The Beginning of the End for Ben “It’s Not Something I Made Up” Carson?
In mid-October I wrote about Dr. Ben Carson and his penchant for, shall we say, colorful statements and claims: Victim Shaming, Invented Stories, Ignorance of History, and Comparisons to Lucifer: The Scary Worldview of Ben Carson. Well, in the few weeks since I published that post, Carson has become the frontrunner in the race for the GOP nomination (eclipsing Donald Trump). However, with the rise in popularity and polling numbers comes something that Carson really hasn’t faced much of in the past: Careful scrutiny. Unlike many of the other candidates, Carson doesn’t have years of political office and a voting record to review, but he has given many speeches and written several books. And now that the media and others are reviewing his prior statements and claims … well, the wheels may be coming off.
For example, earlier today, Politico reported that Carson has admitted to fabricating his claim that he received a scholarship to West Point.
Ben Carson’s campaign on Friday admitted, in a response to an inquiry from POLITICO, that a central point in his inspirational personal story was fabricated: his application and acceptance into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
The academy has occupied a central place in Carson’s tale for years. According to a story told in Carson’s book, “Gifted Hands,” the then-17 year old was introduced in 1969 to Gen. William Westmoreland, who had just ended his command of U.S. forces in Vietnam, and the two dined together. That meeting, according to Carson’s telling, was followed by a “full scholarship” to the military academy.
West Point, however, has no record of Carson applying, much less being extended admission.
“In 1969, those who would have completed the entire process would have received their acceptance letters from the Army Adjutant General,” said Theresa Brinkerhoff, a spokeswoman for the academy. She said West Point has no records that indicate Carson even began the application process. “If he chose to pursue (the application process), then we would have records indicating such,” she said.
When presented with these facts, Carson’s campaign conceded the story was false.
Oops? But remember that when people challenged Carson’s claim to have been held at gunpoint during a robbery in a fast food restaurant (a robbery that the police can find no record of), Carson said that he should be believed because he was a “God-fearing Christian, it’s something that happened. It’s not something I made up.” I’m curious to know if G-d-fearing Christians who don’t make up stories about being held at gunpoint do make up scholarships to West Point.
Or we could look to CNN’s efforts to verify certain formative events that Carson describes in one of his books:
In his 1990 autobiography, “Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story,” Carson describes those acts as flowing from an uncontrollable “pathological temper.” The violent episodes he has detailed in his book, in public statements and in interviews, include punching a classmate in the face with his hand wrapped around a lock, leaving a bloody three-inch gash in the boy’s forehead; attempting to attack his own mother with a hammer following an argument over clothes; hurling a large rock at a boy, which broke the youth's glasses and smashed his nose; and, finally, thrusting a knife at the belly of his friend with such force that the blade snapped when it luckily struck a belt buckle covered by the boy’s clothes.
“I was trying to kill somebody,” Carson said, describing the incident — which he has said occurred at age 14 in ninth grade — during a September forum at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.
But nine friends, classmates and neighbors who grew up with Carson told CNN they have no memory of the anger or violence the candidate has described.
That person is unrecognizable to those whom CNN interviewed, who knew him during those formative years.
All of the people interviewed expressed surprise about the incidents Carson has described. No one challenged the stories directly. Some of those interviewed expressed skepticism, but noted that they could not know what had happened behind closed doors.
Gerald Ware, a classmate at Southwestern High School said he was “shocked” to read about the violence in Carson’s book.
“I don't know nothing about that,” said Ware, who still lives in southwestern Detroit. “It would have been all over the whole school.”
CNN was unable to independently confirm any of the incidents, which Carson said occurred when he was a juvenile.
It appears that tall tales and false denials are par for Carson’s course. Remember this sequence from the last GOP debate:
“There’s a company called Mannatech, a maker of nutritional supplements, with which you had a ten-year relationship,” Quintanilla asked. “They offered claims that they could cure autism and cancer. They paid $7 million to settle a deceptive-marketing lawsuit in Texas and yet your involvement continued. Why?”
