The curious lies of public figures.
Comedian Bob Newhart performed a skit a few years ago in which he reminisced about his stateside service as a “clerk-typist” at the “height of the Korean War.” In the skit, his memory is prompted by a paper cut as he struggles to open a DVD while talking to himself and his half-listening granddaughter. “Enough war stories,” he says before moving to another subject.
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s service at the height of the Vietnam War appears just as glorious. It turns out that he may have helped organize a Toys for Tots drive as a member of the Marine Corps Reserve, according to the New York Times. This task, among other stateside ones, became in Blumenthal’s telling over the years “service in Vietnam.” He says now that he simply misspoke — that he meant to say he served “during” the Vietnam war, not “in” the Vietnam war.
Perhaps this marks a weird form of progress for Democrats: they have gone from spitting on Vietnam War veterans to impersonating them. John Kerry watched approvingly as disgruntled Vietnam War veterans hurled their medals at the White House in the 1970s (though his own medals were neatly tucked away for later use), and most liberal politicians speak about Vietnam as an immoral war. But in recent years they have wanted in on it. It has gone from a deleted memory to a recovered one. Blumenthal numbered himself among the spat upon — “I remember the taunts, the insults, sometimes even physical abuse.”
Historian Joseph Ellis, a darling of the East Coast liberal elite, hoaxed his students for a time as a veteran of the Vietnam War. He had seen action on the front lines, he regaled them. It was all bogus. But after he got nabbed, he just trotted off to a write a bestselling book about a president known for his honesty, George Washington, and these days appears on Charlie Rose to gush about the probity of this or that historical figure. There are no second acts in public life? At this point there are only second acts. Hoaxsters become George Washington biographers; plagiarists like Dolores Kearns Goodwin become Honest Abe scholars.
Some in the media, trying to explain Blumenthal’s lie, resort to mumbo jumbo about “generational guilt.” (Ellis tried that ludicrously self-important tack too, explaining his concocted service as a form of anguish for having let others die in his place.) Generational guilt? Try generational egotism. Blumenthal is just another creepy narcissist in American politics who couldn’t bear attending military service ceremonies without bragging about his own “service.”
A liberal generation that “loathed” the military (as Bill Clinton put it in his draft-dodging letter) now loves it and doesn’t want to be cut out of the glory. For Blumenthal to have spelled out the nature of his service specifically would have left his ego ungratified and his audiences less than impressed. Even in his non-apology apology on Tuesday, he couldn’t resist more pointless bragging, patting himself on the back for having looked up the Marine Corps Reserve all by himself “in a phone book” and having left for training “at midnight.”
Blumenthal took “full responsibility” for his lie while in reality taking none. Besides, who takes “full responsibility” for (what he calls) an innocent misstatement? Why would you need to? So even in that tiresomely shabby and grandiose formulation he gives himself away. He says that he didn’t correct multiple news stories that said he served in Vietnam because he never saw the stories — one more deception to add into the mix since he is the one who launched this misinformation through his vague and dishonest references to his “service.”
One of the last Democrats to pull this trick was Bill Richardson, though on a far less important matter: for years, he let people think he was drafted by the Kansas City A’s, a lie that he got started and then watched contentedly course its way through various news stories about himself. After he got popped, he promised to do some research into the matter and “came to the conclusion that I was not drafted by the A’s,” then used previous material he had introduced the false information into as a kind of defense.
When asked why he lied, he came up with a barrage of curious excuses: he said that scouts wanted to draft him, that his name had appeared on a “draft list of some kind,” and that a program for an amateur league in which he played listed him as drafted (the media pointed out that the information from the program in question came from either Richardson or his coach).
Perhaps the ambitious Richard Blumenthal can take heart from this episode. Richardson just shrugged it all off and ran for president.
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