] tonight and plagiarized a famous speech by President Obama,” Jon Pierre, an internet personality, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, referencing a 2016 speech by the former first lady, which was taken from parts of an earlier speech by Michelle Obama.

“Hey I thought Vivek’s opening sounded a little familiar,” Philip Lewis, a senior editor of the Huffington Post, wrote alongside a clip of the two excerpts back-to-back.

Newsweek approached the Ramaswamy campaign via email for comment on Thursday.

Ramaswamy continued by saying that he was “not a politician,” but an entrepreneur, before explaining his family’s origins and mentioning his children—remarks which were not taken from Obama’s 2004 speech, though invoked themes that the former president had used.

“My parents came to this country with no money 40 years ago; I have gone on to found multi-billion-dollar companies,” Ramaswamy said. “I did it while marrying my wife, Apoorva, raising our two sons, following our faith in God—that is the American dream. And I am genuinely worried that that American dream will not exist for our two sons.”

In 2004, Obama began his address by speaking about his father traveling from Kenya to America—a nation he said had “a faith in simple dreams”—before going on to say that he was “aware that my parents’ dreams live on in my two precious daughters.”

But while Ramaswamy had a gloomy outlook for the future of the nation, Obama spoke of an America where “we can tuck in our children at night and know that they are fed and clothed and safe from harm.”

A political aide of the Strive Asset Management co-founder told the Daily Beast on Friday that there “has not been a lot of debate prep.”

Elsewhere in the debate, Ramaswamy said he would oppose further funding for Ukraine’s defense against the Russian invasion, and hit out at Christie for attacking Donald Trump, the GOP frontrunner who was absent from the debate.

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