Vietnam STILL An Issue In American Politics

It's like "In The Lake of the Woods" without the massacreRough sledding in Connecticut for Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, the presumptive heir to the Senate seat Chris Dodd is being forced to vacate at the end of his term. Last night the Times dropped a major bomb on the Democratic AG, accusing him of misstating his military service during the war in Vietnam. (After several deferments Blumenthal joined the Marine reserves, ensuring that he would not be sent overseas.) Throughout his subsequent career as an elected official, Blumenthal has often referred to his military background, in some cases using language that indicated he had been in the war, in other cases making it deliberately clear that he remained stateside. When media reports of his service made it sound as if he had been to Vietnam, no efforts were made to correct the misinformation.

The political calculus on this one is hard to determine: Blumenthal will hold a press conference today surrounded by supportive veterans in which he will deny any attempt to deceive. Meanwhile, Republican Senatorial candidate Linda McMahon (former CEO and co-founder with her husband Vince of World Wrestling Entertainment) reposted a story on her website giving her credit for feeding the information to the Times, which is shockingly bad form: If you’re funding the opposition research and find something good, you discreetly pass it along and let the newspaper take credit. (Perhaps McMahon’s people regret the faux pas; the page has since disappeared, although you can read details here.) Democrats will fume about this aspect of the story, but will it be enough to save Blumenthal?

The Atlantic‘s Joshua Green sounds dubious, noting that Blumenthal’s previous reputation for probity will actually work against him in this case:

Everything about Blumenthal seemed to set him apart from the ordinary sleaze and compromise of big-time politics, especially in recent years as Joe Lieberman succumbed to narcissism and Chris Dodd’s sweetheart Countrywide mortgage tarnished him beyond redemption (or at least beyond reelection). For as long as I can remember, Blumenthal has been the crusading consumer advocate, humble, modest, unprepossessing, with that guileless Brylcreem haircut that somehow made him seem even more honorable–a throwback to an earlier era. That Blumenthal clearly could have won statewide office if only he hadn’t been blocked by Dodd and Lieberman only added to this saintly impression. Or anyway, it appeared that he could have won office.

Who knows? It’s impossible to say whether this is an issue of deliberate obfuscation or a case of linguistic elasticity with which Blumenthal finally became so comfortable that it no longer even registered as a concern. A decade ago a Slate profile presented him as a sure candidate for higher office whose path was blocked by incumbents; in the decade since his continuing refusal to grab the brass ring even when the path seemed clear was one of the bigger puzzlements of Connecticut politics; perhaps, in the back of his mind, this was always a concern. Maybe, with Dodd being pushed out and the opportunity seeming to good to pass up, he somehow convinced himself that it wouldn’t make a difference. Now we’ll see if it does.