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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sociopath alert: Richard Blumenthal

The NY Times ran a lengthy front page article yesterday detailing how Connecticut Attorney General and Senatorial candidate Richard Blumenthal lied about being in Vietnam. Not only did Blumenthal never serve in Vietnam, he actually obtained five deferments from military service between 1965 and 1970. According to the Times:

"In 1970, with his last deferment in jeopardy, he landed a coveted spot in the Marine Reserve, which virtually guaranteed that he would not be sent to Vietnam. He joined a unit in Washington that conducted drills and other exercises and focused on local projects, like fixing a campground and organizing a Toys for Tots drive.

"But what is striking about Mr. Blumenthal’s record is the contrast between the many steps he took that allowed him to avoid Vietnam, and the misleading way he often speaks about that period of his life now, especially when he is speaking at veterans’ ceremonies or other patriotic events.

"Sometimes his remarks have been plainly untrue, as in his speech to the group in Norwalk. At other times, he has used more ambiguous language, but the impression left on audiences can be similar."

Evidently both Slate Magazine, in 2000, and the Hartford Courant, in 2004, both prominently stated that Blumenthal had been the captain of the Harvard swimming team.

Blumenthal was never on the swimming team.

Blumenthal later claimed that he had never said this. If it had just been one article, his claim might be credible. But when two different reporters, in two different publications, four years apart, made the same statement, you have to conclude that Blumenthal lied.

Wikipedia states, "In an interview on MSNBC's Morning Joe, Blumenthal said that he never accepted PAC money. Blumenthal accepted over $220,000 in PAC money for the first fiscal quarter of 2010, according to his FEC report. When challenged on the discrepancy, his campaign released a statement explaining that he was referring only to previous campaigns."

It's actually the small lie that betrays Blumenthal's sociopathy more than the big ones. Certain lies are more "normal": if a man has had an extramarital affair, it is understandable that he would lie to his wife about it. For a politician to embroider on his record of service in order to ingratiate himself with his constituents is scummy -- but understandable. But when someone lies about his athletic background when he has no particular reason to lie about it just to make himself seem more appealing, it enters the realm of pathological lying. (This is known as "sport lying" among cognoscenti of sociopaths.) It is a peculiarly sociopathic trait to enjoy basking in such false glory.

Sociopaths tend to think they can fool people, even when they can't. Most of us know that if we lie in a blatant fashion, those lies will catch up with us, and the thought of the shame we would feel when caught is enough to prevent us from ever indulging in such lies. But a sociopath doesn't feel shame, so their internal brakes are simply not as strong.

Another trait which distinguishes sociopaths is that they don't make friends in the normal way, by simply befriending those whose company they enjoy. Instead they cultivate those who can help them. The Times reports:

"As a young man, [Blumenthal] attended Riverdale Country School in the Bronx and showed great promise, along with an ability to ingratiate himself with powerful people."

Blumenthal exhibited this trait later on at Harvard, where he got prominent Professor Daniel Moynihan to oversee his senior thesis, and where he befriended Donald Graham, whose mother Katherine ran the Washington Post, where Blumenthal got his first job.

Sociopaths comprise roughly 3-4% of the population, but there are certain places and occupations which seem to attract more than their proportionate share of them. One such place is Wall Street. One such occupation is politician. And any position which allows one the legal right to come down hard on others, such as prison guard, tends to attract more than the usual 3-4%. (This is, of course, not to say that the majority of people who do these things are sociopathic.)

Another such job is Attorney General. It's a position for those who crave power over others. To achieve that position, one must know which behinds to kiss and which backs to stab, and have no qualms about doing either. Once there, you get to pose as a paragon of morality yourself, and it affords you tremendous power, including the power to punish others. It's the ideal position for a sociopath.

I've known of too many AGs who turned out to be sociopaths to think otherwise.

Let's hope the Connecticut electorate has the good sense to recognize Blumenthal for what he is.

Addendum, 5/23/10 -- Spoke today with my nephew, who took issue with my characterization of Blumenthal as a sociopath (he went to school with Blumenthal's son). But he unwittingly added another piece to the puzzle by mentioning that AG Blumenthal had married Cynthia Malkin, daughter of Peter Malkin, the real estate mogul who owns a large piece of the Empire State Building among many other properties in Manhattan. Who knows, maybe Blumenthal fell madly in love with Cynthia. (My nephew did say she was beautiful.) But sociopaths generally marry with an eye to financial advancement, and my guess is that it is not coincidence that he ended up with an heiress. It just fits too neatly with the rest of the picture to think otherwise.


Anonymous said...

Blumenthal was introduced at
the CT Age Group Swim Championships just a few weeks ago as a former swimmer. I wish I could remember whether he was described as being a member of (or even captain of!) the Harvard swim team. He gave a brief speech acknowledging how demanding the sport is, as he knew from firsthand experience. Wonder if he was even on his high school team.... Julie

John Craig said...

Julie --
I'm surprised he would appear the Ag championships. I guess he's hard in campaign mode.

I can't recall ever having heard him talk, but he's supposed to be a smooth speaker. A little too smooth, evidently.

Good to hear form you.