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“Whither Goes The Holy Candidate?”: The Roots Of Carson’s Magical Thinking Evidently Lie Deep In His Past

At the expense of spoiling all the fun, let’s get real about Dr. Ben Carson’s presidential campaign. Every four years, rural Iowa Republicans fall raptly in love with a bible-brandishing savior who vows to purge the nation of sin. In 2008 it was Mike Huckabee, in 2012 Rick Santorum.

Mr. Establishment, Mitt Romney, finished second both times.

In the general election, Iowa voters supported President Obama.

Soon after the New Hampshire primary, the holy candidate fades fast. Huckabee finished a weak third in New Hampshire, Santorum fourth with 9.5 percent of the vote. And that was basically the end of God’s self-anointed candidates.

Particularly in view of increasing evidence that key elements of Dr. Carson’s inspiring personal biography are imaginary or worse, there’s no reason to think that he will fare any better than Huckabee or Santorum. A bit like Bernie Sanders supporters, Carson fans have been slow to grasp that their party’s presidential nominee will need the votes of millions of “blue state” Republicans historically resistant to religious zealotry.

Indeed, New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait makes a persuasive case that, quite like Huckabee, Carson isn’t actually running for president. Rather, his campaign is a for-profit organization.

“Conservative politics are so closely intermingled with a lucrative entertainment complex,” Chait writes “that it is frequently impossible to distinguish between a political project…and a money-making venture. Declaring yourself a presidential candidate gives you access to millions of dollars’ worth of free media attention that can build a valuable brand.”

The fact that Carson’s campaign evidently plows a reported 69 percent of its donations into further fund-raising may be a clue. Real political campaigns spend the bulk of their cash building an organization and advertising. Carson invests his loot in pyramid-like direct-mail and phone-spamming operations.

Freed of the time-consuming necessity of being president, Carson will be able to hire more ghost-writers, give inspirational speeches and peddle fundamentalist Christian DVDs to a rapt audience of millions. With any luck, he can market himself as a martyr to liberal media bias.

Even the books currently being dissected by reporters at the Wall Street Journal and Politico aren’t standard campaign biographies. They’re basically miracle fables, contemporary versions of John Bunyan’s 17th century classic Pilgrim’s Progress, mingling an allegory of divine salvation with the material rewards of the “American Dream.”

Now you’d think that Carson’s actual life story, rising from the Detroit streets to become a world-renowned pediatric brain surgeon, would be enough to warrant admiration. Mere reality, however, won’t suffice to cover the miraculous narrative of sin and salvation evangelical Christians have come to expect. Thus, Carson can’t simply have been raised a poor kid in a rundown ghetto, he has to have been a violent thug touched by God.

Similarly, Carson can’t just be a bright, hard-working scholarship student. He has to have been victimized by a professorial hoax and rewarded as the most honest student at Yale. That this screwball tale from his 1990 book Gifted Hands appears to have been inspired by a prank pulled by the college humor magazine makes it no more believable. Only that the roots of Carson’s magical thinking evidently lie deep in his past.

It would be interesting to know if friends and professional associates ever heard these whoppers previous to his book’s publication. Because brain scientists tend to be a skeptical lot. He did leave medicine somewhat early.

That said, it’s hardly unknown to encounter a physician, much less a neurosurgeon, with a God complex. The experience of holding life and death in one’s hands may have something to do with it. The Guardian newspaper has published a photo layout of Carson’s home — essentially a museum exhibit celebrating his greatness — that suggests an ego gone mad.

The man may actually believe, as he said recently on Meet the Press, that his candidacy represents a big threat to “the secular progressive movement in this country…because they can look at the polling data and they can see that I’m the candidate who’s most likely to be able to beat Hillary Clinton.”

Call me Mr. Worldly Wiseman, after the character in Pilgrim’s Progress who tries to steer Christian down the wrong road, but it says here that Democrats could never get so lucky.

The negative TV ads practically write themselves. Imagine a clip of Carson during a GOP debate indignantly denying a business relationship with Mannatech, the hinky diet supplement company, followed by another of him bragging that the company basically bought him an endowed chair at Johns Hopkins.

