Blumenthal: Politics’ Unlikely Walter Mitty

The controversy over Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s claim of service in the Vietnam War continues. After the New York Times was accused of leaving out exculpatory statements made by Blumenthal on one such occasion, the newspaper insists that the earlier comment does not alter the misleading representations, here. Moreover, newly disclosed statements like “I wore the uniform in Vietnam and many came back to all kinds of disrespect” undermine his defense. Below is my column today on the New York Times blog discussing the scandal.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s reported exaggeration of his military record is a shock to many supporters. But the irresistible temptation to invent or exaggerate military service is common to politicians and non-politicians alike.

Whether it is a pick-up line in a bar or a boast on Memorial Day, people often learn that a little fib of military service can go along way in achieving certain advantages. It is a way of instantly giving yourself a better image — perhaps becoming the person you wish you were.

For the state’s top lawyer (and a senatorial candidate), such claims are particularly problematic. Blumenthal’s office routinely prosecutes fraud and false statements in various contexts. Moreover, federal law makes certain false military claims a criminal matter. (Under the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, a person claiming specific military decorations or medals could be sentenced to a year in jail).

What is fascinating is that Blumenthal was already considered one of the nation’s leading politicians and lawyers. He is not some Walter Mitty who desperately wants to reinvent himself like Steven Burton, 39, of Palm Springs, who appeared at his high school reunion in a Marine Corps uniform supporting about a pound of medals.

Burton was just some schmo who worked in a bank and decided to remake himself into a decorated officer. Blumenthal is the guy that many people want to pretend to be: a Harvard-educated lawyer with a record of fighting for the public interest. Yet, even he wanted a degree of personal enhancement or reinvention.

In that sense he is similar to other leading citizens like Illinois Circuit Judge Michael F. O’Brien who claimed not one but two Congressional Medals of Honor. Likewise, there was Admiral Jeremy Michael Boorda, the 25th Chief of Naval Operations, who was a legend in the service as the only C.N.O. to have reached that position from the enlisted ranks. He committed suicide after being accused of wearing unearned “Combat Vs” on his Navy Commendation Medal and Navy Achievement Medal indicating valor in combat.

For politicians, the desire to claim military distinctions is sometimes irresistible. Politicians thrive on symbols and rhetoric that create bonds with the public. Military service is perhaps the strongest such self-authenticating qualification. It recasts a politician in a new light — not some self-serving egomaniac but a selfless public servant. Blumenthal’s comments about the trauma of returning home to a hostile nation would resonate with anyone and elicit universal affection.

Of course, the terrible irony is that reinventing oneself in this way can wipe away years of well-deserved respect and trust. In the eyes of many, Blumenthal has joined the ranks of the “semper frauds.” While he told crowds that he still remembered “the taunts, the insults, sometimes even physical abuse” following Vietnam, he is now experiencing that very reaction from citizens.

For the other views on the New York Times blog, click here.

68 thoughts on “Blumenthal: Politics’ Unlikely Walter Mitty”

  1. Sounds like we agree more than it would first appear then.

    My point is whatever the ‘official’ figures are they’re irrelevant nonsense because they aren’t juxtaposed with all the enormous hidden costs of welfare for the rich, like imperialist wars and corporate skullduggery which are organic to this predatory system.

    Again, this country spends more on militarism that every other country on the planet combined, yet has substantially less devoted to welfare than the rest of the G20, and is the only Western country that has half the suckers in the land convinced they don’t need free health care, just like they’ve convinced workers they don’t need unions.

    Goebbels really would have been proud.

    Harking to some libertarian mythology about standing on their “own merits” is pure fantasy. American success is based on predation. Free land from Indians. Free infrastructure from slaves. Virtually free railroads from Chinese. Creating puppet dictators around the world to extract superprofits. Unbridled militarism. Abject protectionism while preaching free trade.

    It’s a history of gangsters running things like drug cartels and making deals with other thugs.

    It’s about bombing brown people who don’t follow orders, with the exception of the Germans, who were threatening to muscle in our turf.

    Foreign policy can only be an extension of domestic policy.

    Regardless of the party in power America’s foreign policy has always been liberalism, that is, forcing our will upon others.

