For years my friends believed I could swim, even though I couldn’t. They believed this because I told them I could. I was just embarrassed that I had never learned to swim. At some point, having lived with that lie for so long, I had come to believe my own mendacity. Until, on a sparkling summer afternoon at the beach with some of those same pals, I nearly drowned in knee-deep water. Having pretended for most of my life that I was a swimmer, I somehow forgot that, in fact, I wasn’t.
Fibs are funny like that. Tell them long enough, and they somehow end up lost among all our truths, half-truths, and almost truths. Often repeated, these falsehoods take on, at least in our own minds, a cloudy veneer of veracity.
Perhaps this is Ben Carson’s problem. The retired neurosurgeon turned front-running Republican presidential candidate has been playing defense against allegations that he exaggerated parts of his 1996 autobiography, “Gifted Hands.”
Carson’s history about his hardscrabble Detroit childhood as a violent, quick-tempered kid who turns to God and finds his way is the entire foundation on which he has built his campaign. It’s a redemption story that has lifted Carson into a virtual tie with Donald Trump, and since that story is all Carson really has to attract supporters, he needs the mean old media to stop poking holes in it.
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At this week’s GOP debate, Carson tried to defuse the situation with humor. He then made some cursory comments about welcoming the vetting process before executing a Benghazi backflip onto Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, essentially calling her a liar.
He even has the crust to say that no one has ever faced the media dissection he is enduring. Apparently, he disregards the loony, racist “birther” movement that for years questioned Obama’s citizenship.
Carson’s indignation about the media’s probing eye is as baffling as his ascendant candidacy. Gentle Ben wants to be America’s soft-spoken superhero – saver of babies (true) and random white classmates during the 1968 Detroit race riots (maybe not so much). He’s near the top of the polls, and while he’s likely enjoying how that’s helping sales of his latest book, he doesn’t want the not-always fawning attention that comes with it.
He could outmaneuver the white-hot spotlight, and is lucky to have supporters who don’t care that he knows nothing about foreign policy or immigration reform, or that his life story may have more embellishments than the face of a Kardashian. Yet if this continues, Carson might find himself with more questions than he can dodge or answer.
This is his crucial moment, and the coming weeks may prove whether his paper-thin, but oddly buoyant campaign will continue to swim, or ultimately drown in a wave of mistrust.
Renee Graham writes for the Boston Globe.