Richard Blumenthal lied, and it should matter

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Democratic Connecticut Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal lied about serving in Vietnam.  His challenger, Republican Linda McMahon, in this new ad, reminds Connecticut voters about Blumenthal’s self-aggrandizement.

“We have learned something very important since the days that I served in Vietnam,” declared Blumenthal in 2008, “and you exemplify it, whatever we think about the war, whatever we call it, Afghanistan or Iraq, we owe our military men and women unconditional support.”

Richard Blumenthal was in the Marine Reserves and never served in Vietnam.  He received five deferments to avoid going to war between 1965 and 1970, then volunteered and went into boot camp, and then the reserves in 1970.  And by the way, as The New York Times reported, his number in the December 1969 draft lottery, according to the Selective Service, was 152.  People with numbers as high as 195 in that lottery were eligible to be drafted.  Blumenthal said that he did not remember the number he got in the draft lottery but that it was probably high enough to keep him out of the draft.

Richard Blumenthal’s service would have been sufficiently honorable, and occasioned no comment, had he not chosen to exaggerate and distort it — not once, but repeatedly.

When the scandal first broke, Blumenthal spoke to veterans at a VFW hall in West Hartford, where he called his lie “absolutely unintentional.”  “On a few occasions, I have misspoken about my service, and I regret that, and I take full responsibility.  But I will not allow [applause], I will not allow anyone to take a few misplaced words and impugn my record of service to our country.”

He meant to say, he explains, that he served during Vietnam instead of in Vietnam.

First, one does not merely “misspeak” about military service — much less “on a few occasions.”  There are few more vivid experiences in life than military service.  One knows exactly what one did and what one did not do.  It is not like confusing which bar one went to on some hazy night.  To “misspeak” about military service, pointedly and more than once, is to lie.

Second, what does Richard Blumenthal mean by taking “full responsibility”?  Is there accountability?  Is there any actual responsibility?  Evidently not.  Truly taking “full responsibility” would mean dropping out of the race and apologizing to the Vietnam veterans who did actually serve in Vietnam.  Blumenthal doesn’t mean he takes responsibility; he means “I mouth the words ‘full responsibility’ because that is what veterans and potential voters like to hear.”

Third, really? You’re belligerent?  “A few misplaced words”?  Is that taking “full responsibility”?  And now the issue is Blumenthal’s “record of service”?  An actual Vietnam veteran doesn’t get belligerent about his “record of service.”  An actual Vietnam veteran, like Silver Star recipient Larry Rupp, is typically modest, self-effacing, and capable of getting choked up about having had to kill another human being.  One of my dearest friends is a Marine veteran who served in, not during, Vietnam, and would never mistake the difference.  My friend had to kill, and it disturbs him deeply to this day, and never once has he used the phrase “record of service,” and never once has he referred to his service for personal gain.

Fourth, Blumenthal did not merely use the wrong preposition (in rather than during).  His “misstatements” were clearly calculated to gain him the sympathy of “returning veterans.”  When he said in 2008 he had “served in Vietnam,” he was purporting to educate his audience in what has been “learned since then” — i.e., how we should treat “returning veterans.”  In 2003, in comments about American troops serving oversees, he also discussed what he saw “when we returned.”  Richard Blumenthal wanted to be perceived as a sympathetic “returning veteran,” and so he lied.  Deliberately.  More than once.

That lie should have some electoral consequence, even if Richard Blumenthal himself is not even remotely taking “full responsibility.”

Kendrick Macdowell is a lawyer and writer in Washington, D.C.