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

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.

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