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Chris Matthews, Climb Down from Your High Horse

Shame on Richard Blumenthal for misrepresenting, or misspeaking, or whatever he did. He has nothing to be proud of as far as that goes. But who appointed Chris Matthews the spokesman for duty, honor and country?
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Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut's attorney general and a Democratic candidate for the United States Senate, misrepresented his service record -- claiming to have served in Vietnam when, in fact, he did not.

Chris Matthews, on Hardball Tuesday night, had smoke blowing out his ears, condemning Blumenthal's misrepresentation as "unspeakable". Matthews couldn't contain his outrage -- "I don't know how you could lie about such a thing." The only moral course for Blumenthal, Matthews suggested, was to fall on his sword, and if he doesn't, then the Senate -- that body of high virtue and moral standards -- maybe should refuse to seat him if he's elected. "The United States Senate cannot take on the morally dead weight of this candidate without honor."

Blumenthal received five deferments from the draft before joining a United States Marine Corps Reserve unit in Washington, DC in 1970. He served six months active duty, going through Marine boot camp at Parris Island, and then attended Reserve meetings and participated in summer exercises for six years. He did not serve in Vietnam, never heard a shot fired in anger, and never apparently was in danger of losing his life while on active duty.

Blumenthal has been Connecticut's attorney general for 19 years. He has on at least one occasion in public alluded to having served in Vietnam. He characterized his misrepresentation in a news conference on Tuesday as "misplaced words". On at least one other occasion, while debating on television, Blumenthal stated that he did not serve in Vietnam. Today he apologized for having "misspoken" about having served there and said he regretted doing it.

Misrepresenting your service record is bad, especially falsely claiming to have been in combat. Let's get that out of the way. But doing so doesn't make Blumenthal a moral leper. He wasn't a traitor to his country. He didn't sell nuclear secrets to the Russians or give aid and comfort to the enemy. In fact, in the end he did serve, albeit in a cushy kind of way.

And, before I get to my big wind-up, a little full disclosure. I served in the United States Marine Corps from 1966 until 1968. In truth, I was drafted into the Marine Corps. Yes, the Marine Corps doesn't like to broadcast the fact, but they do draft when they need more than a few good men, and I guess I was good enough. No, I did not go to Vietnam. I went to Norway, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, but not to Vietnam. I didn't do anything to get out of it and I didn't try to go, either. While I was in the Mediterranean with a battalion landing team for six months, I did get orders to Vietnam, but they were canceled because I was already deployed in what was considered an equivalent activity. Go figure.

To the best of my memory I have never claimed to have been in Vietnam. I did think, for the first year of my enlistment, that I would surely be going there. I lucked out, or missed out, depending on your point of view.

But enough about me.

My recollection from the late '60s is that a lot of young men of Blumenthal's age tried to avoid going into the military. They didn't want to go to Vietnam. Vietnam was, when all is said and done, a stupid war. A lot of young Americans and a whole lot of Vietnamese were killed or maimed for no good reason. My hat comes off for those who did serve even though, in the end, their sacrifice served no good purpose for the country that sent them there to fight.

Now, how about Chris Matthews? Was he, as he put it in his Tuesday television harangue, "in it"? Actually, no. Chris didn't go to Vietnam. He didn't go into the Marines, or the Army, Navy or Air Force. Chris went into the Peace Corps and served in Africa from 1968 until 1970. Peace Corps service is national service and having served is definitely something to be proud of.

But if Chris Matthews thinks it was so important to be "in it" back then, why wasn't he "in it"? He could have enlisted. What was on his mind when he joined the Peace Corps? (For those too young to know or who have forgotten, Peace Corps service generally got you out of the draft back then).

Can we get over this now, please? Vietnam was 40 years ago. Shame, shame on Richard Blumenthal for misrepresenting, or misspeaking or whatever he did. He has nothing to be proud of as far as that goes.

But who appointed Chris Matthews the spokesman for duty, honor and country? Come on down, Chris. Save the moral indignation and hot air for something truly disgraceful. Plenty of opportunities will present themselves in the days and months ahead. You can count on it.

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