Dr. Ben Carson is now the Republican front runner. Which means that his propensity for saying weird shit is being scrutinized in a way it hasn't previously. So, too, is the fact that he is a plagiarist and a fantasist.
Carson claims that he is being scrutinized in a way that Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton never were (lol) and that the media digging into his past is an attempt to attack and discredit him. But what the media is doing right now is treating him like a front runner.
He's enjoyed a few years of saying whatever the fuck he wanted and not being subjected to much scrutiny because he was primarily being covered by conservative media, who were busily turning him into a celebrity without any due diligence. (See also: Sarah Palin.) So he could get away with tall tales like an imaginary West Point scholarship and invented stories that turn him into a hero and being the spokesperson for snake oil and a biography that includes possibly fake anecdotes from his youth about how he tried to stab a friend and assault his mother with a hammer, because he had a personality disorder that he prayed away.
His credibility and integrity didn't matter when he was just a conservative circuit star, which is an indictment on the conservative movement, but they matter now that he is the leading Republican contender for the US presidency.
At least I think so.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders disagrees:
"I think it might be a better idea – I know it's a crazy idea – but maybe we focus on the issues impacting the American people and what candidates are saying, rather than just spending so much time exploring their lives of 30 or 40 years ago," Sanders said on NBC's "Meet the Press."While I understand why Senator Sanders isn't keen for the media to explore candidates' early lives, I take strong issue with his implication that Carson's habit of being dishonest and unethical is irrelevant in terms of his presidential qualifications. We're not talking about whether a candidate smoked a joint in college, which is the sort of bullshit discredit-digging that does indeed happen a lot in presidential politics. We're talking about basic issues of honesty and ethics. That's not separate from "the issues." That is an issue, all its own.
The Vermont senator, who's running for the Democratic presidential nomination, said there is plenty of room to criticize Carson on the issues.
"When you look at Dr. Carson, to the best of my knowledge, this man does not believe that climate change is caused by human activity," Sanders said. "This man wants to abolish Medicare, impacting tens of millions of seniors. And this man wants to give huge tax breaks to the rich."
Sanders said the American people have become turned off from politics because of how the media cover elections.
"The people want to know why the middle class of this country is disappearing," Sanders said. "Why we have 47 million people living in poverty. Why we have massive income and wealth inequality."
And surely Sanders knows, surely he knows, that part of the reason that the middle class of this country is disappearing, that part of the reason we have 47 million people living in poverty, part of the reason we have massive income and wealth inequality, is because of politicians who are dishonest and unethical, who sell voters a bill of goods and get elected on false promises, who use wedge politics and scapegoating and dogwhistling, who exploit social fears and prejudices to usher in exploitative economic policies, who straight-up lie.
The entirety of modern conservative politics is based on the mendacious promise to protect tradition for god-fearing straight white conservatives, despite the fact that its primary objective is wealth redistribtion upward, which entails obliterating the jobs and wealth and benefits of the very people it promises to protect.
Of course Carson's dishonesty matters. Of course it does. And it is not separate from the policy he advocates. Because dishonesty is central to conservative political advocacy.
It's a strange position coming from Sanders, who is one of the most honest, straightforward, and forthcoming politicians in the country. Lots of politicians have claimed the "straight shooter" mantle, but most of them have (without a trace of irony) done so dishonestly. (I'm looking at you, John McCain.) Sanders actually earns it, and he would do better to use this opportunity to distinguish himself from Carson by highlighting his own practice of rigorous earnestness.
That he isn't is because he's positioned himself as arbiter of What We Should Be Talking About. The same article quoted above reminds us: "Sanders also defended Hillary Clinton at the first Democratic primary debate last month amid media scrutiny surrounding her use of a private email server while secretary of State."
Sanders, a white man, has now publicly audited what we should be discussing regarding a female candidate and a black candidate.
That isn't a good look.
Not if you understand the cultural context in which white men often insert themselves into discussions centered around marginalized people and filter those discussions through their own validity prisms and then pronounce whether the discussions are worth having.
And, regarding Carson particularly, I think Sanders is wrong. It does matter what Carson has said in the past, and it does matter what he says about it now.
Presidents who lie hurt citizens with those lies. They prioritize their own legacies over people's lives with those lies. They take us to war with those lies.
If someone running for president is an inveterate, unapologetic liar, I want to know.
It is one of the many, many reasons I do not want Ben Carson to be my president.