A Philosopher's Blog

Truth, Carson & Politics

Posted in Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on November 2, 2015

At the end of October, 2015 the remaining Republican candidates engaged in what the media billed as a debate. Many people have been rather critical of the way the moderators managed the debate and the questions they raised. While some attribute their behavior to political bias and present it as evidence of the dreaded liberal bias of the media, a better explanation is that the main concern of the moderators was to maximize the number of eyeballs watching the event. Substantive questions about the nuances of policy and their answers tend to bore people. Questions that compare Donald Trump to a comic book villain and pit the contestants against each other are entertaining and more likely to draw an audience.

While the quality and intent of the “debate” moderators are matters of interest, my main concern in this essay is the matter of truth and its relevance to politics. I am well aware that the cynical view that truth matters in politics as much as Jek Porkins mattered in the attack on the Death Star. While people often shrug and make jokes about politicians being liars when the matter of truth in politics comes up, if truth does not matter much in politics, then we are to blame. We accept the untruths of those who share our ideology, though we pounce with ferocity on the lies of the opposing team. In fact, we even pounce on the truths of the opposing team. This is largely due to well-studied psychological biases. Fortunately, there are those who make it their business to assess the claims of the political class. Most notable among them is Politifact.

While politicians grow a bounteous crop of untruths in their minds, I will focus on one interesting example of Ben Carson and his relationship with Mannatech. Carl Quintanilla, one of the moderators, asked Carson about his relationship with this company:

 

Quintanilla: There’s a company called Mannatech, a maker of nutritional supplements, with which you had a ten-year relationship. They offered claims that they could cure autism, cancer. They paid $7 million dollars to settle a deceptive marketing lawsuit in Texas, and yet your involvement continued. Why?

 

Carson: Well, it’s easy to answer. I didn’t have an involvement with them. That is total propaganda and this is what happens in our society. Total propaganda. I did a couple of speeches for them, I did speeches 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.

 

While some might regard this as a “gotcha” question or an example of the liberal media bias, it is actually as reasonable to ask this of Carson as it would be to ask Hillary Clinton about her various financial connections. These sorts of questions are legitimate inquiries about judgment, character and the sort of interests that might influence a politician. They also are relevant in terms of what potential scandals might emerge.

Carson was also given a clear test of character: would he bear false witness in regards to his own deeds and say something false or would he set himself free with the truth? His choice was to say he “didn’t have an involvement with them.” Unfortunately, this claim contradicts the known facts. The Wall Street Journal has laid out Carson’s ties to this company. Politifact has, not surprisingly, rated his claim as false. They did not, however, apply the lowest ranking, that of Pants on Fire.

No doubt aware that Carson had make an untrue claim, the moderator endeavored to press him on this point:

 

Quintanilla: To be fair, you were on the homepage of the website with the logo over your shoulder.

 

Carson: If somebody put me on their homepage, they did it without my permission.

 

Quintanilla: Does that not speak to your vetting process or judgement in any way?

 

Carson: No, it speaks to the fact that I don’t know those… See, they know.

 

At this point, the audience began to boo Quintanilla, presumably in defense of Carson. This was not particularly surprising: Fox New and conservative politicians have been pushing the “liberal media” and “gotcha” question talking points very effectively and a dislike for non-conservative media is very strong in many conservatives. To be fair to the audience, they might not have known that Carson said something untrue and that the moderator was endeavoring to make that clear—which is what should be expected in a forum that should involve challenging questions.

However, the audience did not need to be aware of the particular facts that made Carson’s claim untrue. There was no need for them to have done research since he refuted his own claim about not being involved with the company in his reply. Carson said, “I did a couple of speeches for them, I did speeches for other people, they were paid speeches, it is absolutely absurd to say that I had any kind of relationship with them.” A reasonable interpretation of the claim that he “didn’t have any kind of relationship with them” is that he had no relationship with the company. Doing paid speeches for the company would certainly seem to be involvement and a relationship. The facts, of course, point to a significant involvement with the company. But, even without those facts, his own claim he was paid by the company shows that he was involved with the company.

