Saturday, November 07, 2015

When the Legend Becomes A Liability They Keep Printing The Legend

You see, the original line went "When the Legend becomes Fact, you print the Legend."

However, the Facts surrounding Ben Carson's growing pile of "embellishments," "exaggerations," and "misstatements" about his legend - a young black man in poor Detroit with a single mother growing up to become a skilled and respected neurosurgeon and current Presidential candidate - are nowhere near any semblance of Truth.

To Goldie Taylor at The Daily Beast:

...Carson’s exaggerations don’t go that far—his tales are far more pedestrian. But in story after story the iconic physician appears to embellish his life growing up in inner city Detroit. He certainly did not need to spin wild tales about his years as a young, gifted black boy raised by a single mother in urban America. That’s a story millions know and can relate to...
...For his part, Carson is playing along and seemingly has been for decades. He has leaned on (and sometimes added flourishes to) his backstory in order to expand his public platform. The truth is he has been building a personal narrative—whether true or weaved from whole cloth—about himself from the moment he leapt onto the world stage. He wasn’t just poor, in Carson’s telling, he was hard—the kind of hard that can get an otherwise promising young man into trouble. And while it might be customary in hip-hop, engaging in this kind of self “thugification” is new for politics...

Taylor is referring to the stories Carson has been telling about how during his childhood he was a violent fellow: getting into fights at school, pulling a knife on a friend in a disagreement over a radio, other such tales. It all has a happy ending in that Carson "wakes up" after that knife attack and confines himself to a bathroom with a Bible for hours until he finds his salvation through faith.

Problem is, there's currently no record or evidence of any of that. Considering the level of violence Carson is describing - he had bloodied the nose of one schoolmate with a rock on school grounds, for example - it is surprising that there doesn't even seem to be evidence of any kind of scholastic discipline or intervention. Media sources checking with neighbors and friends who grew up with Carson cannot recall a single incident of violent behavior out of him. And none of them seem to be able to point to anyone they would know who would have been Carson's victims.

Either Carson did a great job of hiding that rage and never got caught, or he's making part or most of those stories up.

It's interesting to note he's telling us what he did but he doesn't - and no one else is saying it - want to name the specific people he's supposedly attacked. You would think that one of his goals in coming to terms with his violent youth would be to find and approach his victims and pray for forgiveness and acceptance, and have them on hand as witnesses to his conversion. If anything, he'd be more specific about whom he did threaten with a knife and have that friend available for interviews with the media at some point (or at least have other friends and relatives who knew them both speak to their defense).

Carson's been a motivational speaker for decades now: one of the things these speakers like to do is have a person or three be on hand to testify to such stories and provide moral and narrative support. Other politicians and candidates who run on a "I once was lost but now am found" campaigns tend to have their witnesses on hand as well. But so far the only one verifying these stories first-hand is Carson himself.

What's equally troubling are other elements of Carson's personal narrative. The most current inquiry has been delving into the part of his popular autobiography Gifted Hands where he claims having met with General Westmoreland - freshly recalled from Vietnam - and getting an offer of a scholarship to West Point, which he turned down to accept Yale instead. The story makes it seem like Carson was a youthful talent who could have chosen an "honorable" career in the military, passing it up for a more "humble" and humane career in medicine.

Except for the fact that none of it is verifiable: the military academies do NOT offer scholarships (note: I know this personally because my older brother went Annapolis GO NAVY), and they require a detailed application process that goes through so  many hoops - medical exams, interviews, getting appointments via Congressional/Senatorial offices or special Executive branch lists - that you can write three whole book chapters about it. There are scholarships for ROTC programs to other colleges, but they have a prolonged application process as well (and that I have personal experience with).

West Point has no application process on file for Carson. There doesn't seem to be one for ROTC either.

At best, you could accuse Carson of embellishment, an attempt - and not a very clever one - to make himself seem more important and valuable to others. I've seen Twitter commentators compare it to adding questionable details to one's resume for job-hunting.

To Jamille Bouie at Slate:

...Did Carson “fabricate” his West Point story?
If you judge by the text of his book, as well as other statements about the same story, the answer is not exactly. Carson never claimed that he applied to the school. And while West Point doesn’t give scholarships, it’s not hard to see how encouragement from authority figures—You’re a shoo-in—becomes, after years of telling and retelling, the tale of an offer and a scholarship. It’s just how memory works.
Carson is guilty of run-of-the-mill embellishment. Still, it’s tempting to say that this will harm his campaign. Embellishing about entrance to a military academy doesn’t look good, especially for someone who has built his campaign on honesty and integrity. Some Republicans might just recoil from the former neurosurgeon, in favor of someone else...

But what's happening with Carson is pretty much a perfect example of the Republican Party's overall problem with Facts and Truth.

Ever since the "We Create Our Own Reality" moment in the wake of 9/11, this problem has gone global. The Republicans are so enamored of their self-created Narrative - brave and noble and well-meaning Conservatives caught in a war against Socialist Commie Librul evil-doers threatening us all with damnation and sin - that nothing can break through that insulated bubble of self-serving faith.

As Bouie notes in that article:

...But I doubt (Carson gets hurt). Carson is extraordinarily well-liked among Republican voters—it will take more than an exaggeration to tank his ratings with the grassroots. And indeed, the fact that Politico has had to walk back from its initial claims will work in Carson’s favor. Now this is another case of the “liberal media” on a witch hunt against a strong, conservative Republican.
Far from hurting Ben Carson, this whole flap may strengthen his standing with Republicans, as they rally to defend him. Carson may well stumble in the race for the GOP nomination—I think it’s inevitable—but it won’t be over old memories of college applications...

We are through a looking glass of Faith-Based Narratives that do not rely on a Real World anymore. In fact, that Narrative defies the Real World.

Which is a problem because EVERYONE - including the hypocrites of embellishment - lives in the Real World.  In the Real World embellishments do not last long.

And so the defenders of that Narrative dig deeper, moving from embellishments to avoidance and denial. There are already defenders of Carson's story-telling, going after the media for "racial bias" and "sinister" liberal purpose for even researching his own words and writings.

And the next step past this will be the outright lies. The need not only to keep the Narrative alive but stronger than ever, by adding more and more false details to it in an attempt to convince more and more people.

And lies have consequences. And consequences leave behind victims, usually people who had nothing to do with the Narrative in the first place.


Pinku-Sensei said...

I've already taken to calling Carson "Doctor Pyramid" on my blog, both for his his Amazing Technicolor Labcoat explanation for the Great Pyramids but also for how his campaign's funding resembles a pyramid scheme. Despite all of that, Polls show Carson leading Trump and beating Clinton and Sanders in Michigan. Let's see how long that lasts in the face of intense scrutiny by the media and other candidates.

dinthebeast said...

I just read that someone, Politico? checked Gen. Westmoreland's schedules for the weekend he supposedly dined with Carson, and found him to be in DC the whole time. These kind of fibs work just fine for a Fox personality, but presidential candidates get scrutinized far more closely. That this surprises him is just one more piece of evidence showing how not ready he is for anything like the presidency. Bet he sells a lot of books and gets raises in his speaking fees over it, though.

-Doug in Oakland