Carson Pads the Resume

It’s no secret Dr. Ben Carson is undergoing something of a vetting right now (though so far it has not extended to the fact that his entire world view is, to use a technical term, crazy). And some people think they may have found a silver bullet (the story is from Politico‘s Kyle Cheney, who appears to have come up with the scoop):

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 this evidence, Carson’s campaign conceded the story was false.

“Dr. Carson was the top ROTC student in the City of Detroit,” campaign manager Barry Bennett wrote in an email to POLITICO. “In that role he was invited to meet General Westmoreland. He believes it was at a banquet. He can’t remember with specificity their brief conversation but it centered around Dr. Carson’s performance as ROTC City Executive Officer.”

“He was introduced to folks from West Point by his ROTC Supervisors,” Bennett went on. “They told him they could help him get an appointment based on his grades and performance in ROTC. He considered it but in the end did not seek admission.”

Funny thing is, you’d think this passage from Carson’s book would have raised questions long ago. Generals don’t offer kids admission to West Point. And it’s not like you just “apply” and get accepted. For the most part, appointments come from Members of Congress, and I don’t know if it was somehow different in 1969, but when I worked for Sam Nunn in the early 90s there was a rigorous, lengthy process for getting an appointment that could not be undertaken casually or quickly. Maybe there have been some people who turned down appointments, but probably not many.

As for the “full scholarship” thing, that’s a bit less egregious sounding since Cadets at West Point pay no fees and are in fact, as members of the armed forces, compensated.

So how does this come across? As like George O’Leary’s famous incident in 2001 when he was instantly fired as the new football coach at Notre Dame because it was discovered he had padded his resume with a master’s degree he never earned? Or like a harmless abbreviation of a relatively unimportant incident in a busy man’s life?

I dunno, but Carson’s rivals have to be cheering this “scandal” on. They’d love nothing better than to see him lose some points from his poll standing without any of them having to lay a glove on him. But I’d bet their own campaigns are scrambling to make sure they don’t have a similar problem lurking in an old book or speech.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.