Actually, it’s mildly alarming living in a country where a crank like Carson commands any attention at all. Now me, I’d no more visit a physician who claimed that Satan inspired Darwin’s Theory of Evolution than I’d climb into an airline piloted by somebody who denied Newton’s Theory of Gravity.

But President of the United States?

Not a chance.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, November 11, 2015

November 12, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Evangelicals, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Very Dim View Of Humankind”: Ben Carson Thinks You’re The Crazy One

Of all the gifts that Ben Carson has given comedy writers and Twitter wags in the past weeks, it’s his stubborn belief that the Biblical prophet Joseph built the pyramids that’s captured the public’s imagination the most. Self-serious pundits, meanwhile, bemoan this spasm of ridicule on a subject properly relegated to strange-smelling occult bookstores and dusty UseNet forums. To be sure, there are other questions about Carson that have a more obvious bearing on his fitness to be president: his non-trivial attachment to the multi-level marketing firm and “glyconutrient” purveyor Mannatech sounds alarms not just about Carson’s medical judgment outside his field, but his willingness to benefit from a predatory business model (the profit of a different sort of pyramid scheme).

Since it hews to the general Judeo-Christian storyline, and it serves their electoral purposes, conservatives have been incredibly deferential to Carson’s theory. “All religious beliefs have some element of fantastical or absurd,” goes the defense. “Besides: ReverendWrightBillAyersBenghazi.”

Here’s the problem: Carson’s pyramid theory isn’t really religious, not in the sense that it is a part of official Seventh Day Adventist church doctrine. Carson appears to have extrapolated from official church doctrine regarding Biblical infallibility and Scripture as an “authentic and historical account” that the grain Joseph collected during the “seven years of plenty” must have been stored somewhere—and at some point he alighted on the same theory that briefly swept the world’s intelligentsia in the sixth century. (As one does.) Indeed, for a certain subsection of voters, Carson’s pyramid theory isn’t proof Adventists’ beliefs are a little strange, but rather have come around to polite society consensus in at least one respect—they’re not as virulently anti-Catholic they used to be. Hence, my personal favorite headline of the cycle: “Ben Carson Agrees With Gregory of Tours.

Carson’s belief is “religious” in that it borrows some characters from the Bible in order tell a story about a historical event. By that measure, the belief that there are no unicorns because they refused to board Noah’s ark is also “religious.” (Obviously, that’s a myth—unicorns appear in the Bible post-flood, so they must have been on board. Their disappearance is, thus, still a mystery that science has yet to provide answers for.)

The grain-storage theory is also “religious” in that it seeks to justify a conviction related to but outside the faith by borrowing the authority of the church. You may recognize this rhetorical strategy from such popular Judeo-Christian hits as “the Bible justifies slavery” and “the Lord commands us to appropriate Native American lands.” It’s only because it’s about the pyramids that it sounds weird.

But the real reason we should go ahead and mock Ben Carson about his pyramid theory is that the belief that anyone but the Egyptians (who told us they built them) built them is not a morally neutral assessment. Those who warn against passing judgment on Carson just because he has a non-traditional belief need to remember that this particular belief contains its own judgments on people —and they’re not particularly favorable.

First of all, let’s remember what Carson’s alternate theory is: aliens. To him, that’s the somewhat-plausible suckers’ bet he feels the need to dismiss. You might be tempted to believe it, he implied, because the pyramids were complex motherfuckers—“many chambers hermetically sealed” built with “special knowledge”—but, he assured the audience: “It doesn’t require an alien being when God is with you.”

The pyramids’ existence solved a riddle that Carson made up for himself: “Joseph’s grain silos were so big, how can they have disappeared?” But Carson clearly sees the pyramids’ greatness as a riddle as well: “The pyramids are so complex, who helped humans build them?”

The thread of racism that runs through pseudo-archeology is well documented. Whether you explain the pyramids as the product of an alien civilization or a miracle from God, the underlying assumption is that it couldn’t have been accomplished by the (usually brown) people who claim to have done it. I don’t think Carson is racist. Carson doesn’t just think that the Egyptians couldn’t build the pyramids without help, I suspect that Carson doesn’t think humans could build the pyramids without help.

The notion that “with God, all things are possible” is supposed to invite ambition to reach beyond oneself; Carson’s apparent frame is, “without God, nothing is possible.”

