Friday, June 04, 2010

Blumenthal On The Uptick

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s recent dip in the polls, owing to his multiple lies concerning his service in Vietnam, is now bending in a more favorable direction for him.

Analysts are busily interpreting the uptick in a recent Rasmussen poll.

National commentators still insist that Blumenthal lied rather than misspoke when he said, addressing some veterans groups in which media presence was light, that he had served in Vietnam.

After the single questionable reference in a New York Times front page story had spurred other papers to search their archives, other Blumenthal misspeakings soon surfaced. The multiple instances in which Blumenthal asserted he had served in Vietnam threw into doubt the attorney general’s assertion that he misspoke.

In a June 3rd story in the National Journal.com for instance, Jamie Shufflebarger wrote:

“Blumenthal said or implied on numerous occasions that he had served in Vietnam during the war. He most famously said in '08 that "We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam." There are at least 5 other direct quotes from Blumenthal stating that he "wore the uniform in Vietnam" or "returned from Vietnam." His campaign material and official bio all clearly state that he was in the reserves during the war and never served abroad.”
While heavily criticized in the national media, Blumenthal appears to have gotten a pass from the state’s media. Following a week of heavy criticism, the attorney general, having consulted with some Beltway fix-its provided by President Barack Obama’s administration, said via e-mail:

“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. I have firmly and clearly expressed regret and taken responsibility for my words.”
In an editorial, the Hartford Courant said Blumenthal’s “apology” had sufficiently “cleared the air,” and when former Courant Watchdog George Gombossy, a veteran, questioned the attorney general’s apology, he was denounced by a Courant commentator. Gombossy is suing the paper for having improperly discharge him, but he has been unable to question the attorney general, who has been adroitly avoiding him.

Blumenthal’s continuing reluctance to admit he lied about his service has earned him a place on the national psychological couch.

The New York Times followed up its initial story, citing other instances in which Blumenthal lied about his service record. The Times' editors also opened its pages to commentators Mark Maslan, an English professor, Jonathan Turley, a professor of public interest law, Bella DePaulo, a psychology professor, and
Henry Mark Holzer, a co-author, “Fake Warriors: Identifying, Exposing, and Punishing Those Who Falsify Their Military Service.”

“It’s not uncommon for people — even public officials — to lie about their military service, The Times pointed out and asked, ”What’s behind this kind of deception?”

Mark Maslen, now writing a book titled “False Witness: Counterfactual Testimony and Postmodern Truth,” quoting Blumenthal telling one audience “I remember the taunts, the insults, sometimes even physical abuse” he presumably suffered as a result of his service in Vietnam, suspects that Blumenthal’s “fabrications concern humiliation more than heroism.”

Blumenthal’s lies, Maslen commented, “cannot be explained by a hunger for glory, but by a need to be part of a traumatic past that we all share. In this, he resembles the fake Vietnam vets, whose stories more often concern harm suffered and witnessed than bravery proven.”

Turley, a columnist who writes on legal and policy issues and blogs at jonathanturley.org, is convinced Blumenthal is no Walter Mitty. Blumenthal already had been leading in reality the Walter Mitty life that the character in James Thurber’s short story could only dream of. The Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University thinks the temptation to claim unearned military distinctions is sometimes irresistible among politicians:

“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.”
However, there are dangers in the pursuit of universal affection:

"For the state’s top prosecutor (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)… 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.”
Visiting professor of psychology at the University of California Bella DePaulo, who has written extensively on the psychology of deceit, remarks that those who “are fond of the liar, or feel indebted or invested in the liar, will rush forward to defend their friend. Their public show of support only makes it harder for the liar to come clean, since a confession would hurt and humiliate the very people who stood up for the liar.”

Professor emeritus at Brooklyn Law School Henry Mark Holzer, co-author of “Fake Warriors: Identifying, Exposing, and Punishing Those Who Falsify Their Military Service,” uses the term “fake warrior, to describe a person, overwhelmingly male, who lies about having had military service or, having served, embellishes his record.”

Public officials especially “want to be seen (whether they are or not) as tough, disciplined and patriotic. Those characteristics inhere in no calling more than the military, which is why public official fake warriors don’t claim to have invented a cure for gout or once caught the largest shark. Instead, they almost always fictionalize their military service.”

Part of the corruption of absolute power may be traced to the insularity of powerful people. Told often enough that a man is a saint, the saint soon gives himself permission to sin. And when the watchdogs sleep, the only restraints available to the sinner are those he lays upon himself.
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