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Late Night: See Dick Run

Connecticut AG Richard Blumenthal

Connecticut’s five-term Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal, made an appearance this week on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, and what he said (and the way he said it) reveals as much about the state of our national politics as it does about the rather dreary choice offered to Nutmeg State voters. Blumenthal is running to replace Senator Chris Dodd; he is essentially unopposed for the Democratic nomination, so his strategy, as much as he has one, is a general election strategy.

Those who know Dick tell me that he is the quintessential finger-in-the-wind politician. Hell, just listening to this short interview, I got the image of some classic Hollywood film caricature of the blowhard, entrenched, do nothing, say anything gasbag. So, what struck me while listening was which way this weathervane thought the wind was blowing.

Lehrer started the interview by asking Blumenthal if there was any lesson to be learned from the election of Scott Brown one state north; the CT AG gave a predictable though not inappropriate answer: “People are angry and frustrated—understandably and rightly so.” Blumenthal then went on to point out that he has “fought Washington” and “taken legal action against the Federal Government.”

OK, fair enough—it’s an anti-incumbent kind of year. This is what you do. It’s a little tough for a guy that has held elected office for two decades, but probably important to say. And, just to underscore his independence, Blumenthal added, “I am very independent as a public official. . . I am nobody’s protégé or look-alike. . . .”

Pathetic, but boilerplate. You have to say those sorts of things, I suppose. But listen to what comes next—listen to this relative non sequitur that Blumenthal volunteers without a prompting question:

I’m determined to chart my own course in Washington, different in many respects from the Administration. I’ve taken the position that the trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed should be in a military tribunal away from the United States, or, I’m sorry, away from New York and New Haven, and on a number of other issues, for example opposing the reconfirmation of Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve, I have charted my own course, I’m prepared to do it, and issue-by-issue debate either side in what I think is the right thing to do.

What this attorney general and former US attorney has to say about who supposedly is and is not entitled to their rights is pretty shocking, and I will provide more of that drivel after the jump, but I want to focus on Dick Blumenthal’s tack in this race.

It was only a little over a year ago that Barack Obama won the state of Connecticut 61% to 38%. A Democrat holds every single congressional seat. Connecticut has a PVI of D+7. In presidential approval numbers, it ranks among the top six states—two-thirds of nutmeggers still approve of the job Obama is doing. This is a very blue state.

Yet, just over a year after the inauguration of this theoretically still popular president, the candidate for US Senate in Connecticut just went out of his way to distance himself from the White House on two hot issues—a civil trial for KSM and the reappointment of Ben Bernanke as Fed Chair.

But wait, there’s more.

Blumenthal was next asked about whether Christmas crotch-bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab should have been brought into the US criminal process, and the question turned to Miranda rights (I apologize in advance for the meandering quote, but I want to give the entire context):

Let’s talk in real terms about what Mirandizing means. It means reading somebody their rights as opposed to simply interrogating them. I think there’s a general consensus now that in that instance there may have been no real need to read Miranda rights before some interrogation took place. And, in my view, with a terrorist, with our nation potentially at risk, interrogation should be pursued, and the consequences may be that some evidence may be inadmissible, but there is obviously in that case, overwhelming evidence without whatever may be gained or gleaned from the interrogation. So, bottom line, interrogation should have been pursued by a specially trained group of agents without necessarily a lawyer being present, and if at some point there was diminished usefulness to the interrogation, other criminal interrogation should have been applied perhaps by other authorities.

Yes, this is utter garbage—in terms of what actually happened to Abdulmutallab, what Miranda rights actually are, and who is entitled to them by law—but stick with me:

Very often the reading of rights diminishes the usefulness of subsequent interrogation, the reason being simply that the defendant chooses to have a lawyer present, or chooses to cease talking. And I would have pursued the interrogation without the Miranda rights because I believe that the usefulness of learning about contacts from Yemen and elsewhere in the world and potential immediate attacks that may be known to this individual outweigh the benefits of having that at the trial

Yes, more inaccuracies and inanities in search of a position, so questioner Lehrer wanted to clarify, should Abdulmutallab be tried in civilian court? “Probably not in criminal court,” says Blumenthal.

Stupid, yes, but importantly here, also completely counter to the position of the administration of a president still thought popular in Dick’s state.

Even on the question of health care reform, where Blumenthal mostly mouths bipartisan talking points without making much of a point, the one place where the candidate gets really specific is when he discusses the need to speed generics to market. The state AG makes sure you know that he wants to crack down on brand-name pharmaceutical companies that use gimmicks to prevent their drugs from going generic.

I have to expect that Blumenthal knows that the Senate health care bill seemingly favored by the president is pretty weak on that front (it even extends brand-name protections for certain classes of biologics).

So, yes, Richard Blumenthal, less-than-thrilling presumptive Democratic nominee for Senate in Connecticut, opens himself up for much criticism here (check out the comments on the show page)—but the subtext, the criticism inherent in the way this blowhard blows is that his best bet is to position himself as something very other than Barack Obama.

You would think that a Democrat in a statewide race in a very blue state would want to court the president. Maybe solicit his help. Maybe tap into his giant, once powerful list/rah-rah section, OFA. But, just as the administration took what was an impressive Obama for America and turned it into the limp Organizing for America, the White House has taken the positive brand halo of the Obama presidency and turned it into what his very own party perceives as the rough equivalent of box-office poison. This is what it has come to after a year of ineffective, unmotivated, and un-motivating rule.

See Dick run—see Dick run away from Barack Obama.

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Gregg Levine

Gregg Levine