When I look at humankind’s great achievements, I also see the hand of God, and what astonishes me isn’t that He had to literally and specifically intervene—it’s that He didn’t. The miracle of the pyramids and Machu Picchu and the Mona Lisa isn’t God’s literal presence, but the capacity for genius He instilled in every human being whether or not they asked for it, whether or not they think He exists.

There is an assumption of individualized divine intervention in Carson’s telling of his own life story, in the myths he’s created about himself. The fight with his mother, the knife hitting the belt-buckle: Carson has imposed a radical conversion story onto his trajectory, complete with miracles, because—I can only guess—the more mundane explanation (he was a smart kid who became a brilliant brain surgeon) is not satisfying to him.

You can see the “thug” tale as self-aggrandizing, but to me it is strangely self-denying—on some level, a kind of blasphemy. In making up a story filled with drama, he has failed to credit God for the original and true, if subtle, miracle within Carson: that a soft-spoken, nerdy young man born in inner Detroit did not have to become a thug at some point, that he was wise and respectful of his own potential without needing God to perform a parlor trick.

I believe that God will do for me what I cannot do for myself, but I also know He won’t do for me what I can do for myself—and my daily miracle is the extent to which His original gifts to me allow me to not call upon Him for specific, material intervention in my life.

I think it cheapens the idea of miracles to think that humans needed one to create the pyramids, or that Carson needed one to put his life on the right track. It speaks to a lack of faith in humans—and, in some sense, God. His creation is so much more awe inspiring than Carson seems to realize.

 

By: Ana Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, November 8, 2015

November 10, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Egyptian Pyramids, Religious Beliefs | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Failure To Fact Check”: The Real Problem With The CNBC Debate Was The Moderators’ Inability To Call Out The GOP’s Nonsense

Big applause lines: “lamestream media,” a la Sarah Palin, or “Democrats who have the ultimate super PAC, it’s called the mainstream media,” a la Rubio. When in doubt, bash the media.

And it didn’t take long before the Republican National Committee blasted out a press statement that because of the CNBC debate, it was ready to cancel the party’s upcoming NBC debate. Over the weekend, the various campaigns met to “set the rules” about future debates.

Now let me get this straight: the Republicans get 24 million viewers on Fox, 23 million viewers on CNN and 14 million viewers on CNBC – up against the second game of the World Series – and they are complaining? Trump bragged about how he and Ben Carson changed the rules of the CNBC debate by threatening to pull out. Maybe this group would like to determine not only who asks the questions but what the questions are?

But make no mistake, it plays to their base to bash journalists and it also serves to intimidate the media. Sad but true.

If there was a fault with CNBC it was that the moderators were not tough enough on this crowd of candidates. They raised questions that were answered falsely or not at all and did not hold the candidates’ feet to the fire. There simply weren’t enough follow up questions. Whether they were intimidated or did not have the full research in front of them is hard to say, but they should have pushed harder.

Some examples: Cruz would not answer the question about his opposition to the debt limit and instead used his time to attack moderator Carl Quintanilla. Finally, Cruz shot back: “You don’t want to hear the answer.” It reminded me of the great scene in “A Few Good Men” when Jack Nicholson loses it on the stand and shouts, “You can’t handle the truth!”

Cruz should be forced to compare his position on raising the debt limit to Ronald Reagan’s and to that of every other president who understood what it would do to the country if we were to default.

Becky Quick asked Donald Trump about his criticism of Mark Zuckerberg for urging an increase in visas and Trump shot back that it was false. She backed off, but in fact it was true. Trump’s claim got a “Pants on Fire” from Politifact.

Carly Fiorina made the outrageous statement that 92 percent of jobs lost during President Barack Obama’s first term were women’s jobs. Politifact rated that false, and noted that the number of women with jobs actually increased by 416,000.

Ben Carson said it was “total propaganda” to assert he was involved with the disgraced nutritional supplement company, Mannatech, and the anchors had the evidence but, again, did not push back. Politifact also rated Carson’s statements false.

Probably the most important debate should have been on the various tax plans from the candidates. The New York Times editorialized against them,citing the absurdity of the 10 percent and 15 percent flat tax proposals. The effect of the Republicans’ economic policy is the same old trickle down with the biggest tax benefits going to the wealthy who, lord knows, don’t need it. As the Times’ editorial made clear none of the Republicans “has a tax plan coherent enough to be the basis of a substantive discussion, let alone one that could meet the nation’s challenges.”

