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What’s Walsh good for?

Questions plague senator amid plagiarism scandal

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On behalf of yellow dog Democrats across the state, I would like to ask what Sen. John Walsh is good for. We know he is not good for a 14-page essay. The New York Times reported last week that Walsh plagiarized large portions of the last paper he handed in to the U. S. Army War College, including the entire 800-word conclusion.

In some cases, Walsh footnoted but did not place in quotation marks the passages that he had taken word-for-word from online sources. In other sections, he simply copied and pasted without any citations. In all, the Times estimates that a quarter of Walsh’s paper was plagiarized—all of it from sources available on the Internet.

I respect Walsh’s record of service in the United States armed forces, which generally involved him doing things that I could never do myself. He fought in a war. It is my understanding that fighting a war is awful—a claim I am lucky enough to take on faith, since I avoided service entirely. I am therefore kind of mystified that a man who could command troops and risk his life on foreign soil was not good for the kind of assignment that thousands of high school students manage every year.

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  • John Walsh

We also know that Walsh is not good for responding to a scandal. When the Times first showed him evidence of his plagiarism, he claimed that he had “not done anything intentional,” tantalizing us with the possibility that an academically dishonest ghost had typed his paper for him.

A campaign spokesman walked that statement back the next day, copping to the plagiarism but asking the public to consider it in light of Walsh’s distinguished military career. He also said they were not using post-traumatic stress disorder as an excuse, but Walsh had returned from Iraq only two years before the paper was written, and another member of his unit had just committed suicide.

It kind of looked like Walsh was using PTSD as an excuse. That made the second demonstrably false statement to emerge from his office in 24 hours, and it suggested the senator was not any better for damage control than he was for homework.

We know that Walsh is a good soldier, in the literal and figurative senses of the phrase. As the appointed senator from Montana, he has demonstrated the quality that got him into Max Baucus’s vacant seat: he is a Democrat. Throughout his six months in office, he has not changed parties even once, so in that sense he has ably served.

In all other regards, though, he has been a disappointment. Even with the advantage of incumbency and the backing of Gov. Steve Bullock, he has consistently run behind Rep. Steve Daines in the polls. He was just starting to pull even when this plagiarism story broke. Perhaps the voters of Montana do not care as much as I do about proper citation, but in a just world it would torpedo his campaign.

For the last several months, Walsh has run on his military record. It was an admirable record, albeit with minor blemishes. There were allegations that in 2010, he abused his position as adjutant general of the Montana National Guard to recruit for a lobbying group, the National Guard Association of the United States. In 2011, a federal audit found that the Montana Department of Military Affairs had carelessly managed its relationships with contractors, another small but significant scandal that implicated then-Brigadier Gen. Walsh.

These were only scuffs, though, on a shining military career that formed the basis for Walsh’s Senate appointment and 2014 candidacy. But cheating his way through the War College cracks the foundation of that career.

A military evaluation conducted after his 2008 appointment to adjutant general of the Guard said Walsh’s candidacy was “bolstered” by his prestigious degree. And even if you regard the academic dishonesty itself as unimportant, perhaps because you consider the Army War College a diploma mill, the subject of Walsh’s plagiarism still bears on his ability to represent Montanans.

I know this sounds crazy, but maybe if Walsh had written his own paper about how best to promote democracy in the Middle East, he might have learned something that would make him a better senator. We’re not talking about someone who lied about reading Moby Dick. We’re talking about one of 100 lawmakers, serving in the world’s greatest deliberative body, who could not be bothered to formulate his own opinions about U.S. foreign policy.

Walsh is not good for figuring out what to do in the Middle East, apparently. He is not good for spinning a scandal or managing government contracts, and it increasingly appears that he is not good for beating Daines. So in what way is Walsh good for the Democratic Party, much less for all Montanans? I question his ability to represent us, now that he has proven unable to truthfully represent himself.

Dan Brooks writes about politics, culture and proper attribution at combatblog.net. His column appears every other week in the Independent.

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