Vice President Joe Biden, in his ever-loving, half-aware candor, has called it “The Blumenthal Mistake,” which is a pretty brutal epithet: Of all the deeds a politician wouldn’t want his name standing in for, lying about military service has got to be close to the top of the list. Perhaps the label won’t stick, but it probably isn’t helping Blumenthal’s case that we’ve already had a chance to use it.
In case you missed his outing: A few weeks ago, Connecticut Attorney General and Democratic Senate hopeful Richard Blumenthal got caught lying about serving in Vietnam. The New York Times reported that though Blumenthal had been in the Marine Reserve, he had never laid foot on Vietnamese soil — that he had, in fact, taken pains to avoid that step.
Then over this past weekend, Illinois Representative and Republican Senate hopeful Mark Kirk got caught in the midst of his own Blumenthal Mistake. For years he had listed on his bio (and even announced at a congressional hearing in 2002) that he had received the Navy’s Intelligence Officer of the Year award, which he had not. This time the Washington Post broke the news, but the fervor wasn’t quite able to match that of the original sin. CNN, for example, got called out by Media Matters for running 11 segments on Blumenthal’s claims but none on Kirk’s during the day after.
And the blowback gap seemed reasonable: liberal persuasions of the media aside, Kirk had merely upgraded an accolade, his whole unit having won a similar award roundabout the same time, while Blumenthal said he fought abroad while instead he’d served stateside. Both appear dishonest, sure, but one seems a less heinous misspeaker than the other. At least at first.
Around 11 a.m. today, the Post reported that Kirk had also “misstated” that he was the only member of Congress “to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom.” While Kirk was in the reserves during that time, as Blumenthal was during the Vietnam War, he similarly served only stateside. When confronted, Kirk used the same line his forbearer did: Both men said they just muddled up their wording, asserting they served “in” wars that they — whoopsie — only served “during” — a crucial switching of prepositions that will hereafter be known as “The Blumenthal Defense.”
Blumenthal had also been out-inking Kirk because he had taken his damage control to the next level, turning his initial “regret” about his misstatement into a full-on public apology for his “mistake.” And that tactic seemed to work. A Quinnipiac poll released last week found that despite 9 in 10 people being aware of Blumenthal’s Vietnam gaffes, he still leads his Senate-seat rival, former WWE queen Linda McMahon, by 25 points. That is, admittedly, down from the 61-28 lead Quinnipiac found in March, but only one in three people polled said the mistake made them less likely to vote for him and more believed he “misspoke” than “lied.” Blumenthal followed the general advice the PR consultants, as laid out in this Time article about rehabilitating John Edwards’ image: don’t quibble, come clean asap and as publicly as possible.
As of now, Kirk is saying that the slip of the preposition was fixed by his people years ago, but there’s ample evidence that suggests he repeated the Iraqi falsehood intentionally — and that its discovery is one of many more unpleasant revelations that will keep on coming. With his poll numbers looking a bit less dapper than Blumenthal’s and the media only hungry for greater scrutiny, Kirk might do well to preempt the press, confess his sins and start working on his Blumenthal Grovel rather than quibbling over his misdeeds.