It is the job of the press and, let’s face it, the Democrats, to point out that this crew of emperors has no clothes.

With all their bashing of the media and the attempt to use it to mobilize their base, it became clear that the Republicans simply did not have the answers. Pollyanish predictions of astronomical economic growth was all they could offer.

The candidates complained afterwards that there wasn’t enough time to talk about substance. Baloney. They simply don’t want hard questions. The most destructive result of all the back and forth after the CNBC debate, complete with the Fox Business Channel attacking CNBC in paid ads, would be if the Republicans intimidate the press and control the format and the questions. After all, this isn’t Russia, the last time I looked.

 

By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, November 2, 2015

November 3, 2015 Posted by | CNBC Debate, GOP Primary Debates, Media | , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Springtime For Grifters”: A Strategic Alliance Of Snake-Oil Vendors And Conservative True Believers

At one point during Wednesday’s Republican debate, Ben Carson was asked about his involvement with Mannatech, a nutritional supplements company that makes outlandish claims about its products and has been forced to pay $7 million to settle a deceptive-practices lawsuit. The audience booed, and Mr. Carson denied being involved with the company. Both reactions tell you a lot about the driving forces behind modern American politics.

As it happens, Mr. Carson lied. He has indeed been deeply involved with Mannatech, and has done a lot to help promote its merchandise. PolitiFact quickly rated his claim false, without qualification. But the Republican base doesn’t want to hear about it, and the candidate apparently believes, probably correctly, that he can simply brazen it out. These days, in his party, being an obvious grifter isn’t a liability, and may even be an asset.

And this doesn’t just go for outsider candidates like Mr. Carson and Donald Trump. Insider politicians like Marco Rubio are simply engaged in a different, classier kind of scam — and they are empowered in part by the way the grifters have defined respectability down.

About the grifters: Start with the lowest level, in which marketers use political affinity to sell get-rich-quick schemes, miracle cures, and suchlike. That’s the Carson phenomenon, and it’s just the latest example of a long tradition. As the historian Rick Perlstein documents, a “strategic alliance of snake-oil vendors and conservative true believers” goes back half a century. Direct-mail marketing using addresses culled from political campaigns has given way to email, but the game remains the same.

At a somewhat higher level are marketing campaigns more or less tied to what purports to be policy analysis. Right-wing warnings of imminent hyperinflation, coupled with demands that we return to the gold standard, were fanned by media figures like Glenn Beck, who used his show to promote Goldline, a firm selling gold coins and bars at, um, inflated prices. Sure enough, Mr. Beck has been a vocal backer of Ted Cruz, who has made a return to gold one of his signature policy positions.

Oh, and former Congressman Ron Paul, who has spent decades warning of runaway inflation and is undaunted by its failure to materialize, is very much in the business of selling books and videos showing how you, too, can protect yourself from the coming financial disaster.

At a higher level still are operations that are in principle engaging in political activity, but mainly seem to be generating income for their organizers. Last week The Times published an investigative report on some political action committees raising money in the name of anti-establishment conservative causes. The report found that the bulk of the money these PACs raise ends up going to cover administrative costs and consultants’ fees, very little to their ostensible purpose. For example, only 14 percent of what the Tea Party Leadership Fund spends is “candidate focused.”

You might think that such revelations would be politically devastating. But the targets of such schemes know, just know, that the liberal mainstream media can’t be trusted, that when it reports negative stories about conservative heroes it’s just out to suppress people who are telling the real truth. It’s a closed information loop, and can’t be broken.

And a lot of people live inside that closed loop. Current estimates say that Mr. Carson, Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz together have the support of around 60 percent of Republican voters.

Furthermore, the success of the grifters has a profound effect on the whole party. As I said, it defines respectability down.

Consider Mr. Rubio, who has emerged as the leading conventional candidate thanks to Jeb Bush’s utter haplessness. There was a time when Mr. Rubio’s insistence that $6 trillion in tax cuts would somehow pay for themselves would have marked him as deeply unserious, especially given the way his party has been harping on the evils of budget deficits. Even George W. Bush, during the 2000 campaign, at least pretended to be engaged in conventional budgeting, handing back part of a projected budget surplus.

