LAST THURSDAY, A controversy erupted in the blogosphere. Like most controversies that start in the blogosphere and die there as opposed to gaining a second and more meaningful life in the mainstream media, the entire affair was a tempest in a virtual teapot. But this incident was a particularly pregnant one, as it revealed the difficulties the left will have in developing a coherent attack against John McCain. It also highlighted Barack Obama's most significant weakness in a match against Senator McCain.
In a campaign address to the Los Angeles World Council, McCain made a point of stressing his hatred for war:
I detest war. It might not be the worst thing to befall human beings, but it is wretched beyond all description. When nations seek to resolve their differences by force of arms, a million tragedies ensue. The lives of a nation's finest patriots are sacrificed.
Innocent people suffer and die. Commerce is disrupted; economies are damaged; strategic interests shielded by years of patient statecraft are endangered as the exigencies of war and diplomacy conflict. Not the valor with which it is fought nor the nobility of the cause it serves, can glorify war. Whatever gains are secured, it is loss the veteran remembers most keenly.
The statement is eloquent and powerful, but given the speaker, unremarkable. There are few people in America who can speak so personally to their dislike for war than a fellow who spent a half decade in the Hanoi Hilton. If there's anyone in this presidential race who has cause for hating war, it's obviously John McCain. Compared to McCain's personal experience, Barack Obama's exposure to war is a mere intellectual construct. Even Hillary Clinton, the Lioness of Tuzla, can't compete with McCain in this area.
For reasons that still mystify, men of the left decided that McCain's denunciation of war represented a soft spot. The bumbling gumshoes at the lefty website Think Progress got busy investigating McCain's speech and discovered that Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer had given a speech featuring remarkably similar language in 1996. "Plagiarism!" the left wing blogosphere cried, nearly in unison.
The American Prospect's Ezra Klein seemed the most excited by the "scandal," apparently thinking that with proper massaging, it could devastate McCain:
Some of you will remember that Joe Biden's 1988 bid for the presidency was felled when he plagiarized a major speech from British politician Neil Kinnock. Now, via Think Progress, McCain looks to be risking a similar fate. Turns out quite a bit of his foreign policy speech yesterday was stolen, without credit, from a speech Admiral Timothy Ziemer gave in 1996.
What's particularly telling is where the lifting happened--in the section where McCain explained his deep hatred of war. Turned out it wasn't quote his after all. If that section of the speech, which seemed so very personal, but was in fact anything but, than what can we really take away from the address? The point of the speech was that McCain's core beliefs militate powerfully against war. But that's not true for his policies, and we now learn, those aren't strictly his core beliefs. This seems like a big deal to me.
Without leaving you in any further suspense as to how the brouhaha ended, suffice to say McCain's critics beclowned themselves in the extreme. Turns out Admiral Ziemer's 1996 speech borrowed from a speech that McCain gave in 1995. The fact that the McCain campaign had posted the 1995 speech on its website should compound his critics' embarrassment. The additional fact that no one at Think Progress contacted the McCain campaign or even checked the Senator's website before charging "Plagiarism!" will likely cause professional writers to think twice before citing a Think Progress report in the future.
But the left's sloppy hackery here really isn't the point. Let's say for the sake of argument that John McCain did make a speech in which he borrowed a phrase or two to most clearly express his disdain for war. In Ezra Klein's analysis, that happenstance would beg the inference that McCain is a warmonger who does not truly dislike war.