Mr. Blumenthal's omission

Thursday, May 20, 2010

CONNECTICUT Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a Democratic candidate for the state's open Senate seat, could have been forgiven for misstating his record of military service. Instead, he dug himself deeper into his hole, in two ways, in responding to a devastating account in the New York Times. The first, bad enough, was Mr. Blumenthal's incredible assertion that his mischaracterization of his Vietnam-era service was "a few misplaced words" and "totally unintentional." The second, even worse, was Mr. Blumenthal's best-defense-is-a-good-offense tactic of insisting that his avoidance of the draft and ultimate service in the Marine Corps Reserve -- after receiving a low draft number -- was a patriotic and praiseworthy act. "I will not allow anyone . . . to impugn my record of service," Mr. Blumethal blustered at his news conference, strategically surrounded by veterans at a VFW hall.

As to Mr. Blumenthal's claimed misplacing of words, let's review. "We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam," Mr. Blumenthal said in March 2008. In 2003, he also suggested he had been deployed overseas: "When we returned, we saw nothing like this." On Wednesday, Mr. Blumenthal's camp produced a separate segment of the March 2008 video, in which he refers to himself as "someone who served in the military during the Vietnam era in the Marine Corps" -- suggesting that this technically accurate description mitigates the later, inaccurate one. We're not so sure: The phrasing, which implies active-duty service, still seems to inflate his true role, which was that of a part-time stateside reservist.

The facts certainly don't bear out Mr. Blumenthal's self-congratulatory description of his record at the news conference. He secured at least five draft deferments, including unusual occupational deferments that allowed him to work for Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham and later, at the Nixon White House, for Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Mr. Blumenthal enlisted in the Marine Reserve in April 1970 after drawing a low draft number in the December 1969 lottery, and at a time when President Richard M. Nixon was ending occupational deferments. "The Reserves were not being activated for Vietnam and were seen as a shelter for young privileged men," an expert on the draft, David Curry, a professor at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, told the Times.

Mr. Blumenthal's draft record puts him in good political company, including that of former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. But Mr. Blumenthal chose not to acknowledge what seems obvious -- that he did not want to risk his life in an unpopular war. Instead, he self-servingly asserted Tuesday that "unlike many of my peers, I chose to join the military to serve my country." His low draft number and the impending end of occupational deferments were not part of his account. Indeed, Mr. Blumenthal was less candid than he had been eight years ago, when he acknowledged to the Associated Press that he had enlisted because he had a "pretty low draft number."

Mr. Blumenthal could be forgiven for not wanting to go to Vietnam and taking steps to avoid service there. What's not forgivable is his audacious claim that he deserves praise, not criticism, at this moment of exposure.

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