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. “The Pentagon runs the biggest socialist state within a state on the planet.”

    That would be incorrect use of the term socialist, KF. The corporations you mention are not public trusts but rather privately held and publicly traded corporations with no interest in promoting the common good beyond it benefiting their bottom line. These corporations buy access via lobbyists and also abuse the contracting system proper. That would make your statement corrected to read, “The Pentagon runs the biggest fascist state within a state on the planet.” Because what you describe is a corporatist welfare state run for the benefit of the revolving door oligarchical and incestuous management of the Military Industry and the Military Proper. That’d be fascism, dearie, not socialism. Socialism would require the defense industry be nationalized and held in trust, not run as a for profit enterprise.

  2. There, now, that was not so hard, after all, was it?

    Richard Blumenthal finally uttered the words “I am sorry.”

    Hartford Courant:

    QUOTATION ON Blumenthal: “I have made mistakes and I am sorry.”
    By Daniela Altimari on May 23, 2010 10:11 PM

    After nearly a week of criticism following revelations that he misrepresented his military record and five days after a press conference in which he expressed regret for his misstatements, Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Richard Blumenthal apologized.

    “At times when I have sought to honor veterans, I have not been as clear or precise as I should have been about my service in the Marine Corps Reserves,” Blumenthal said in a statement emailed to the Courant late Sunday by his spokeswoman, Maura Downes. “I have firmly and clearly expressed regret and taken responsibility for my words.

    “I have made mistakes and I am sorry. I truly regret offending anyone,” Blumenthal said. “I will always champion the cause of Connecticut’s and our nation’s veterans.”


    On Tuesday, less than 24 hours after the story broke, Blumenthal held a press conference at the Veterans of Foreign War hall in West Hartford and tried to put the issue to rest. He expressed regret for those occasions when he has “misspoken” about his service, but never uttered the words “I am sorry.”

    Link to source:

    This is along the lines of the suggestion made on the other thread here at the Turley blog:

    “Blumo, repeat after Chris. I am a Vietnam era veteran. I trained for six months. I then served in the Marine Corps reserves in the US for 5 1/2 years. I did not serve in Vietnam. I am sorry that I stated on those occasions that I did serve in Vietnam and that I came back from Vietnam.

    “Then Blumie can move on.”

    Seriously, I think this will probably close down the 15-minutes of fame for this story and allow the voters to get back to the issues. Blumenthal made some mistakes, but they were not capital political offenses, and he can now put them behind him.

    He does in fact have a strong record of supporting veterans issues.

  3. Byron:

    That 17 to 20% is more than all the other militaries of the world combined. Real welfare in this country goes to big corporations, usually defence contractors who get free R&D monies, who bilk so much money out of taxpayers that counting every welfare cheat that every lived would be like comparing a Bic lighter to a forest fire. The Pentagon runs the biggest socialist state within a state on the planet.

  4. Karl Friedrich,

    I lost a brother and 2 high school friends in S.E. Asia. I do not know the number of Army Medics that I helped to train at Fort Sam Houston during part of my Viet Nam Era service who might have lost their lives or who were wounded in combat. I do know that soon after AIT, some of those medics had ‘port calls’ to Viet Nam and they were all fine, young men.

    Therefore, please be careful with your broad statements regarding patriotism and Viet Nam. Many honorable persons fought and died in that needless and corrupt war—most did so thinking they were doing the right thing for America. They trusted their government, as I did, when I decided to forgo acquiring a Master’s Degree, to which I had already received my letter of invitation that negated the requirement for me to take the GRE because of my GPA. I could have spent at least a year in graduate school with little chance of induction into military service.

    Instead, I joined the active duty Army to contribute towards partial repayment of my debt to an American society that had afforded me the opportunity to live in freedom, which was largely possible through previous military actions, such as World War II. I am certain that there were many others like me who made even greater academic ‘sacrifices’ to do what they also thought was right by serving their country and sharing the burden with other citizens—many of whom were less fortunate than themselves.

  5. “War is hell.” ( William Tecumseh Sherman)


    “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”
    (Samuel Johnson)

  6. It’s all “nonsense” but you just agree with 2/3rds of it, that is, you agree he’s a chickenhawk unfit for the senate, you just disagree he deserves to be in a body bag.

