Today's New York Times features a front-page, above the fold story about Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. To call the piece unflattering is an understatement. The real question is whether it is a sufficient spike to put to death Blumenthal's ambition to obtain a seat in the U.S. Senate.
First, the gory truth: The Attorney General has lied, and routinely so, about his war record. He has led others to believe time and again that he served in Vietnam. In fact, he sought deferment after deferment -- five according to the Times, and enlisted in the Marine reserves only as a last resort. After boot camp, he served in a unit for the well-heeled and well-connected, performing such hazardous duty as constructing tent platforms for a children's camp and passing out Toys for Tots. The closest the man who would be Senator ever came to a body bag, apparently, was passing out Barbies in toy store bags.
Hours after the Times hit the Internet, the story was all over Twitter. It's okay to lie about being at Woodstock, one writer noted, but not about Vietnam. Pretending to be a battle-scared hero in speeches to veterans' groups is close to sacrilege.
Then another whopper, although this merely pathetic. He permitted various news organizations to report that he was the captain of the Harvard swim team. Of course, the Times reports, he was never even on the team. When confronted, he appears to suggest that he cannot possible read all his press.
This rings mighty hollow from a man who courts the press so assiduously that one of Connecticut's top political jokes notes that the most dangerous location in the state is the space between Blumenthal and a television camera. One of the swim team references occurred in the now defunct Northeast Magazine, previously published by the state's largest, and the nation's oldest, newspaper, the Hartford Courant. A profile in the magazine is worth its weight in gold. I know. I was featured in a cover story in 1999, and count the piece as perhaps the best publicity I have ever had. The magazine referred to me, boast, boast, as a "brilliant and audacious trial lawyer." It must be true if it is in the Courant.
Blumenthal has had his eyes on the prize of higher office for well more than a decade. He hires and pays for a press secretary. He reads his clips, as do all well who live and die by the shadows we cast.
The Times reports that Blumenthal has a reputation as a brilliant lawyer. I am not so sure of that. There are many brilliant lawyers in his office, were I to name but a few -- Greg A'Auria, Perry Zinn-Rowthorn, Steven Strom, Margaret Chapple -- for example, I would offend many others by omission. Blumenthal has an eye for talent. He is a brilliant administrator. But brilliance as a lawyer? I've not seen it.
I've argued against him in cases that pass his justiciability threshold: the presence of reporters. He breezes in, cool as a cucumber chilled to just the right crispness. Handed a brief prepared by others, which he has no doubt read on his limousine ride to the court, he recites his lines well. He even argued a case against my firm in the United States Supreme Court, Porter v. Nussle, involving prisoner's rights. He was letter perfect, a former Supreme Court clerk showing his old bosses that he was still in the game. But brilliant? Word on the street in Connecticut is that he does not prepare his own cases. I cannot recall the last time he actually questioned a witness, a task in which lawyers learn that things can go bump in the broad light of day. Blumenthal is brilliant, all right, but not at lawyering.
His biography in the States Register and Manual reads like a press release for desire and passion sublimated to ambition. He and Elena Kagan are bedfellows of a depressingly similar type.
Finally, there is the question the Times did not write about: His wealth. A federal disclosure form reflects that he is worth at least $60 million. His wife, the heiress to the fortune flowing from Empire State Building rents, has a cool million dollars in the family's checkbook. As yet, he has not pledged his fisc to his campaign to fill the seat to be vacated by the retiring Senator Christopher Dodd. Instead, he's working the state like a one-armed bandit, seeking small contribution from folks who are lucky to have anything in their check accounts. A good friend called me the other day to report he'd no longer support Blumenthal: It was offensive to have this son of the Order of the Silver Spoon work play at Grey Poupon populism.
So is Blumenthal now dead in the water?
Probably not. For all his faults, he is not Linda McMahon, his republican challenger. She and her husband are worth several times more than the Blumenthal family. The McMahon fortune was made at a more explicit form of fraud: creating and marketing the World Wrestling Entertainment. Call her Hulk Hogan's mommy, if you will. And she acts the part. Were she a man, we'd say she had brass, er, spheres.
Blumenthal has done a good job as a consumer's attorney general. Replacing him will be difficult. He has the intelligence and vision to lead the state's largest law firm. Revelations that he is liar call into question whether he has the right stuff for the Senate, however.
Politics in Connecticut this season is a grim affair. The two leading candidates to replace Dodd, the man whose sweetheart "loans" from Countrywide should have landed him an indictment, are a brilliant mannequin and the queen of wreslemania. Two wealthy nabobs bobbing for votes in a sea of unemployed and discontented voters. It feels like ancient Rome; the Republic is crumbling and we get a man playing role of Cato, but lacking Cato's gravitas, as one candidate for consul. On the other hand, one of Nero's stage mistresses saunters by for approval, the grime of the coliseum still fresh on her brow. I hardly know where to turn.
Blumenthal's lies won't dislodge him from the race. That would leave us with McMahon, who is no choice at all. In the 2010 election for the U.S. Senate, we are left with a limp Dick as the better choice for office. No, make that a mighty limp Dick.
What next, Dick, did you, too, help invent the Internet? Or is that your signature I see there on the Declaration of Independence?
NOTE: The Limpster will hold a press conference today. His camp his claiming the Times piece is filled with half-truths. Perhaps. But the Times' research seems pretty solid. Will the Limpster show us a war wound that is not self-inflicted?