“Well, it’s easy to answer,” Carson quickly replied. “I didn’t have an involvement with them. That is total propaganda and this is what happens in our society. Total propaganda.” He then backtracked a little. “I did a couple of speeches for them. I did speeches for other people, they were paid speeches,” he told the crowd before switching back to a full denial. “It is absolutely absurd to say that I had any kind of relationship with them.” Then he again acknowledged a role. “Do I take the product? Yes, I think it’s a good product.”
You know where this is going, right?
As the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month, Carson’s relationship with the company deepened over time, including “four paid speeches at Mannatech gatherings, most recently one in 2013 for which he was paid $42,000, according to the company.” The company disputes that Carson was a “paid endorser or spokesperson,” according to the Journal, and claims his financial compensation went to charity.
National Review also highlighted Carson’s connections to Mannatech in January and how Carson’s team went to great lengths to distance themselves from the company. Some of his video appearances have been removed from the Internet, but those that remain appear to show a deeper affiliation than Carson claimed during Wednesday’s debate.
In one video for Mannatech last year that remains online, Carson discusses his experiences with nutritional supplements while seated next to the company’s logo. “The wonderful thing about a company like Mannatech is that they recognize that when God made us, He gave us the right fuel,” Carson explained. “And that fuel was the right kind of healthy food … Basically what the company is doing is trying to find a way to restore natural diet as a medicine or as a mechanism for maintaining health.”
Carson stopped short of making substantive medical claims about Mannatech’s products. “You know, I can’t say that that’s the reason I feel so healthy,” he said. “But I can say it made me feel different and that’s why I continue to use it more than ten years later.” His apparent hesitation is understandable. Seven years before Carson appeared in that video, then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican who was elected governor of Texas last year, sued Mannatech for running a illegal marketing scheme under the state’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Abbott claimed that the Dallas-based company and its sales representatives repeatedly exaggerated the medical efficacy of their products.
Or, to quote Jim Geraghty, a prominent conservative writer for the National Review who has previously investigated and written about Carson’s involvement with Mannatech:
His declarations that “I didn’t have an involvement with them” and “absurd to say that I had any kind of relationship with them” are just bald-faced lies.
Now that people are (kinda) taking Carson seriously as a candidate, they are starting to ask him serious policy questions, only to learn that he doesn’t seem to know much about the issues. For example:
“I’m a little different than most of the candidates,” Carson the author told the Miami Herald in a phone interview Wednesday. “I’m looking more nationally at everything that’s going on across the country.”
Before Carson the candidate campaigns to Miami-Dade County’s Cuban-American Republicans, though, he might have a little catching up to do.
Carson’s national approach means he didn’t take a close look ahead of his trip at a key issue in local politics: U.S.-Cuba policy.
In the Herald interview, Carson appeared stumped by questions about the so-called wet-foot, dry-foot policy, which allows Cubans who reach U.S. soil to remain here, and about the Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows Cubans who arrive in the U.S. to apply for legal residency after 366 days.
He was candid about not being up to speed.
“You’re going to have to explain to me exactly what you mean by that,” Carson said, asked about wet-foot, dry-foot. “I have to admit that I don’t know a great deal about that, and I don’t really like to comment until I’ve had a chance to study the issue from both sides.”
On the Cuban Adjustment Act, he gave a similar response: “Again, I’ve not been briefed fully on what that is.”
When a reporter explained the outlines of the policy, Carson said, “It sounds perfectly reasonable.”
The reporter then informed him of abuses to the policy by Cubans who obtain residency and claim federal government benefits only to make frequent trips back to the island. The abuses have been documented extensively by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
“I think the way to fix that is not so much to abolish the act, but dealing with the specific area where the abuse is,” Carson said, noting that Medicare and Medicaid fraud is “huge — half a trillion dollars.”