    Fine with me. I just wish there were more former FEDs around here with the cajones to call unfit chickenhawks by their right name.

  7. Karl Friedrich

    Yea, some “warrior” he would have been too.

    Torching villages and shooting women in the back.

    I wish he really did serve in Vietnam and came back in a body bag.


    “War is hell.” ( William Tecumseh Sherman)

  8. Karl Friedrich,

    While I strongly dislike that Mr. Blumenthal portrayed himself as a ‘warrior’ and while I think that he is unfit to serve as a senator, portions your comments are pathetic and way out of line. However, I am an unconditional absolutist regarding First Amendment rights allowing ignorant people like you to spout nonsense.

  9. Yea, some “warrior” he would have been too.

    Torching villages and shooting women in the back.

    I wish he really did serve in Vietnam and came back in a body bag.

  10. Quoted excerpts from an AP/Forbes article:

    Associated Press
    Experts: Blumenthal tried relating to fellow vets
    By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN , 05.23.10, 01:07 PM EDT

    “They all do it for the prestige,” said retired FBI agent Thomas Cottone, who used to investigate military impostors for the agency. “They all want to be recognized. They need that ego boost.”

    “Doug Sterner, a military historian, says inflated service records have been a problem since the founding of the country, when George Washington expressed concerns about anyone receiving military honors they did not deserve.”

    “Cottone, who retired in 2007, said his caseload of military impostors roughly doubled after the Sept. 11 attacks as reverence for military service intensified.”

    “Some of it is guilt,” he said. “They regretted they didn’t serve in Vietnam. They just felt they missed that opportunity to be a warrior.”

  11. What a bunch of mainstream dupes lurk on this site. Why doesn’t anybody here have the courage to admit the truth that both these candidates are disgusting hacks so typical of the joke of a political system we have in this country where 2% of the population owns & controls 80% of the wealth.

    Both of these bums are old school ward heelers who kowtow exclusively to big business’ interests and won’t have a single negative thing to say about the pentagon’s gargantuan waste that drags this economy down.

    They both would have voted for the Gulf War and have no real issue with the Gestapo state we’ve become under the banner of the War on Terror.

    If the people in CT. allow either one of these miserable cretins to hold office I feel sorry for them and us as a nation.

  12. I think if this had happened to Blumenthal in the fifties or sixties, Blumenthal would have been “toast’ as many have said.I am not sure younger people regard military service with quite as high a regard as older people due because of the type of wars the United States has been fighting.

  13. Quoted from The Volokh Conspiracy

    “AG Blumenthal’s Record
    Jonathan H. Adler • May 22, 2010 9:51 am

    Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is in the news for misrepresenting his military record, but Fergus Cullen would like to focus on his record as AG. He reviews Blumenthal’s various efforts at legal grandstanding and regulation through litigation. This episode in particular caught my eye.”

    End Quote

  14. Before I get accused of lying, the first line is mine and should have been above the link. The rest was written by NPR reporter Colin McEnroe. Read the whole article.


    Here are some facts by reporters who have been covering Blumenthal extensively.

    Mark Pazniokas of the Connecticut Mirror, who may have covered Blumenthal more often than anybody else, referred me to his quote in an NPR national story: “Every time he talked about his military record, he was quite clear that he had been a military reservist and never came close to suggesting he was in Vietnam.”

    Greg Hladky of the Hartford Advocate, formerly of the New Haven Register and Bridgeport Post, right up there with Paz in Blumenthal coverage: “Never personally heard [Blumenthal] say he was in Vietnam. I knew he had been the the Marine Corps Reserve, talked about that briefly during interview for a profile I did recently, and he never mentioned being in Nam.”

    Daniela Altimari of the Courant: “I have not been covering Blumenthal for very long, but I do know that last month, when I asked his campaign about his military service, they said very clearly that he served during the Vietnam era but did not serve in a combat arena.”

  16. Blumenthal was endorsed by the Connecticut Democratic Party yesterday. McMahon was endorsed by the republicans.

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