Why should anyone give Richard Blumenthal a break?

How you look at things.
May 18 2010 5:36 PM

The Blumenthal Rules

Why should anyone give Richard Blumenthal a break?

Richard Blumenthal. Click image to expand.
Richard Blumenthal

Richard Blumenthal, the attorney general of Connecticut, has a problem. He's running for the U.S. Senate, and he's been caught on video implying falsely that he served in Vietnam. He'd like your understanding as he explains that he simply "misspoke" about his service. He'd like you to give him a break.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right. Follow him on Twitter.

But Blumenthal has never given anyone a break. He has made a career out of holding others to the strictest standards of truth—and mercilessly prosecuting them when they fall short.

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During Vietnam, Blumenthal went into the Marine Reserves and obtained several deferments to avoid the draft. But in 2008, he told an audience, "We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam." In 2003, he said of U.S. troops coming home, "When we returned, we saw nothing like this." In a report published Monday night, the New York Times reviewed other speeches and noted several patterns: that Blumenthal has often used "ambiguous language," that "he does not volunteer that his service never took him overseas," that he "describes the hostile reaction directed at veterans coming back from Vietnam, intimating that he was among them," and that he has never corrected news organizations (including Slate) that erroneously inferred he had served in Vietnam.

Today, Blumenthal rebutted the Times story. Let's look at the rules he has enforced on others over the last year or so and see how his rebuttals compare.

1. Beware those who exploit veterans. Last year, Blumenthal denounced "exploitive, poorly managed or even fraudulent fundraisers" who raise money in the name of veterans. He warned the public to donate only "to well-known organizations with a history of helping veterans."

Today, to dispel the allegations against him, Blumenthal stood in front of veterans at a press conference and boasted: "They've heard me again and again and again stand up for justice and fairness to our veterans."

2. Blurring is lying. Last fall, Blumenthal launched an investigation of food companies that put a "Smart Choices" logo on their products. He called the labels "potentially misleading" and decried marketing gimmicks that "blur or block the truth." Though the labels made no explicit claims, he protested that they "misguided" the public and sowed "confusion." He pledged to teach companies, through his investigation, that "labeling must be completely truthful and accurate without hype or spin." And he depicted the industry in the harshest terms: "Big Food has been feeding big lies to consumers about nutritional value."

Today, Blumenthal said he merely "misspoke" about his service, using the wrong preposition in a small and "unintentional" oversight.

3. Fudging is cheating. Two months ago, Blumenthal announced "a crackdown on companies that illegally misclassify employees as independent contractors." This wasn't a debatable distinction, he argued: It was an outrage and a crime. "Misclassification is cheating—plain and simple," he preached. "I will fight to stop companies from falsely claiming their employees are independent contractors. …"

Today, Blumenthal proudly declared, "I will not allow anyone to take a few misplaced words and impugn my record of service to our country."

4. Failure to state the truth clearly is trickery. Last summer, Blumenthal won a $50,000 fine against a company that collected goods for charity. He blasted it for "prominently displaying charitable and service organization logos on its boxes while failing to state clearly that it keeps most of the proceeds." He called the firm an "imposter" and condemned its behavior as "reprehensible trickery."

In another case, Blumenthal sued a charity telemarketer for "failing to clearly and conspicuously state its name and its paid solicitor status." He argued that the firm had "listed its true name and solicitor status in barely legible print on the back of its mailing, effectively concealing its identity and purpose."

Today Blumenthal brushed away his inaccurate remarks about Vietnam as "a few occasions" compared with "hundreds" (including this one) in which he had told the truth.