Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Richard Blumenthal’s Misrepresentations

Here’s Nate Silver, commenting on Richard Blumenthal’s misrepresentation of his military service (my emphasis):

“Take this as a poll with a sample size of one. If I were a voter in Connecticut, I'd find it very difficult to pull the lever for Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, whom it was revealed today (by the New York Times' Raymond Hernandez) appears to have misled the public, as recently as 2008, about having served in Vietnam.

“Many politicians have lost their jobs for less. One can understand the human instinct to lie about an affair, or about some long-ago indiscretion like drug use. They're essentially personal matters that arguably deserve no place in the political discourse to begin with. But military service is the very opposite: a public act, involving a gift of sacrifice for the common good.

"Even if you aren't offended by Blumenthal's actions, this is an extremely strange thing to lie about. It's a lie that any enterprising reporter with a Freedom of Information Request could have uncovered, as Hernandez eventually did (why it took the rest of media so long is a good question). As with John Edwards' affair, it is a lie that displays a stunning disregard for the trust that Democrats were about to place in Blumenthal by making him their nominee. It is a lie that may even call into question the mental state of the candidate, as it carries no obvious tactical benefit.”
I have no trouble understanding Silver’s disgust: it’s pretty revolting for a politician who pulled strings to avoid serving in Vietnam to willfully leave the misimpression that he’d endured public ridicule for the time he’d spent dodging bullets in the jungle. I’m a little perplexed, however, by Silver’s incomprehension. Is Blumenthal’s false portrayal of himself as having performed “a public act, involving a gift of sacrifice for the common good” really “a lie that . . . carries no obvious tactical benefit”? Is it really so hard to understand why a politician, particularly a liberal politician, would pretend to civic virtues that he doesn’t have?

Think back to the presidential candidacy of John Kerry. Would he have secured the Democratic presidential nomination without trafficking on his war record? As I recall, that was his principal electoral asset in his primary battle with Howard Dean, who’d sat out the war as a ski bum in Colorado. And Kerry wouldn’t have kept repeating the “Reporting for Duty” riff with the stiff military salute during the general election campaign if he didn’t think it gave him a leg up over George Bush, who’d pulled strings to get into the Texas National Guard.

The theory behind the Kerry campaign was he was just the guy to make for the Democratic Party's built-in civic virtue deficit. Actually having dodged bullets in Vietnam would automatically confer authority on what he said about about national security in general, and the Iraq war in particular. Kerry and his handlers adhered to that theory so tenaciously that they never bothered to think up anything coherent for him to say about the war.

That, I suspect, was Blumenthal’s theory too—except for the part about actually having been in Vietnam.

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