Walsh should forfeit degree

Sen. John Walsh says he’s sorry for making an “unintentional mistake” when he failed to cite huge passages in a final paper for his master’s degree from the U.S. Army War College.

“I’m acknowledging the mistake to the citizens of Montana and to the country, for that matter,” he said Thursday in a phone meeting with The Montana Standard’s editorial board. “I’ve said I’m sorry I didn’t do the paper correctly. It was unintentional, but it was a mistake, but I’m taking full responsibility for that.”

How, exactly, is unclear. Walsh has offered no suggestions for resolving his error, other than to throw himself on the mercy of the War College board now investigating the plagiarism.

So allow us: The senator should immediately forfeit the degree and offer to redo the paper properly.

Everyone makes mistakes, but what the senator apparently fails to see is that all mistakes are not equal. We’re concerned Walsh is overlooking the gravity of his error.

This isn’t a teen who missed curfew. Or a driver who accidentally ran a red light. This is a U.S. Senator who committed an academic fraud — whether intentional or not — that helped advance his political career.

Other than acknowledge the plagiarism occurred, Walsh seems strangely content to do nothing to regain voters’ trust. An apology, but no reckoning.

The paper earned Walsh a master’s degree he obtained with neither honor nor integrity, two character traits the former military commander touts often in his campaign. Only by owning up to his mistakes voluntarily can the senator salvage either.

Even then, the plagiarism raises huge questions about the senator’s attention to detail. If he can’t be trusted to properly write what was likely the most important 14-page paper in his life, how can he be trusted to thoughtfully craft laws for an entire nation?

His sin — whether intentional or not — would be grounds for dismissal at some universities. And surely a U.S. senator and former military commander should be held to higher standards than a college freshman.

What message does it send to Montana’s young people when mistakes have no consequences for a U.S. senator?

As a leader, Walsh should set an example and forfeit the degree.

Walsh has pledged not to drop out of the Senate race that will determine whether he gets to keep the seat he was appointed to earlier this year when former Sen. Max Baucus retired to become ambassador to China.

With the election now just three months away, it’s likely too late for another candidate to mount a campaign that could seriously challenge Rep. Steve Daines, the Republican seeking the seat. Walsh has trailed Daines in recent polls.

But there is more at stake here than a Senate seat.

Voters are wondering: Can our leaders still be trusted to do the right thing?

What Walsh does next will give us our answer.

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