- The Washington Times - Friday, May 21, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Connecticut’s Democratic Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is taking heavy fire for a series of statements he made over several years in which he either explicitly or implicitly claimed to be a Vietnam veteran, when in fact he is not. His defense is that he misspoke - using the word “in” instead of “during” the war, according to a spokesman. This implies that he repeatedly made an innocent and unconscious mistake. But anyone watching the video of him in 2008, touching his heart when he earnestly says “we have learned something very important since the days that I served in Vietnam,” cannot conclude he didn’t know exactly what he was saying. The scandal doesn’t depend on what the meaning of the word “in” is.

Mr. Blumenthal not only did not serve in Vietnam, he systematically avoided any chance of being sent overseas, which compounds the severity of his claims to the contrary. This ground has been well plowed by both sides of the political divide, whether the issue is Bill Clinton’s overseas draft dodging, George W. Bush’s service in the Air National Guard or Dick Cheney’s deferments. Mr. Blumenthal’s tale of privilege and pull combines elements of all three. He had student draft deferments at Harvard and Cambridge, and secured a coveted 2-A occupational deferment at the height of the fighting in 1968, which was only given to those for whom it was deemed in the “national health, safety and interest” to remain in their civilian jobs.

At the time of this special exemption, young Richard was special assistant to Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, whose son Donald was Mr. Blumenthal’s Harvard school chum. It is unclear how working at The Washington Post could have contributed to American national security, but it’s very clear how this deferment relates to the Washington culture of cronyism.

Mr. Blumenthal’s 2-A deferment was renewed when he worked in the Nixon White House, and he only enlisted in the Marines after his deferments were set to run out and he picked a low number in the draft lottery. Slate summarized this five-year odyssey in 2000 by saying Mr. Blumenthal “enlisted in the Marines rather than duck the Vietnam draft.” Apparently through his connections, Mr. Blumenthal was able to secure a slot in a Marine Reserve unit in Washington that had no chance of being sent overseas, and he served there for only six months before matriculating at Yale Law School.

Mr. Blumenthal’s “misstatements” are a comparatively recent phenomenon, perhaps related to his Senate bid. Appropriately enough, one of his potential opponents is former U.S. Representative Rob Simmons, a retired Army colonel who spent 19 months in Vietnam between 1965 and 1969 and was twice awarded the Bronze Star. Mr. Simmons also served 10 years as a CIA operations officer, spending half that time deployed to East Asia. When it comes to the issues of national service and personal integrity, Mr. Simmons’ television ad copy writes itself.

Mr. Blumenthal’s foibles may not be as egregious as Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin’s references to mythical combat air patrols over Vietnam, or the phantom sniper fire Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton claimed to have encountered in Tuzla, Bosnia. But in both of those cases, at least the people involved actually set foot in the countries in question. Vietnam veterans who served in combat say they “saw the elephant.” The only elephant Mr. Blumenthal saw during his service would have been at the National Zoo.

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