The prevailing political foofaraw right now involves Ben Carson’s account, in his 1990 autobiography, regarding a phantom “offer” to attend West Point. Before some analysis, a word or two..
Ben Carson has no business running for President. His supporters are irresponsible and deluded. I was just on WGAN (Maine) on Arthur King’s show, and Carson was discussed. A Carson supporting caller took issue with my statement that he was flat out unqualified for office whatever had been said to him about West Point, and protested that he was a brilliant surgeon, and successfully managed his surgical team. We ran out of time, and I didn’t get to say, “So what?” Is Ned Yost a potential President because he successfully managed a baseball team to a World Series victory? Yost’s training and experience have as much correlation to political leadership as Carson’s, and arguably more. Carson has no qualifications for high office. He is easily the least qualified candidate in either field, with no management experience, no political talents, weak speaking skills, negligible presence, irrelevant education and training, and terrible political instincts. You could throw a rutabaga into a crowd and have a good chance of hitting someone who would be a more promising President.
“[T]he incident reveals a recurring and perhaps unrecoverable trait of candidate Carson. He just doesn’t seem to know what he is talking about, whether it be Cuba, the Voting Rights Act, or how West Point works.”
Yes, and that too.
So if this typical example of the news media blowing a relatively minor incident out of proportion because a Republican poses a threat to Democratic domination should result in Carson’s demise, good. Something has to. It is wrong, another example the double standard we are all used to; and the news media should be called on it hard. Still, if it ends the embarrassing distraction that is Ben Carson, I’m not weeping. The ends don’t justify unethical means, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy the ends anyway.
Let us pretend that Carson is a competent, qualified and deserving candidate for President, just to try to strip the bias away. How significant and serious are Carson’s various misrepresentations?
These all arise from what Carson wrote about his youth and early years in 1990, 25 years ago, when running for President wasn’t a twinkle in his eye. He…heck, we can’t pretend, because a competent candidate would be smart and experienced enough to say,
“You know, I didn’t expect anyone to read the book, I wrote most of it off the top of my head, my memory was faulty, I didn’t check the facts and I should have. The West Point story is typical. To me, it sounded like I was being told that I could get into West Point if I wanted to, and that I wouldn’t have to pay tuition, which to me meant a scholarship. I wasn’t trying to fool anybody then or now. I’m sorry. I’ve learned a lot in 25 years. I know most of our personal memories are distorted over time, and cannot be relied upon; mistakes like these turn up to varying degrees in all personal accounts. Bill Clinton says he remembered lots of church burning in Arkansas when he was growing up. Hillary Clinton said she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary, who didn’t become famous for climbing Mount Everest until six years after was born. The difference between my memory flawa and theirs was that mine can’t be attributed to political dissembling. Next question.”
If he had said that, then his other statements that didn’t check out could be explained the same way, and reasonably so. Instead, Carson and his defenders are denying, accusing, double-talking and parsing words like the Clintons. This is foolish because
I) Carson’s not as practiced at it as the Clintons,
2) …The truth is always better, and,
3) Unlike when the Clintons lie, most of the news media are looking for justifications to destroy him as it did Herman Cain. Reporters do not want to not be fair or reasonable with Carson, and certainly not complicit in deception as regularly is for Hillary.
Now the news media is going through “Gifted Hands” like it is the Rosetta Stone—something, by the way, they never did with Barack Obama’s books in 2008. This is not to say they shouldn’t be checking Carson’s book out now; not at all. It is to point out, yet again, that Obama got a free ride from the press in 2008. For example, Obama’s reefer past was not widely discussed until his re-election campaign, nor was his taste for dog, if you believe that anecdote.
So now the floodgates are open for Carson. He claimed in his book that he met General Westmoreland in conjunction with the episode that led to the “offer” of a West Point “scholarship,” and Westmoreland’s schedule doesn’t match Carson’s account. Was Carson lying? I don’t know, and at this point, maybe Carson doesn’t either. Our memories shuffle and combine disparate events. Maybe he met Westmoreland at some other time. Maybe he met a general whose name he’s forgotten and who became Westmoreland in his mind over time. This happens to normal, honest people, and it easily could be the explanation for some, most, or all of these discrepancies.
I’m editing my father’s memoirs. Several of the accounts in his book don’t match up with dates, and some are at odds with the versions of the same stories I heard growing up. My Dad was very self-deprecating in his book; the original title was “Tales of A Timid Commando.” I doubt he was lying—-he never lied, in my experience, a Boy Scout to the end– and since won’t be running for President, being dead, and since most of the stories can’t be checked, it makes no difference. It’s how he remembered what happened.
