COLUMN BY JOHN WINGERT
Almost every politician, if not every politician, has been known to gild a lily. The most recent criticisms of this kind have been directed at Dr. Ben Carson claiming that he has fudged not only facts on the campaign trail, but that he has also made up parts of his life story.
In recent weeks, Carson has seen his poll numbers rise and strengthen. His surge first began in Iowa, especially among evangelical Christian voters who were drawn to his story of redemption through faith. In late August, Carson was able to tie in polls with Trump; In late October, Carson was able to surge 14 points ahead of Trump in Iowa with 32% of likely Republican Caucus goers favoring him.
Nationally, Carson was able to gain similar support. In late September, Carson had a lead in an IBD/TIPP poll of seven points. Carson noticed poll leads in late October of four and six points nationally. In other polls that showed Trump leading, Trump’s lead had shrunk to single digits.
With this position as national Republican front-runner, came new critiques and investigations of Carson. Seeing voters drawn to his calm, soothing demeanor and antiestablishment stalwart conservatism, myriad media outlets began to take a closer look at his past, his claims, and his policies.
One of these such claims was that “In the class of 1968 at Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow, Mahmoud Abbas was in that class, and so was Ali Khamenei. And that was when they first became familiar with Putin.” Carson claimed on three different news networks that the authoritarian president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin; the supreme leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei; and one of the leaders of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, all graduated in the same class of a Moscow university.
Although Abbas did some research in the Soviet Union, there are no records available that tie him to Patrice Lumumba University. The university also has no records of Ali Khamenei ever attending and Khamenei’s official biography has no mention of ever visiting the USSR. In fact, in 1967, Khamenei was imprisoned by Iranian police then under the Shah, and although records are limited, it seems highly unlikely that he studied at Patrice Lumumba University.
For Vladimir Putin, he would have been 16 in 1968. For him to have not entered, but graduated from a university at the age of 16 also seems highly unlikely. His official biography says that he entered a chemistry-focused magnet school that year and did not graduate until 1970. Politifact, an arm of the Tamp Bay Times, rated Carson’s statement as “Pants on Fire.”
When asked about the source of this information, Carson said, “I would have to go back and look. It was a middle eastern kind” of name. Carson then later amended this claim to say that he had learned it from “advisors across the government, including the CIA.” There remains no public information to substantiate his claims and a good deal to refute it.
During the second Republican debate at Simi Valley, Carson correctly asserted that vaccines do not cause autism as Donald Trump fallaciously insinuated, but then Carson also went on to say, “but it is true that we are probably giving way too many in too short a period of time. And a lot of pediatricians now recognize that, and I think are cutting down on the number and the proximity in which those are done, and I think that’s appropriate.”
The current vaccine schedule for children that Carson talked about is approved by the CDC, the U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Institute of Medicines of the National Academies.
After Carson’s statements in the second Republican debate, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a press release saying, “claims that vaccines are linked to autism, or are unsafe when administered according to the recommended schedule, have been disproven by a robust body of medical literature. It is dangerous to public health to suggest otherwise.” A report by the Institute of Medicines of the National Academies also said, “delaying or declining vaccination has led to outbreaks of such vaccine-preventable diseases as measles and whooping cough that may jeopardize public health.”
As a doctor, Carson had the ability to refute Trump and assert medical truths, but instead, it seems that he went for a middle ground which was founded upon nothing.
Additionally, Dr. Carson claimed in the third Republican debate on CNBC that he “didn’t have an involvement” with Mannatech which offers supplements it claims can cure autism, cancer, and Down Syndrome although no trials have ever supported that conclusion. Any insinuation to the contrary, Carson argued, was “total propaganda.” However, Carson not only did numerous speeches for the group, but he also appeared in several video promotional materials. At one point Mannatech had a tag on its website dedicated to Carson content.
Additionally, Carson has said that homosexuality is a choice, “because a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight and when they come out, they’re gay.” The American Psychological Association has concluded that sexual orientation does not change and is not a matter of choice. J. Michael Bailey, a psychology professor dealing mostly with sexual orientation at Northwestern University, has said, “there is absolutely no good evidence supporting Carson’s contention, and there is good evidence against it.” Bailey also explains that changes in sexual behavior in prison are not equal to changes in sexual orientation.
Ben Carson also recently reiterated his support for an alternate theory behind the construction of the pyramids. He has voiced that the pyramids were built by Joseph to store grain and are not mausoleums. Despite the presence of sarcophagi; hieroglyphs retelling to the life, death, and afterlife of the pharaoh; no evidence of grain; and no evidence of the involvement of the biblical figure of Joseph, Carson has recently restated his claim that he originally made in 1998.
More recently, people have begun to challenge Carson’s telling of the events of his life as well. One favorite story of Carson’s, as told in his widely popular memoir, Gifted Hands, is that he was transformed through religious epiphany from a violent youth to a hard-working man of God. He has claimed that he attacked a neighbor with rocks, his mother with a hammer, and even attempted to stab his friend before he came in touch with God and Seventh Day Adventism.
A CNN investigation looked into these claims by interviewing people who went to school with him during this supposedly troubled time. Steve Choice, a childhood neighbor of Carson’s, described him as “kind, easy, a lot of fun, always.” Choice and his sister, Marie, both agree that they never saw violent tendencies and only a quiet kid. Timothy McDaniel, a childhood friend, said that he was “surprised” by Carson’s claims. In addition, no reporter has yet been able to find the friends and neighbors that Carson supposedly attacked.
In another tale from Carson’s memoirs, he was offered a full scholarship to West Point by General Westmoreland after an exemplary career in ROTC. The main problem with this situation is that West Point is tuition-free. Carson has argued that he was told by Westmoreland to apply and that acceptance would have qualified as a full scholarship. However, since Carson did not even apply to West Point it is difficult to say that he was admitted much less offered the paid tuition that comes with that admission.
Carson has long said that although he had this offer on the table, he declined it due to his passion for medicine and desire to become a neurosurgeon. Carson clarified in the New York Times, that “It was, you know, an informal ‘with a record like yours we could easily get you a scholarship to West Point,’” but as recently as October ninth, Carson told Charlie Rose, “I was offered a full scholarship to West Point.”
Carson has called these investigations “witch hunts,” “subterfuge,” and also said the “American people are waking up to your games.” Dr. Carson also added that the same level of scrutiny had not been applied to Obama’s “sealed” school records. The Annenberg Public Policy Center and the University of Pennsylvania have concluded that such assertions about Obama’s records are false. To be sealed means that a court order has made an otherwise public record unavailable. Instead, school records are not public, and nobody had any reason to release them. As private documents, Obama could release them if he chose, but they are not sealed by court order as Carson claimed.
These issues have been percolating throughout Carson’s campaign, and he has tried to rebuke them, but now that he has become a front-runner, the scrutiny of his many, questionable claims has increased. Subsequently, November has seen some slight dips in his poll numbers. The two GOP national polls from November, show Trump edging out Carson but only barely. It remains to be seen what, if any, effect these deep-dives into his history will have.