Richard Blumenthal had an opportunity to put this story in the ground on Tuesday with nothing more than an apology and an admission of wrongdoing. He would have taken some lumps for his serial prevarications on his military service, but as polling this week seems to show, he probably would have survived it. Instead, Blumenthal defiantly accused people of attacking his service rather than pointing out that he claimed combat status when he didn’t serve in that capacity — which has news organizations running for the archives. The Stamford Advocate hit gold from a parade speech in November 2008:
“I wore the uniform in Vietnam and many came back to all kinds of disrespect. Whatever we think of war, we owe the men and women of the armed forces our unconditional support.”
The occasion was the Stamford Veterans Day parade Nov. 9, 2008.
The speaker was Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, as quoted by The Advocate.
A trove of potential bulletin board material was unearthed Tuesday by Hearst Connecticut Newspapers from its archives quoting the once seemingly unflappable U.S. Senate candidate on his military record, one that he has been accused of embellishing.
During a May 18, 2009, military board tribute to veterans in Shelton, Blumenthal was quoted by the Connecticut Post as saying, “When we returned from Vietnam, I remember the taunts, the verbal and even physical abuse we encountered.”
This is a classic case of badly-handled crisis management. It appears that a decision was made to rebut the accusations without consideration of how much material might be found to undermine their argument. A good staff would have at least gamed that out, done some Googling and review of past speeches, and determined that the risk of further exposure would prolong the story.
That forced Blumenthal into a strange defense, what I’d refer to as the “I’ve been faithful dozens of times” position. The campaign and the candidate tried a sleight-of-hand in focusing on the times when Blumenthal characterized his service accurately, as if one honest instance counterbalances one dishonest instance. It doesn’t. The societal expectation on representations of combat service is one of complete honesty, just as expectations of one spouse for another is complete fidelity. Being honest dozens of times doesn’t get Blumenthal off the hook for exaggerations and flat-out lies at other times.
Blumenthal’s stumbles certainly speak to his honesty as a politician, but also to his competence. If he can’t handle a crisis any better than this, we certainly don’t want Blumenthal in the Senate, and Connecticut voters ought to consider whether he belongs in the AG’s office, too.
Update (AP): Remember those newspaper stories that wrongly claimed Blumenthal was a Vietnam vet, which he says he never saw?
Well, it turns out that he’s known for following his press coverage very closely.
The candidate explains he can’t track all news reports about him. Yet this newspaper knows from experience that Mr. Blumenthal is quick to correct unflattering statements published about him or to refute opinions with which he disagrees. One reporter got a call from the attorney general for inserting a middle initial in his name. He has none.