“Instantly disqualifying” -- unless you're a Republican

In the wake of yesterday's New York Times article about Richard Blumenthal, The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder wrote that “Lying about it [military service], even exaggerating about it, is therefore instantly disqualifying.” That, as I explained, isn't always true -- it wasn't disqualifying for George W. Bush, whose embellished military record didn't much concern the news media.

Today, Bob Somerby provides another example of a non-disqualifying-exaggeration: current Republican Senator Lindsey Graham's repeated description of himself as a Gulf War veteran, despite the fact that the closest he came to the Gulf was South Carolina, where processing wills for soldiers who did deploy to the Gulf. Here's Somerby:

What happened in 1998 when Graham, then a Republican congressman, was caught up in a much more extensive version of this mess? Graham had endlessly told the world that he was a “Gulf War veteran,” although his service during that period hadn't taken him off the east coast. (The east coast of the U.S.) By the way: In Graham's case, we weren't discussing a single misstatement from a single, two-year-old speech; Graham had endlessly presented himself as a “Gulf War veteran.”

Graham should refer to himself as a ''Gulf War era veteran," we were told—and that's pretty much the basis on which this flame was allowed to blow out. The flap about Graham blew over quickly, helped along by this sage advice. The fiery young fellow was allowed to proceed with the important business of impeaching the president.

And today, some twelve years later? Of course! On page one, the New York Times indicts a major Democrat, complaining that he once said, completely correctly, that he served “during the Vietnam era.” The use of “era” solved Graham's problem. Twelve years later, the same construction is used, by the Times, to define Richard Blumenthal's “lies.”

A February 18, 1998 article in The Hill demonstrates further similarities between Graham and Blumenthal:

One of the newest members of the House committee that will decide whether President Clinton should be impeached for lying under oath has himself claimed that he was a Gulf War veteran , a claim disputed by military experts.

Despite repeated statements that he served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was actually living out of harm's way at home in South Carolina, where he was processing wills and other paperwork for the Air Force during the entire course of the conflict.

On his official web site, Graham describes himself as “an Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm veteran.” Other biographies he has written read similarly.

According to numerous military experts The Hill contacted, Graham has no legitimate claim to being called a veteran of the conflict.

But Graham says he never intended to mislead anyone about his military service. “I have not told anybody I'm a combatant,” he said. “I'm not a war hero, and never said I was. I never intended to lie. If I have lied about my military record, I'm not fit to serve in Congress.”

Indeed, when pressed for details over the years, Graham has freely acknowledged his domestic, non-combatant role after being called to active duty from the Air Force Reserves in 1990. “I never deployed,” he said last week. “Half our unit went, half our unit stayed.”

Yet almost all of the standard political biographies about Graham describe his military record inaccurately. “USAF, 1990, Pursian (sic) Gulf” is how Who's Who in America and affiliated biographical books list him. The Almanac of American Politics states that Graham “was called up to active duty and served in the Gulf War.”

Although Graham said he is not responsible for the Who's Who entry and considers it inaccurate, he does acknowledge providing the information for his web site and other biographies that list him as a war veteran.

Keep in mind that a key aspect of the New York Times' case against Blumenthal is that he failed to correct misleading media descriptions of his service.