We also have this story from Carson:
“The day before I’d been informed that the final examination papers in a psychology class, Perceptions 301, ‘were inadvertently burned’….So I, with about 150 other students, went to the designated auditorium for the repeat exam….[The questions] were incredibly difficult….Soon half the class was gone, and the exodus continued. Not one person turned in the examination before leaving…..Suddenly the door of the classroom opened….The professor came toward me. With her was a photographer for the Yale Daily News who paused and snapped my picture. ‘What’s going on?’ I asked. ‘A hoax,’ the teacher said. ‘We wanted to see who was the most honest student in the class.’ She smiled again. ‘And that’s you.’ “
The Wall Street Journal checked the story, and reported that “no photo identifying Mr. Carson as a student ever ran, according to the Yale Daily News archives, and no stories from that era mention a class called Perceptions 301. Yale Librarian Claryn Spies said Friday there was no psychology course by that name or class number during any of Mr. Carson’s years at Yale.” What does this prove? It proves that Carson got the story wrong, that’s all. Maybe he made it up whole-cloth, but that would be strange: Carson hardly needs to make up fanciful tales to impress people.
I could easily see this kind of discrepancy happening to me. When I was in law school, I was known as the student who started and ran the student theater organization, a rarity in a graduate school. (The company is still operating, and, as it likes to say, “the only theater company with its own law school.”) The Dean had told me I was doing a service to the school, and by my third year I was treated like a star student athlete, given all sorts of leeway and assistance to ensure that the show would go on. That year I took Antitrust Law while I was directing the production, and the course was personal disaster. The show was a huge success, but when I took the exam a month later I was sure—am sure—that I flunked it. When the grade sheet was posted, there was a mysterious “p” by my name among all the other D’s and F’s. That meant “pass,” but I hadn’t taken the course pass/fail. Puzzled, I went to the registrar and asked what “p” meant. “Don’t ask,” she said. “It means you passed.”
Later I learned that that course didn’t allow pass/fail.
I’ve been telling that story for years, but I could imagine ways in which an investigation would call it into question. The registrar, the professor and the Dean are dead; maybe someone later caught the weird letter and said, “”This can’t be right,” then changed it to a “D.” Something happened that Carson remembered as he told the story in his book. Even if the facts don’t check out decades later, he was not necessarily lying.
Conservative blogger and lawyer John Hindraker concludes:
In the history of “fabrications” by candidates for office, this is very small beer. Nor, I think, can it plausibly be claimed to be important because it sheds light on Carson’s character. (Hillary Clinton’s lie about being named after Sir Edmund Hillary might be an example of an otherwise insignificant fib that betrays a flawed character.) No one can seriously claim that Carson makes a habit of exaggerating his academic or professional accomplishments. He has had a brilliant career, of which he is justifiably proud, but about which he is quite modest. I have discussed his career with him, and can attest that in person, that is exactly how he comes across when he talks about his years as a surgeon. The West Point episode is so minor in the context of Carson’s accomplishments that I don’t see how much significance can be attributed to it.
Nonetheless, conservatives and Republicans are foolish to indulge in the same kind of excuses and rationalizing to defend Carson that the liberal media allows Hillary Clinton’s team of enablers to get away with, month after month, week after week, day after day. All that does is make their job easier. Of course it’s true that what Ben Carson wrote in the memoirs of a neurosurgeon 25 years ago isn’t within a mile of being as significant as the whoppers Clinton tells constantly; as the whoppers she told during the Presidential candidates’ debate to accolades from the same journalists attacking Carson now.
Just recently, Hillary revised history by claiming that she and Bill were always gay rights supporters, and he only signed the Defense of Marriage Act as a “defensive action” to block an anti-gay Constitutional Amendment that might have passed. This is epic Clinton bullshit; even Slate’s gay blogger, Mark Joseph Stern, gives it no credibility at all. At worst it was a naked and cynical political move by Bill. At best, and Bill Clinton said this in an interview (but what does that mean?) he believed in DOMA when he signed it, but like most Americans, changed his mind about gay rights over time. Furthermore, nobody except pro-gay rights hysterics (like Slate’s Stern today) and anti-gay rights fanatics thought that a Constitutional amendment had a chance of passing.
So Hillary lies daily, and occasionally it’s a one-day story in the “conservative press,” as in “Faux News.” Carson messes up tales from his teens and twenties in a 25 year old book, and it’s a front page thunderclap: want to read all about it? Here: MSNBC, New York Times, Telegraph, Business Insider, PoliticusUSA, addictinginfo.org, The Hinterland Gazette, Mediaite, No More Mister Nice Blog, The Week, Drudge Retort, The Moderate Voice, Lawyers, Guns & Money , Balloon Juice, PoliticusUSA, Latest from Crooks and Liars, ThinkProgress, Guardian, New York Times, CNNMoney, Business Insider, CNN, Fox News Insider, and The Washington Post, and here as well.…just for starters.
Yes, it’s good for everyone, Republicans, the nation, even Carson, if this excessive media mugging kills his campaign. And if the news media becomes embarrassed about its shameful double standard and even a few respectable journalists measure the leading Democratic candidate’s long, long trail of lies against Carson’s flawed memories—thus becoming more respectable in the process—Carson will not have been mugged in vain.