It could be claimed that Carson meant something else by “involvement”  and “relationship” and he could be defended on semantic grounds—much as Bill Clinton attempted a definitional defense regarding the word “sex” when pressed by the Republicans. To be fair, “involvement” and “relationship” could be taken to require more than being paid to give speeches. To use an analogy, while a hooker might be paid to provide a man with sex, this does not entail that she is involved with him or that she has a relationship with him. As such, the audience could be forgiven for booing the moderator for endeavoring to take Carson to task for saying an untruth. The audience members might have honestly believed that being paid to give speeches does not count as involvement or a relationship and presumably they would extend this same principle to Democratic candidates who have been paid by various interests yet are not “involved” with them.

When pressed by Jim Geraghty of the National Review about this matter, the Carson camp engaged in an intriguing semantic defense involving the path by which the compensation reached Carson and what actually counts as an endorsement. The reader is invited to view the video featuring Dr. Carson talking about Mannatech and judge whether or not this should be considered an endorsement. To my untrained eye, this seems indistinguishable from other paid endorsements I have seen. As such, it seems reasonable to hold that Carson spoke an untruth and some of the audience rushed to defend him for this. Neither is surprising, but both are disappointing. Especially since Carson’s poll numbers are doing just fine. Either his supporters do not believe he said untrue things or they do not care. Both of these explanations are worrying.

 

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19 Responses

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  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on November 2, 2015 at 9:52 am

  2. TJB said, on November 2, 2015 at 10:21 am

    Mike, exactly what relationship do you allege Carson has with Mannatech besides giving paid speeches?

    Do Hillary and Bill have “relationships” with every entity that have paid them to speak?

    • WTP said, on November 2, 2015 at 11:00 am

      Shhh….Mike’s really busy working on a post about the Clinton Foundation trust fund and it’s shady dealings with foreign governments and corporate entities. The curious timings of payments to Bill for “speeches” around the timing of moves by Hil while she was SoS, the various shell organizations associated with the trust, and the media’s lack of interest in the whole spiel. It’s hard work unwinding all that and I’m sure Mike has been burning the midnight oil working on this. You really need to give him some space. I’m sure we will see a post on this when all his work is done, documented, and all angles of counter-criticism properly addressed.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 3, 2015 at 7:15 pm

      I do think that being paid to endorse a product made by a company creates a relationship.

      Now, if they had just paid him to give a talk about neurosurgery and did not use that talk to sell product, then the relationship would be rather different.

      If Bill and Hillary received money from groups in return for endorsements or influence, then yes they most definitely do.

      • Anonymous said, on November 3, 2015 at 7:57 pm

        Mike, how do *you* think the Clintons turned their public service into a $100M fortune?

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 5, 2015 at 11:26 am

          The story seems to be well known: selling influence, investing, and so on. You know, the Political Payoff Pipeline.

      • TJB said, on November 3, 2015 at 10:12 pm

        “I do think that being paid to endorse a product made by a company creates a relationship.”

        What if you really believe in the product?

        If you are invited to Duke University to give a talk, and they give you an honorarium, and when you are there you say what a fine Philosophy Department Duke has, do you really have a “relationship” with Duke?

        I am actually not a big fan of Carson, but it amazes me that you can’t seem to tell the difference between a person who devotes his life to treating sick kids and a person who is only interested in money and power.

        • WTP said, on November 4, 2015 at 11:19 am

          it amazes me that you can’t seem to tell the difference between a person who devotes his life to treating sick kids and a person who is only interested in money and power.

          New here? Or just getting hip to the program?

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 5, 2015 at 11:32 am

          That is then a relationship your really believe in.

          If I get paid to go to Duke and to say they have a fine department and they use it to sell the department, then I certainly have a relationship with them. If they cover my costs to get there to talk and I politely say “my, what a nice department you have here”, then I still have a relationship, but a very limited one.

