The sensational revelation Thursday that U.S. Sen. John Walsh plagiarized a major portion of his master's thesis from the Army War College has raised serious doubts about whether the onetime state adjutant general is doomed in his uphill race for a full term this fall.
The Montana Democrat's saga has revived haunting memories of a German politician once regarded as the heir apparent to Chancellor Angela Merkel until revelations that he had lifted major portions of his Ph.D. dissertation finished his career. When it came to light, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg was soon out as Germany's defense minister.
And for copying some 72 pages of his dissertation without attribution from Google and other search engines, he was dubbed "Googleberg" by an unsympathetic German press.
Walsh, who was appointed to office in February when veteran Democratic Sen. Max Baucus resigned to become U.S. ambassador to China, "appropriated at least a quarter of his thesis on American Middle East policy from other authors' works, with no attribution," according to New York Times reporter Jonathan Martin.
With a recent Rasmussen Poll showing Walsh trailing Republican challenger and one-term Rep. Steve Daines by a margin of 53 percent to 35 percent among likely voters, there have been rumblings within his own party suggesting another Democrat may have a better chance of holding on to the seat. Walsh, a former U.S. Army colonel, insisted he's staying in the race, admitting the plagiarism with the explanation that it came at a time in his life when he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
In pointing out that plagiarism is not a career-killing crime for a politician, The Washington Post's Aaron Blake noted on Thursday that "those who appear to have plagiarized in some form in recent years include no less than President Obama, who appeared to borrow some lines from Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick on the 2008 campaign trail, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, former Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., and most recently, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky."
The most often cited example of an American politician plagiarizing is that of Joe Biden, who, as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in 1988, famously borrowed a lengthy portion of a speech from remarks by British Labour Party Leader Neil Kinnock. In the process, he appropriated Kinnock's own blue-collar background and ancestry, which was very different from his own. When films of the two speeches were shown back to back on TV news shows, Biden was out of the race.
Again, plagiarism was not a fatal setback to the career of the man who is now vice president.
But the analogies of politicians who plagiarize various lines from speeches by others and do so without attribution do not accurately fit Walsh and his master's thesis. A comparison to Guttenberg, a Bavarian baron whom polls showed to be one of Germany's most popular politicians, does.
Having moved from economics minister to defense minister at age 39, the man Germans called "KTG" had everything going for him in 2011. Then in February of that year, Internet activists began combing through his Ph.D. thesis and set up a site for others to read and detect plagiarism.
What they found was nothing short of sensational: 891 plagiarized segments on 324 of the dissertation's 393 pages, roughly 70 pages copied with a few words tweaked — six pages taken from the U.S.-based Foreign Policy magazine.
"The cheating baron used every trick in the plagiarism textbook," reported the Daily Beast's Stefan Theil. "Some 72 pages were direct cut-and-pastes from other sources, including an eight-page stretch, sections from several undergrads' papers, plus parts taken from the U.S. embassy website." (The dissertation was a comparison of U.S. and European constitutions).
The University of Bayreuth promptly revoked Guttenberg's Ph.D., and after days of insisting that he had done nothing wrong, Guttenberg admitted the plagiarism, resigned from the Cabinet, and left politics and Germany. He now lives in Connecticut.
To his credit, John Walsh promptly admitted his own lifting of sources and not attributing them in his master's thesis, which, in contrast to Guttenberg's doctoral tome, is only 14 pages long.
But given his underdog status in the polls and the start of talks that Democrats might fare better with another candidate in Montana, the analogies to the fate of a politician in Germany may not be far away.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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