    Libertarian virtues sound great but they’ve never existed and are unthinkable under neo-liberalism.

  2. KF:

    the 50% figure is from the 2009 federal budget. I am not talking about a black woman in a Cadillac. More whites are on welfare than blacks. Roads and bridges are not contained in those figures, it is direct expenses for SS, medicare/medicaid, welfare payments, aid to dependent children, food stamps, etc.

    I am also against corporate welfare, they should fail or succeed on their own merits, tax payer dollars should not be used to support private/publicly held companies.

    Loses should be taken by the company that makes the bad investment. What do they call an economy that consists of companies in bed with government? It isn’t capitalism, I believe they call that Fascism/mixed economy.

  3. Byron: The 50% figure is nonsense unless you figure highway repairs and public school is welfare. California is the State with the biggest Welfare budget and it’s like, what, 2% of the entire state budget?

    The biggest myth perpetrated by the bipartisan owners of this gullible country is that general welfare recipients are the problem when the reality is corporate welfare bleeds this country dry, leaving the bridges crumbling and the schools rotting.

    The list of swindlers & crooks with their snouts at the trough is appalling. The Pentagon admits to paying $400 per gallon for fuel to prosecute the AfPak war for crying out loud! White collar crime, which rarely gets prosecuted, exacts a much greater toll on society than all the kinds of crimes combined. Just ask the millions of folks whose pensions were wiped out by the rentless greedheads on Wall Street who are like a pack of Bernie Madoff’s yet to be imprisoned, still running free & continuing to victimize & enrich themselves at the public’s expense.

    The outrageous defence contracts from the odius Blackwater mercenaries to Halliburton to billions in free R&D monies for outfits like General Dynamics, etc, in boondoggle projects like the Osprey or billion dollar per copy stealth bombers, or tax cuts for the super rich who offshore bank and loopholes for multinational corporations or gargantuan subsidies to the 7 agribusinesses that now own over 80% of America’s aerable land, not to mention trillion dollar bailouts & bonuses for incompetent banksters, all amidst Exxon getting up to 10 billion in profits every 90 freaking days in part from criminally inspired wars that will almost certainly bankrupt future generations.

    The rightwing myth of that Black lady getting food stamps in her Cadillac is but a fart in this shitstorm of organized public theft.

    Just like with the S&L bailouts of yesteryear, the secret to Uncle Sam’s myth of the free market is that when bets go south it’s the public’s burden but when they go north then a handfull of individuals get filthy rich. No bigger flim flam of a sham has ever been so successfully perpetrated, and yet, some actually believe this is the best system we humans can come up with.

  4. You got that right Buddah. There actually is intelligent life in this blogosphere! The previous naivety and mendacity of prior posts lead me to underestimate the sophistication of at least some of the readers, particularly the ones that delude themselves into imagining that pulling levers for one of 2 corporate parties is somehow the greatest form of government conceivable.

    With the removal of Habeus Corpus under Bush’s Military Commissions Act, and not a finger lifted by Obama to change anything but rather continue on as if it were Bush’s 3rd term, especially with his own Katrina brewing in the Gulf of Mexico, the model this nation is adopting is that of fascism, albeit as this stage still only a fascism-Lite. The full flavored Fascism in my view can only arise historically as a response to a viable working class political upsurge, such as happened in the 30’s.

    That upsurge, although simmering, is but a dim glimmer as nowadays the US propaganda machine, with it’s utterly beholden commercial media, which as Chomsky once said “would make Goebbels proud”, has working people so duped they don’t even have the fundamentals of trade union consciousness.

  5. KF:

    Well I will admit that defense contractors do charge horrendous fees for the services they provide. But 17% to 20% is a far cry from 50%. So your assertion about a bic lighter and a forest fire is not true.

    I agree, we ought to pull our troops from the rest of the world and bring them home. Let the world defend itself, I for one am tired of supporting Israel and South Korea and who gives a rats ass about the Saudis, Germans or Japanese. And the French what can you say about Nazi sympathizers.

    Keep our tax dollars at home helping Americans, let the rest of the world fend for it’s ungrateful self. We have given more money and blood to help the rest of the world and they still hate us. Lets pick up our toys and leave.

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