Plagiarism

US Senator John Walsh (D-MT)
US Senator John Walsh (D-MT)

Today, US Senator John Walsh (D-MT) dropped his campaign for the Senate, and the Montana Democratic Party will select a replacement candidate to take his spot on the November ballot. Senator Walsh’s campaign came to an end because of allegations that he plagiarized his master’s thesis at the Army War College. The severity of Walsh’s offense, being relatively recent and dealing with national security, damaged his campaign beyond his ability to recover.

This isn’t the first time a politician has been marred by plagiarism. Vice President Joe Biden’s 1988 presidential campaign was derailed with allegations of plagiarism, and even Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and his staff dealt with the issue just last year. It’s nothing new in politics and it certainly isn’t rare. One thing is for sure, anyone caught doing it doesn’t ever do it again.

I used to drink – a lot. One day a long time ago, I woke up with a killer hangover, and I had an important paper due that day. I did what a lot of irresponsible college kids do and I wrote a crappy paper. I got to the required minimum length by stealing passages from a magazine article on the same subject.  

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Of course the professor was a subscriber to that magazine, and I got caught! He didn’t automatically fail me in the class or kick me out of school. He was cool about it and let me re-write the paper.

I learned a very important lesson that the dishonest shortcut of plagiarism just isn’t worth it. Honestly, it’s not just with plagiarism. It’s that way with most things in life. When we do things the right way it’s just better. The work is better and it feels better.

It’s not always easy to learn lessons like that. Sometimes we have to learn them the hard way so that they will mean more to us.

I am so grateful that I learned the lesson about plagiarism when I was young, before I did something stupid in later years. I’m also grateful that that story and many many others taught me important life lessons about alcohol, and I gave up booze ten years ago because of them.

This week is pretty shitty for Senator Walsh, but I hope when he gets through this storm that he is able to learn something from it. Maybe about plagiarism, or maybe his lesson in this situation is about something else. He’ll certainly be able to find some sort of life lesson in this whole experience. I’m pretty sure of that.