“We definitely need to focus on that,” he said.
Um, “half a trillion dollars” in Medicare and Medicaid fraud? Really? What Carson doesn’t seem to know is that the total spending on Medicare and Medicaid last year was only $980 billion. In other words, he suggests, in a seemingly offhand comment, that over half of Medicare and Medicaid spending is fraudulent. Oh, and his failure to have been briefed on the issues might have something to do with the fact that he is on a book signing tour, you know, to sell books, instead of, perhaps, studying the issues. You’d think that someone who wants to be President would take the time to get “up to speed”, wouldn’t you?
But this isn’t the first time that his analysis of an important issue left some wondering about his knowledge, capacity, and fitness. Recently, Kai Ryssdal, the host of Marketplace interviewed Carson on fiscal policies. Witness this exchange:
Ryssdal: All right, so let's talk about debt then and the budget. As you know, Treasury Secretary Lew has come out in the last couple of days and said, “We’re gonna run out of money, we’re gonna run out of borrowing authority, on the fifth of November.” Should the Congress then and the president not raise the debt limit? Should we default on our debt?
Carson: Let me put it this way: if I were the president, I would not sign an increased budget. Absolutely would not do it. They would have to find a place to cut.
Ryssdal: To be clear, it’s increasing the debt limit, not the budget, but I want to make sure I understand you. You’d let the United States default rather than raise the debt limit.
Carson: No, I would provide the kind of leadership that says, “Get on the stick guys, and stop messing around, and cut where you need to cut, because we’re not raising any spending limits, period.”
Ryssdal: I’m gonna try one more time, sir. This is debt that’s already obligated. Would you not favor increasing the debt limit to pay the debts already incurred?
Carson: What I’m saying is what we have to do is restructure the way that we create debt. I mean if we continue along this, where does it stop? It never stops. You’re always gonna ask the same question every year. And we’re just gonna keep going down that pathway. That’s one of the things I think that the people are tired of.
Ryssdal: I’m really trying not to be circular here, Dr. Carson, but if you’re not gonna raise the debt limit and you’re not gonna give specifics on what you’re gonna cut, then how are we going to know what you are going to do as president of the United States?
Carson: OK, let me try to explain it in a different way. If, in fact, we have a number of different areas that are contributing to the increasing expenditures and the continued expenditures that are putting us further and further into the hole. You’re familiar I’m sure with the concept of the fiscal gap.
Ryssdal: Why don't you explain that a little bit, though.
Carson: OK, well, the fiscal gap is all of the unfunded liabilities that the government owes. Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, all the departmental programs, all the agency and sub-agency programs extending into the future, which is a lot of money, versus the amount of revenue that we expect to collect from taxes and other revenue sources. Now if we’re being fiscally responsible, those numbers should be fairly close together. If we’re not, a gap begins to occur. We bring that forward to modern day today’s dollars, and that’s the fiscal gap, which sits at over $200 trillion and is continuing to grow. Now the only reason that we can sustain that kind of debt is because of our artificial ability to print money, to create what we think is wealth, but it is not wealth, because it’s based upon our faith and credit. You know, we decoupled it from the domestic gold standard in 1933, and from the international gold standard in 1971, and since that time, it’s not based on anything. Why would we be continuing to do that?
First, the whole “fiscal gap” notion — and the attached figure of $200 trillion — is a right-wing stalking horse that has been heavily criticized by many economists, including Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman. Read Krugman’s article if you’d like to understand, briefly, the major flaw in the calculation of the fiscal gap as quoted by Carson. More importantly, go back and read Ryssdal’s questions about the debt ceiling and what you’ll see is the Carson simply does not understand the questions or what the debt ceiling really is. Instead, all Carson can do is offer platitudes along the lines of “cut spending”! You’d think that before talking to the host of a show about economics and economic policies, Carson might have done a little homework on one of the top economic issues that was facing then being debated in Congress. But Carson, once again, simply isn’t “up to speed”.