But the Republican base doesn’t care what the mainstream media says. Indeed, after Wednesday’s debate the Internet was full of claims that John Harwood, one of the moderators, lied about Mr. Rubio’s tax plan. (He didn’t.) And in any case, Mr. Rubio sounds sensible compared to the likes of Mr. Carson and Mr. Trump. So there’s no penalty for his fiscal fantasies.

The point is that we shouldn’t ask whether the G.O.P. will eventually nominate someone in the habit of saying things that are demonstrably untrue, and counting on political loyalists not to notice. The only question is what kind of scam it will be.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, October 30, 2015

November 2, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Conservatives | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Pimping Pseudo-Science”: Carson Denies Obvious Ties To Controversial Supplement Maker

At the CNBC debate, Ben Carson tried to argue that he never had anything to do with an extraordinarily shady supplement company.

That is nonsense. The truth is that Carson had a years-long relationship with Mannatech—a company that pimps pseudoscience and allegedly engaged in unethical marketing practices.

Jim Geraghty broke this story months ago at National Review. Mannatech is a supplement company that sells so-called glyconutrients. Its representatives have suggested the product can treat autism, cancer, AIDS, and multiple sclerosis. Spoiler: “Glyconutrients” do not cure cancer, and no credible researcher or doctor says they do.

In fact, if Carson had glanced at the company’s Wikipedia page, he would have seen that one top glycobologist said these “glyconutrients” have no identifiable impact on the human body besides making you pass more gas. Seriously.

The state of Texas sued the company, which settled in 2009 by paying $4 million to Texas customers, promising that its representatives would stop saying its products could “cure, treat, mitigate or prevent any disease.” The company didn’t admit to any wrongdoing.

When Geraghty reached out to Mannatech about their relationship with Carson, spokesman Mike Crouch said this: “We appreciate his support and value his positive feedback as a satisfied customer.”

But Mannatech doesn’t just sell bad medicine. At least one lawsuit alleged it uses astonishingly unethical marketing practices to do so. In 2004, a mother sued after trying to use the company’s products to help her 3-year-old son, who suffered from Tay-Sachs disease. The suit alleged that the company showed naked pictures of the boy—which his mother said she shared with representatives of the company in confidence—to suggest to hundreds of seminar attendees as evidence that its products worked. The worst part? The son died while using Mannatech supplements, according to the suit. The company confidentially settled that suit in 2005 for $750,000.

Anyway, Carson addressed at least three of the company’s annual conferences, according to National Review. His image appeared on its website’s homepage. He praised its fart-inducing glyconutrients on PBS. And as recently as last year, he suggested the company had tapped into God’s secrets for good health.

“The wonderful thing about a company like Mannatech is that they recognize that when God made us, He gave us the right fuel,” Carson said in a video touting the company’s products.

“Many of the natural things are not included in our diet,” he continued. “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.”

As part of his characteristically lackluster debate performance, Carson tried to distance himself from Mannatech on Wednesday night when a CNBC moderator pressed him on that relationship.

“I didn’t have an involvement with them, that’s total propaganda,” he said, betraying a total misunderstanding of what the word “propaganda” means. “What happens in our society, total propaganda. I did a couple of speeches for them, just for other people, they were paid speeches. It is absolutely absurd to say that I had any kind of relationship with them. Do I take the product? Yes. I think it’s a good product.”

To be fair, it is a good product—if you like to fart.

By the way, this isn’t the first time Carson has touted pseudoscientific nonsense on the presidential debate stage. At the last debate, he touted the debunked idea that parents should disregard the Centers for Disease Control’s recommended vaccine schedule and “space out” their children’s vaccinations. As The Daily Beast detailed, that suggestion is a species of anti-vax trutherism. It’s less pernicious than full-on vaccines-cause-autism trutherism, but it is trutherism nonetheless. “Spacing out” your kids’ vaccines has one effect, and one effect only: increasing the amount of time your kids are vulnerable to the diseases from which those vaccines inoculate them.

 

By: Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, October 28, 2015

November 1, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Nutritional Supplements, Science | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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