Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Another One Bites The Dust: On The Richard Blumenthal News And The Politics Of Mendacity

What is it with lawyers this week? It wasn't bad enough for your favorite Radical to be read out of the community of queer scholars yesterday for reductive identity politics by a hotshot New York law professor who does not hide her sexual orientation (which could be described as....?) There is worse news, at least for the people of Shoreline.

This morning, I scooped up the paper of record from my front porch to discover that Richard Blumenthal has lied by omission and commission about his military service during the Vietnam war. Is this a crime? No. But whether by commission, omission, or inference, coyness around stigmatizing issues -- such as evading military service to promote one's career -- is, as Tennessee Williams' Big Daddy would say, "mendacity!"

As we historians are aware, it is also sleazy. As in the even more puzzling case of Pulitzer Prize-winning Joseph Ellis, I don't think anyone has ever asked Richard Blumenthal if he served in Vietnam: he just offered it up.

Blumenthal has responded to the New York Times "that he had misspoken about his service during the Norwalk event and might have misspoken on other occasions. 'My intention has always been to be completely clear and accurate and straightforward, out of respect to the veterans who served in Vietnam,'" he said.

The yuck factor on this is pretty high, and the political costs may be too. While this event is dissimilar to the Spitzer call girl scandal (in that lying is only a crime under certain circumstances), it demonstrates a similar contempt for voters that will be hard to put aside on election day. Other than the fact that there seems to be a whole generation of ambitious white men who are now embarrassed by the strings they pulled to evade Vietnam (which is why I took particular delight in Dick Cheney's unbuttoned and nasty honesty when he snapped that he had "better things to do" than fight in Vietnam), it is stunningly arrogant that Blumenthal thought he could leave the misimpression that he was a combat veteran and not get caught eventually.

For those of you who don't keep up with Connecticut politics (and why should you? The intricacies of political corruption in the Nutmeg State are so difficult to follow that it is hard to remember which mayor was indicted for what), Blumenthal should have been a shoe-in for Christopher Dodd's open Senate seat. But this is a real blow to an already troubled campaign, because here we have another driven and competitive man who -- by lying about something essentially unimportant -- now appears to have contempt for all of us. The outcome of this may be that a state that perpetually returns a veto-proof Democratic majority to its own legislature, and where even many of hte Republicans are still liberal, may soon be represented in Washington by two conservatives: Joe Lieberman and Linda McMahon, the founder and CEO of the fantastically successful pseudo-sports league, World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc..

It is a puzzle what is wrong with Blumenthal. He has been a good attorney general for twenty years, and was believed to be unbeatable. But his campaign has been uninspired and clumsy: this is just the latest and most boneheaded manifestation of a candidate who doesn't seem to know what he is doing. And while The Daily Caller is claiming that this information about Blumenthal's false claims to comba service was fed to the Times by a McMahon campaign that is functioning like a well-oiled wrestler, my question is: why shouldn't the McMahon people have revealed this? Why turn the stigma back on them?


Susan said...

So what dem will become the candidate when Blumenthal falls on his sword (which he'd better do quickly)?

wv=haingstu, which seems appropriate!

Tenured Radical said...

I don't know....except for losing seniority on key House Committees, I would put in a plug for Rosa. Maybe Lamont will switch off the gubernatorial thing?

Comrade PhysioProf said...

It wasn't bad enough for your favorite Radical to be read out of the community of queer scholars yesterday for reductive identity politics by a hotshot New York law professor who does not hide her sexual orientation (which could be described as....?)

BLOG WAR!!!! ATTACK! KILL! DESTROY!!!!!!1!!!!ONE!!11!!

shaz said...

Maybe I missed something, though I went back and read the various blog entries, NYT article (which seemed insipid). Is NYT or NYU Law prof trying to argue that the societal pressure for women to marry can be seen as separable from heteronormativity? That the fear of un-man-attached women is unrelated to the anxiety over lesbianism? I'm not sure such an approach is a productive one, but maybe I'm just reductively challenged...

On the good side, your blog got described as "widely read."

Tenured Radical said...

Mmmmm...*my* read on the fancy law professor (who is, by the way, widely admired for very good reasons) is that she correctly understood that I was criticizing her for taking homophobia out of the discussion and substituting a story about the sad dilemmas of straight girls, the deliberate inference being that Kagan *is* a straight girl. As Franke said in her own defense, she has blogged and published on these issues, and has a lot of important things to say about them -- so why not say them in the NY Times and get them to a broader audience? The answer I think is that the word has gone out among many good liberals, including queer legal scholars: keep your mouth *shut* on this one. Stop the lesbuan story -- and who better to do that with authority than lesbian legal scholars?

The problem with this is not some angst on my part about stable lesbian identities which is just a weird put-down, but a meaningful one on the queer studies world -- I'm not sure she got it that the lesbian Barbie section was a joke. Rather, it is my view that we who have some intellectual authority have to work actively to take homophobia out of the equation. That would have included, for example, Franke not talking about her own sexuality in code, and using the NYT piece not to reinforce the logic that Kagan is a straight woman who bought her success at a high price to her personal life.

And I guess the "harm" of marriage argument is something I find a little feeble. here are many good arguments about why the decision of powerful gay organizations to put all their resources into marriage has been a bad one, both practically and ideologically. Both Professor Franke and I know them well. But that she has personally suffered from intrusive inquiries about an upcoming wedding is a silly thing to bring in (and anyway, she would have to travel to my state to do it.) She is a fine scholar and a tough broad: my guess is she can resist the pressure. In a state that actually has gay marriage, my partner and I haven't found it to be a problem at all.

For conservative readers, BTW, this tiff is a good illustration of the original meaning of "political correctness." It wasn't a left -right divide, but rather a mode of correction on the left, used when authority structures were threatened by someone questioning an intellectual who is prominent enough to be able to set and enforce the ideological tone.

Btu yes --"well read" was nice wasn't it? And in the spirit of gracious response, I would say, Professor Franke is well-read too, and for good reasons -- she is one of the leading lesbian (there, I said it sister) scholars of her generation, and it is extraordinarily well written. It would just be terrific if some of her ideas made it into the New York Times.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

TR, that's no way to wage a blog war! lolz

JackDanielsBlack said...

TR, much of your quarrel with this law professor reads like lesbian insider baseball. If Kagan is not a lesbian, than what is all this fuss about? If Kagan is a lesbian, her ass is grass -- it will come out, and she will be perceived as a liar and unworthy of confirmation.

Tenured Radical said...


That wold be lesbian insider *softball.*

The Septic Tank Blog said...

Great blog! Loved it!