In his 2012 book, “America the Beautiful,” Carson says America should have gone into Iraq and leveled entire cities. Further, he suggests the reason America is afraid to do so is because “political correctness dictates we cannot kill innocent women and children in the process of destroying the enemy.”
“I would have announced via bullhorns and leaflets that in seventy-two hours, Fallujah was going to become part of the desert because there were substantial numbers of terrorists hiding there,” he wrote. “This would have given people time to flee before the city was destroyed, and is a tactic that would actually save lives not only of women and children, but also men.”
I really hope that I don’t need to spend time explaining why this view is so very wrong in so very many ways. Can you imagine a man who thinks like this as Commander in Chief?
One policy position Carson has stated that differs from some of his GOP colleagues is that he would not eliminate the Department of Education. However, his reason for keeping that Department:
“I actually have something I would use the Department of Education to do,” the doctor smirked in response to the question.
“Would it be pack boxes for the State Department? The IRS?” Beck joked.
And then Carson’s serious recommendation: “It would be to monitor our institutions of higher education for extreme political bias and deny funding if it exists.”
Excellent. He’s going to transform a federal agency into a form of speech or thought police.
I’m sure that I could spend a lot more time on his policy ideas (to the extent he has any real ideas), but I think you get the point.
Carson has also been found to hold some unusual views:
“My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain,” Carson said. “Now all the archeologists think that they were made for the pharaohs’ graves. But, you know, it would have to be something awfully big if you stop and think about it. And I don't think it’d just disappear over the course of time to store that much grain.”
In the same speech, he went on to say, “[W]hen you look at the way that the pyramids are made, with many chambers that are hermetically sealed, they’d have to be that way for various reasons. And various of scientists have said, ‘Well, you know there were alien beings that came down and they have special knowledge and that’s how—’ you know, it doesn't require an alien being when God is with you.”
I’m not sure which part of this is more frightening: The idea that his belief in a literal Bible tells him (despite what archeologists claim) that the pyramids were built to store grain or his belief that scientists say that alien beings came down with special knowledge.
Carson previously said that he didn’t think a Muslim should be elected President. When people pointed out to him the Constitution’s prohibition on religious tests for office, Carson tried to backtrack:
“I would have problems with somebody who embraced all the doctrines associated with Islam,” Carson said. “If they are not willing to reject sharia and all the portions of it that are talked about in the Quran — if they are not willing to reject that, and subject that to American values and the Constitution, then of course, I would.”
Well, then, by that standard it should be fair to examine what Seventh Day Adventists like Ben Carson believe, right?
Ben Carson’s church believes the United States government will bring about the End Times.
According to mainstream Seventh-day Adventist doctrine, the Second Coming of Christ will occur after the U.S. government teams up with the Catholic Church — which Adventists believe is the “Babylon” of the Book of Revelation, with the pope being the Antichrist — to compel Adventists and others to worship on Sunday, rather than Saturday.
That may seem like a small hook on which to hang the fate of the world, but for Adventists, it is a core belief, taught at “prophecy seminars” and elaborated in excruciating geopolitical detail by key Adventist leaders.
Is it awkward for Ben Carson to run for president, if his faith believes the U.S. government will team up with the Antichrist? Will it matter to his evangelical base if he, like his denomination, believes that the government will join forces with the Whore of Babylon, to persecute religious minorities and compel Sunday worship?
Now isn’t that interesting? Wouldn’t you like to hear one of the debate moderators ask Carson to look at fellow candidates Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio (not to mention undercard candidates Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, and Rick Santorum) and explain whether he views their religious belief as being a part of the “Whore of Babylon”. Awkward. In any event, should other Americans have “problems” with somebody who “embraced all the doctrines associated with” the Seventh Day Adventist faith? I’d like to hear someone pose that question to Carson.
Oh, well. I’m sure this publicity will help Carson write and sell more books; after all, he’ll have time on his hands because he won’t be our next President.