Thursday, September 25, 2014

Scott Walker & the Mary Burke plagiarism charges...or, People Who Live in Glass Houses...

If you listen to Wisconsin Republicans, it seems like Mary Burke has been running around with scissors and tape, cutting and fastening snippets of just about everything together to form a jobs plan. The Republican Party of Wisconsin has been gleefully cashing in, declaring that Mary Burke refuses to "take responsibility", and putting out imagery like the following.


Granted, if your candidate is tanking the state economy, playing fast and loose with the law, cutting sweetheart deals for donors, mandating medically unnecessary ultrasounds, withholding healthcare from the poor, repealing equal pay protections, implementing the largest education cuts in state history, shuttering women's health clinics, and generally lying his ass off, this one's going to make you pretty happy.

But before Republicans get too excited, I think a little perspective is in order. First, Mary Burke didn't write the individual words, word-by-word, of her jobs plan, any more than Scott Walker wrote his. Campaign consultants, consulting firms, and staff are employed to do this sort of thing -- put the candidate's ideas into text (and, doubtless in some cases, come up with something entirely). And sometimes those staff take unethical shortcuts. As is the case here, where consultant Eric Schnurer authored the jobs plan -- and self-plagiarized his own writing from other Democrats' job plans. Is this acceptable? No, of course not. But let's be very clear: Mary Burke didn't sit down, pour through Schnurer's work, and select passages to lift. That was a decision made by Schnurer, and almost certainly (considering what a needless political liability it would be) without Burke's knowledge.

So how did Burke and her campaign react when they found out? Did they really shirk responsibility, as the Republican party suggests?

Of course not. They acknowledged the error and took action.
"We terminated (Schnurer) immediately after this was brought to our attention by BuzzFeed," [Burke spokesman Joe] Zepecki said via email. "No member of the Burke for Wisconsin campaign staff or the candidate had ever seen the jobs plans of the candidates named in the story."
Burke hired staff with histories that would recommend them as reliable persons. Where it was discovered that this was not the case, the offending person was promptly let go. The worst you can accurately stick on Burke is poor judgment -- and considering Schnurer's resume, even this is a tenuous one. 
Yeah, that Mary Burke...what an idiot she is for hiring a guy with no prior (known) blemishes on his record, who had successfully written for multiple campaigns in the past. I mean, what was she thinking?!

Not that Mary Burke would have been the only one to encounter a consultant who decided to "recycle" for her campaign. No indeed. In fact, none other than ... Scott Walker! ... was criticized for this same thing last election cycle, when a consulting firm he hired copied both the fundraising technique and parts of the content from a 1998 campaign event for Ohio Republican George Voinovich. The one difference? After criticism started, Walker's campaign claimed that the idea was truly their own, and said that the firm actually advised them of the fact that they had done the same thing previously...and it was still okay'ed. If that is true, and not just a face saving measure (the goal was to illustrate how "incredibly genuine" Scott Walker was -- and his genuineness coming from a consulting firm's list of "eh, we haven't done this in awhile" might not aid that impression...), the "recycling" in this case came from Walker's camp, over the objections of the consultants. Either way, that saying about people who live in glass houses comes to mind...

In conclusion, the plagiarism scandal, if honestly evaluated, is little more than an embarrassment to Burke's campaign: she unwittingly put faith in a consultant (or consultants) who did not merit it (despite seemingly persuasive evidence to the contrary). She hired a guy with a great resume, who in turn ripped off his own past writing, and in the process gave the Republican Party a chance to distract from the continued failure that has been Scott Walker's time in office. And if you think that ill placed faith in an employee somehow signals an abysmal lack of judgment that should thwart her gubernatorial ambitions...I would remind you that Burke isn't the only leading candidate whose aides have humiliated them with unethical behavior. She is, however, the only one whose aides didn't actually do anything illegal while exercising terrible judgment (unlike the multiple campaign aides of Walker's who have been charged with crimes). Because if hiring someone who proves (despite appearances to the contrary) to be unethical should cast doubt on your abilities...what does hiring not one, but multiple, criminals entail? Again, we go back to what I was saying about people who live in glass houses...

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