Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Senator John Walsh of Montana is an Albatross for Democrats
Long term Democratic Senator Max Baucus of Montana in April 2013 announced he was not running for reelection for a seventh term in the Senate. Montana is an independent state. It can easily elect Democrats or Republicans in statewide elections. The Democrats are fighting to hold onto the Senate. Control will switch to Republicans if they achieve a net gain of 6 Senate seats in the November mid-term elections. The Democrats have essentially written off open seats in South Dakota and West Virginia. Montana also looked wobbly for Democrats. The idea arose to increase Democratic chances in Montana. Senator Baucus resigned in February to accept the ambassadorship to China. Montana’s Governor appointed Lt. Governor John Walsh to the Senate seat, giving the newly appointed Senator some benefits of incumbency. Senator Walsh looked like an ideal candidate in Montana. He had served 33 years in the military, rising to Adjatent General of the Montana National Guard. He served a year in Iraq, winning the Bronze Star. He first ran for elective office two years ago when the voters elected him Lt. Governor. He looked like a winner. Polls showed him trailing Steve Daines, the Republican nominee, but he was running a close campaign. Until last Thursday. The New York Times ran a page one article blasting Senator’s Walsh campaign for plagiarism. It was entitled “Senator’s Thesis Turns Out to be Remix of Other’s Works, Uncited.” Page one continued on 5/6 of an inside page. The gist of the article is that the Senator copied ¼ of his 14 page 2007 Masters Thesis at the Army war College, including the six recommendations at the end. The recommendations came from a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report. Plagiarism is a major problem in the academic community and in journalism. I have seen many students claim ignorance of plagiarism. We include it in the Student’s Handbook, and I warn against it in the instructions on writing assignments. The Army War College repeatedly warns its students, both orally and in writing, against plagiarism. Plagiarism is not necessarily politically fatal for politicians. Both Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Rand Paul have survived plagiarism charges. I am not certain that plagiarism is totally unavoidable. I gave written over 1,000 pages in legal journals. I have tried to religiously cite and reference sources and direct quotes. I try not to pass off the words and ideas of others as my own. I will not guarantee perfection though. My blog has over 900 postings. I try to be careful, but no guarantees. Inadvertently lifting isolated passages is not good, but probably unavoidable. Lifting entire paragraphs or pages is a much different matter, and hard to explain. The Walsh campaign had two initial responses to the Times article. First, an aide said it was the result of opposition research. Op Res is a standard political practice today. Many “good” people will not run for office because of the invasions of privacy followed by a negative campaign, which may not even be factually based. The problem with the argument against opposition research is that the New York Times is not a mouthpiece for the Republican Party. It has a liberal bias, and hence would be presumed to favor Senator Walsh. The second problem was Senator’s Walsh’s initial response. He basically blamed the mistake on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): “My head was not in a place very conducive to a classroom and an academic environment.” The blowback from his statement, especially among veterans, was devastating. PTSD is a critical problem for returning military. It should not be used as an excuse for large scale plagiarism, or other trivialized. The Senator then backtracked, but the damage was done. His statement is not as insulting as those of Republicans Todd Akins or Richard Murdock two years ago, but those were words. His are words and a degree that insult the military. Senator Walsh announced earlier today that he was cancelling his next upcoming campaign appearances. He is presumably reflecting on whether he will drop out of the race or persevere. Outside money is apparently drying up, as it is being directed to more winnable campaigns for the Democrats. Republican odds have increased in November.