Why Blumenthal's Not a Liar

By Marc Ambinder

Do you believe Dick Blumenthal? It turns on a pair of words: "in" as opposed to "during," with the predicate of Vietnam. "Return from" Vietnam, rather than serving in the military during the Vietnam war.  It also depends on whether Blumenthal willingly allowed the broader interpretation of his service record to be impressed upon the voters of Connecticut.  In the United States,  military service is sacral; it conveys an instant authority, a pedigree, a cultural backstop for character. Lying about it, even exaggerating about it, is therefore instantly disqualifying.

The New York Times catches the Connecticut Attorney General in a spectrum of relative misstatements.

"We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam."  A preposition makes a world of difference.

When we returned, we saw nothing like this," Mr. Blumenthal said. "Let us do better by this generation of men and women. Unintentional synechode?

"I served during the Vietnam era," he said. "I remember the taunts, the insults, sometimes even physical abuse."  This is true.

"Although I did not serve in Vietnam, I have seen firsthand the effects of military action, and no one wants it to be the first resort, nor do we want to mortgage the country's future with a deficit that is ballooning out of control."  True.

No direct, intentional lies, wherein a lie is defined as a misstatement conveyed with the intention to mislead.

But.

Blumenthal's campaign responded to the article by assembling a diverse group of angry veteran validitors. An indignant Blumenthal allowed that he had misspoken, unintentionally, and that the Times had impugned his service, which consisted of six years in the Marine Corps Reserve, and, besides, he "can't be responsible for all of the articles." Though the reserves were known at the time to be a shelter from service in Vietnam, Blumenthal insisted that he did not know whether he was destined for active service overseas.

Blumenthal is correct that no one can control the articles that are printed about him. But surely this is a misdirection. Ambitious politicians have teams of communications professionals devoted to shaping, manipulating and repairing their public images. It is undoubtedly clear that Blumenthal sought out the identity of a Vietnam veteran, wrapped himself in that cloak, and used it to perpetuate his power. Even if he did not intend to mislead voters about his service, it is incumbent upon him to make sure that he did not use his position to perpetuate a myth that enhanced said power. To me, that DOES make him responsible for being accurate about his service record and going out of his way to correct the perceptional.    Military service is threshold-honorable. But after that threshold is crossed, people judge you differently if they know you actively sought a  position in a service that put your life in harm's way. Blumenthal did not.

A tactical aside: Linda McMahon's campaign planted the story with the New York Times and then bragged about it. Basic political gamesmanship: "If you land a hit like that on opponent you don't brag about it an hour after. It undermines the story, the reporter, and no matter what the facts are, it lets the target of the hit say "This is Republican hit job. I'm not saying it. There campaign is bragging about it."  A complete rookie unforced error, one that might help Blumenthal keep his position in the race.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/05/why-blumenthals-not-a-liar/56908/