          Relationships are not all or nothing; they have degrees. Being paid to pitch a product is certainly a significant relationship. Getting expenses paid to give an academic talk is not much of a relationship.

          Carson seems rather interested in money and power. However, this is consistent with being devoted to helping sick kids. He donated the proceeds from Mannatech to the kids, right? Also, I have not been attacking Carson for lusting for money and power-that is to be assumed for most politicians and is not a specific ding against any particular politician unless it goes beyond the pale. My concern in this post was simply his untruth. Whether he is helping the kids or not is irrelevant to his truthfulness in this situation.

  3. TJB said, on November 2, 2015 at 5:31 pm

    Mitt Romney and Ben Carson are probably two of the most decent people ever to get involved in politics.

    Of course, they are the ones Mike singles out for criticism.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 3, 2015 at 7:16 pm

      I do hope Dr. Carson is better than what he says. I don’t know him personally, so I just have his statements to go by.

  4. nailheadtom said, on November 2, 2015 at 10:48 pm

    “They paid $7 million dollars to settle a deceptive marketing lawsuit in Texas, and yet your involvement continued.”

    Companies are always being stuck up by government agencies and being forced to pay big fines. Alaska Airlines went through the process here: http://nailheadtom.blogspot.com/2014/09/faa-gets-half-million-dollars-for.html Even so, people still fly on the airline, own shares of its stock and the feds still award it contracts.

    • WTP said, on November 3, 2015 at 12:31 am

      And those otherwise successful companies pass those costs on to the consumer as a cost of doing business. The ones that get hit too often go out of business for the same reason they would have gone out of business in the first place, bad products. So it’s all really just another tax, albeit one administered by a separate set of leeches/bureaucrats.

    • TJB said, on November 3, 2015 at 2:34 pm

      I suspect that Ben Carson was too busy saving lives to notice that Mannatech had some legal problems.

      • WTP said, on November 3, 2015 at 3:00 pm

        Meanwhile college administrators are helping Special Snowflake (impersonators) shred the Constitution. I mean literally shred it, as in the literal meaning of the word “literal”. You can’t make this stuff up. But then I heard that this morning someone sneezed and Ben Carson didn’t say “God bless you”…or maybe he did. Either way it’s problematic.

        http://campusreform.org/?ID=6946

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 3, 2015 at 7:19 pm

          Yeah, I am also against the idiocy that happens on some campuses. I know that you have a narrative in which I am blind (or even a supporter) of all leftist attacks on rights, but that is not the case.

          • WTP said, on November 4, 2015 at 10:59 am

            Yes, yes, three posts on the subject, why that’s 50% more that you’ve written on that subject than what you’ve written about the nefarious Ben Carson in the last week. Of course I know you are working diligently on a post concerning the Clinton Foundation charity shell game/slush fund, so you probably won’t have another Ben Carson post until his next positive poll numbers come out. Or if he strays even further off the Plantation.

            But believe me, I understand your frustration…when someone is constantly banging on and on about a subject, like some sort of obsession. You try to point out where they are wrong, that they are not listening to you when you present salient facts. In fact, they often ignore your point and keep banging on and on about the same subject. I can see where such could be truly frustrating.

            As I said before, we’re a lot alike, you and I.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 3, 2015 at 7:24 pm

        Or giving other paid speeches or on a book tour. He was just here in Tallahassee this morning. Some folks were protesting his being a 7th Day Adventist, much as people went after Mitt Romney. If this keeps up, I’ll have to write a defense of the sort I did for Romney. That is, that the 7th Day Adventist faith is not a cult and should be respected as much as any other religion.

        But, my main issue with Carson is not that he did not notice what was going on at Mannatech but that he said untrue things about his relation to them.

        If he really had no idea, he could have said he was paid by them and that he did not know about the problems. No need to say untrue things.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 3, 2015 at 7:25 pm

      Well, there is “sticking up” companies and punishing companies for doing wrong. It looks like Mannatech was deceiving the customers and dealing with that seems legitimately within the responsibilities of the state.


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