Monday, July 19, 2010

Blumenthal And The House Interview

It should be stipulated up front that Dennis House is one of the better interviewers in Connecticut. House is the moderator, chief cook and bottle washer of the popular program “Face the State,” which airs every Sunday on WFSB Channel 3.

In a prelude to his program, House provides on "The Hartfordite" tasty little tidbits of shows before they air.

In the teaser for a show on Sunday featuring the surprisingly elusive Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate Richard Blumenthal, House noted that the public figure before him on Sunday was a notably different character that the self assured attorney general whom he had often interviewed on “Face the State.”

“Blumenthal,” House reported, “used to the be the most accessible public official in our land of steady habits, offering reporters his personal cell phone number and granting interviews at a moment’s notice. His eager willingness to go on camera was a running joke among his staff, journalists, columnists and radio disc jockeys…even himself. But the post NY Times article Blumenthal is a new type of politician. That cell phone number has been disconnected, and his twice, or thrice weekly appearances on local media outlets have been sharply reduced…

“My sense is that the Vietnam comments controversy shook Blumenthal to his core. I don’t think the old Dick Blumenthal is ever coming back. He is now in a race that is probably tougher than he ever imagined and for the first time after decades of easy landslides he faces an opponent in a campaign that has everybody watching.”

That sense is partially correct. After the more or less self administered thumping he had received as a result of his multiple lies concerning his military record, Blumenthal did withdraw behind the protective shields of his handlers, both old and new. But there is something else as well that should figure into this calculus: namely, the different positions he will occupy as attorney general and U.S. Senator.

Apples are not oranges. However much Blumenthal may wish to conflate the two positions – He has, for instance, promised to carry over into his position as senator the same passion and energy he employed, with the assistance of hundreds of lawyers in his office, in his present job – still attorneys general are not senators.

Under Blumenthal’s direction, the attorney general’s office has become a hyperactive consumer protection agency armed with subpoena power and ready to litigate at the drop of a hat, one of the reasons surely that the Competitive Enterprise Institute cited him as the worst attorney general in the United States.

Initially, Blumenthal’s office, which evolved from the “king’s lawyer,” was designed to represent state agencies in matters involving litigation. The statutory architecture of the office was re-jiggered by former attorney general Joe Lieberman; later, the Lieberman re-design was further enhanced and embellished by Blumenthal. To be sure, one of the offices to which the attorney general should serve as an advisor and legal council is the state’s Consumer Protection Department, but Blumenthal has used “whistle blower” incidents to poke his nose into some exotic tents in the course of his twenty year run as attorney general.

It would seem that the radical transformation of that office has not escaped the notice of the two Republican candidates for attorney general this year, Martha Dean and Ross Garber, both of whom have chided Blumenthal for having over litigated when he should have been negotiating settlements with companies that, for one or another reason, incurred his displeasure. Others have charged Blumenthal with a failure to properly represent state agencies on those occasion when doing so might offend the ideological propensities of the ambitious and highly partisan attorney general.

It should be noted in passing that while the Republicans vying for attorney general seem intent on rectifying the animating ethos of the office – sue first, ask questions later – George Jepsen, the Democratic candidate for attorney general, has promised to comport himself faithfully to the Blumenthal model.

As U.S. Senator, Blumenthal will not have within his reach many of the usufructs of office he deployed so effectively as attorney general. A couple of hundred attorneys general will not be at his beck and call; his press availabilities will not be monologues in which the attorney general, reading from a carefully crafted script will cast luster on himself by accusing his targets of illegal activity; the audience at his new newsers will not be passive receptors, transcriptionists who for various reasons unquestioningly adopt the briefs they are give to print.

The House interview was a gentle reminder of the differences between the office Blumenthal has molded to his liking - indeed the greater part of Blumenthal's responses suggest that he might be running for attorney general rather than U.S. Senator -- and the office he hopes to occupy. As attorney general, Blumenthal spoke TO the media. As a U.S. Senator, he will be speaking WITH the media.

Monologues are apples; dialogues are oranges.
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