Another One Bites The Dust: On The Richard Blumenthal News And The Politics Of Mendacity

May 18, 2010, 1:10 pm

What is it with lawyers this week? It wasn’t bad enough for your favorite Radical to be read out of the community of queer scholars yesterday for reductive identity politics by a hotshot New York law professor who does not hide her sexual orientation (which could be described as….?) There is worse news, at least for the people of Shoreline.

This morning, I scooped up the paper of record from my front porch to discover that Richard Blumenthal has lied by omission and commission about his military service during the Vietnam war. Is this a crime? No. But whether by commission, omission, or inference, coyness around stigmatizing issues — such as evading military service to promote one’s career — is, as Tennessee Williams’ Big Daddy would say, “mendacity!”

As we historians are aware, it is also sleazy. As in the even more puzzling case of Pulitzer Prize-winning Joseph Ellis, I don’t think anyone has ever asked Richard Blumenthal if he served in Vietnam: he just offered it up.

Blumenthal has responded to the New York Times “that he had misspoken about his service during the Norwalk event and might have misspoken on other occasions. ‘My intention has always been to be completely clear and accurate and straightforward, out of respect to the veterans who served in Vietnam,’” he said.

The yuck factor on this is pretty high, and the political costs may be too. While this event is dissimilar to the Spitzer call girl scandal (in that lying is only a crime under certain circumstances), it demonstrates a similar contempt for voters that will be hard to put aside on election day. Other than the fact that there seems to be a whole generation of ambitious white men who are now embarrassed by the strings they pulled to evade Vietnam (which is why I took particular delight in Dick Cheney’s unbuttoned and nasty honesty when he snapped that he had “better things to do” than fight in Vietnam), it is stunningly arrogant that Blumenthal thought he could leave the misimpression that he was a combat veteran and not get caught eventually.

For those of you who don’t keep up with Connecticut politics (and why should you? The intricacies of political corruption in the Nutmeg State are so difficult to follow that it is hard to remember which mayor was indicted for what), Blumenthal should have been a shoe-in for Christopher Dodd’s open Senate seat. But this is a real blow to an already troubled campaign, because here we have another driven and competitive man who — by lying about something essentially unimportant — now appears to have contempt for all of us. The outcome of this may be that a state that perpetually returns a veto-proof Democratic majority to its own legislature, and where even many of hte Republicans are still liberal, may soon be represented in Washington by two conservatives: Joe Lieberman and Linda McMahon, the founder and CEO of the fantastically successful pseudo-sports league, World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc..
It is a puzzle what is wrong with Blumenthal. He has been a good attorney general for twenty years, and was believed to be unbeatable. But his campaign has been uninspired and clumsy: this is just the latest and most boneheaded manifestation of a candidate who doesn’t seem to know what he is doing. And while The Daily Caller is claiming that this information about Blumenthal’s false claims to comba service was fed to the Times by a McMahon campaign that is functioning like a well-oiled wrestler, my question is: why shouldn’t the McMahon people have revealed this? Why turn the stigma back on them?
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