The big Oz political news of the week was the flap over Mark Latham’s remarks on education, which echoed similar remarks by Bill Clinton and led to claims of plagiarism from the PM. Chris Sheil rightly describes this as a terrific beatup, but asserts that “the Coalition has won the day so far on this one”, while in the comments box, Sedgwick rates it a nil-all draw. I count it as a 2-0 win for Labor, with J. Howard doing all the scoring (own goals in both halves).
First own goal: Latham is shown on TV over and over, making commitments to education. He would never have got such publicity on the strength of the speech itself.
Second own goal: Rather than using one of his taggers, ideally a snarky journo or even a blogger, Howard went for the king-hit himself, thus casting himself in the classic negative role of the carping critic with no substantive policy to offer. Opposition leaders, by virtue of their position, find it hard to avoid this role – for a PM to take it on voluntarily is stupid.
As it happens, I can apply the taxi driver test to this one. I heard this on the radio going to the airport and the taxi driver (middle-aged and not obviously a lefty) said exactly what I thought “So What”.
An obvious logical objection, that doesn’t seem to have occurred to those debating this issue is that any politician who uses a speechwriter is automatically guilty of plagiarism. The implication, I think, is that the term has no real applicability in politics, except in cases where a speaker explicitly claims words as their own (the opposite of the situation in the academic world).
Update: There’s a bit more about this over at Catallaxy. Showing yet again that it’s possible to agree on particular points despite important disagreements on values, Andrew Norton agrees that the kind of plagiarism undertaken by Latham is a trivial offence if it’s an offence at all. On the other hand, writing in the comments thread, Geoff Honnor makes the point that Latham also scored an own goal by denying the obvious. I’ll restate the score as 2-1.
Further update In the comments thread, reader TJW suggests that the story began with Laurie Oakes, who certainly fits the billl as a snarky journo. If this is correct, Howard’s own goal looks even worse. He would have been sensible to leave it with Oakes, rather than to jump in and open himself up to the inevitable finding that he’d done just the same thing himself.