Words and the Politician

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Words and the Politician

We praise Thee, O God,
For whatever perspicuity of language
Thou hast taught us. . . .

- Abu Mohammed Kasim Ben Ali Hariri, (1054-1122 ) Makamat. Prayer

The problem lies with the language and not the protagonist. It is virtually impossible for the politician to keep control of pen and tongue and not infrequently the politician is betrayed by one or the other. Newt Gingrich and Richard Blumenthal are their latest victims. Mr. Blumenthal's betrayal is the more understandable and certainly less pernicious than the betrayal of Mr. Gingrich by his pen.

Mr. Blumenthal is running for the United States Senate in Connecticut. In May the New York Times disclosed that his repeated description of his military service in Viet Nam, while inspirational and helping create a sense of camaraderie with those returning from combat, was fictitious. Mr. Blumenthal never served in Viet Nam. His military service was like George Bush's and Dick Cheney's. Between 1965 and 1970, he received 5 deferments (by coincidence the same number as Dick Cheney). The reasons ranged from being a student, to working at the Washington Post, to serving in the Nixon White House. Betrayed by memory and tongue, in countless speeches to veterans and others he referred to his service in Viet Nam. Addressing a group of veterans and old folk in 2008 he explained how we have learned a lot since the days he served in Viet Nam. As a result of his repeated representations the Connecticut press frequently referred to him as a Viet Nam veteran and Mr. Blumenthal made no effort to correct their descriptions since having said it enough and read it enough, he believed it. The fault in his description can be found in one word.

Mr. Blumenthal may well have gone to Viet Nam long after the war was over, enjoyed a good meal, and in describing the experience to friends said he "was served in Viet Nam" referring, of course, to the meal. As time went on he dropped the "was" and pretty soon thought of himself as a veteran.

Mr. Blumenthal is angry about the NYT report and acknowledged that "On a few occasions I have misspoken about my service, and I regret that and I take full responsibility." Regretful perhaps, but indignant at the New York Times that first reported his faulty memory, he said he "will not allow anyone to take a few misplaced words and impugn my record of service to our country." Many a prevaricator would take comfort in knowing that by calling lies "misplaced words" the onus is lifted from their misplacement.

While Mr. Blumenthal was explaining his misplaced words, Newt Gingrich was once again seeking to establish himself as a force in the Republican Party. He had drifted out of sight for a few years after resigning from Congress. Prior to resigning he had demonstrated his ability to multitask. While leading the congressional effort to impeach Bill Clinton for conduct arising out of his sexual misconduct, Mr. Gingrich conducted an extramarital affair with a woman who was to become his third wife as soon as he could shed his second wife (with whom he had an affair while waiting to shed his first wife who was recovering from cancer surgery.) But this has nothing to do with his sex life, interesting though it probably is to the women involved. This pertains to his new book called "To save America".

The name seems a bit hyperbolic since it is not obvious that America needs saving (except perhaps from British Petroleum and Sarah Palin). In the book Mr. Gingrich says that the current administration's "secular-socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did." Whether the threat comes from the extension of health care benefits to millions of previously uninsured Americans, lowering the cost of drugs for seniors, beginning the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, or ending discrimination against homosexuals in the military, to name just a few, is not articulated.

In coming up with a comparison to Nazi Germany (that he has subsequently tried to soften) Mr. Gingrich may have been thinking of the new law in Arizona that permits the police when making a "lawful contact" with someone who gives them reasonable suspicion to believe the person is an alien, to determine, when practicable, the immigration status of the person. He may have thought that Arizona's law bore a faint resemblance to Nazi Germany's requirement that Jews wear yellow stars in public and may have forgotten that the Arizona law is a Republican creation that he should not criticize. The Arizona law is, of course, quite different from the Nazi law since the Arizona law places the burden of identifying the person on the police.

And then again, perhaps none of the foregoing explains Mr. Gingrich's writing. Perhaps Mr. Gingrich just hopes to grab the mantle of Republican leader from Sarah Palin and to do that he has to say some really stupid things. His description of the Obama administration certainly satisfies that requirement.

Christopher Brauchli

Christopher Brauchli is a columnist and lawyer known nationally for his work. He is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Colorado School of Law where he served on the Board of Editors of the Rocky Mountain Law Review. He can be emailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu. For political commentary see his web page at http://humanraceandothersports.com

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