Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Carson Digs A Deeper Hole for Himself

I like Ben Carson.  He seems like a good guy.  I even agree with him on a few things.  But he is just not cut out for a presidential run.  He seems very uncomfortable in this role.  He is a brilliant neurosurgeon and a person of deep Christian faith who, to put it frankly, is in over his head.

Let's take his recent claim that Thomas Jefferson wrote the United States Constitution.  Here is part of what I wrote on Monday about this whole incident:

Carson needs to be more careful in the way he references American history.  I think we should expect our presidential candidates to have a working knowledge of our country's history. (I know this is asking for a lot).

I will not be voting for Carson, but part of me wants to give the guy a break on this latest Jefferson blunder.  Perhaps he just misspoke.  I do this all the time when I am lecturing.  Maybe he got confused for a moment.  


Yet instead of simply admitting that he made a mistake or misspoke, Carson went on Fox News and doubled-down on the erroneous claim that Jefferson was somehow involved in crafting the Constitution.

Here is the video.  The Jefferson stuff picks up about the 4:30 mark.



As I predicted in my earlier post, Carson blames the media for trying to corner him with another "gotcha" question.

What is even more interesting about this interview is that Carson seems to parroting a piece that appeared earlier in the day at USA Today. The author is David Mastio, the deputy editorial page editor of the newspaper.

Mastio writes:

...here's an interesting historical footnote to the Constitutional Convention. At the time, an early version of email was available. It was the social media of its day, called "letters." Important people, say, the U.S. minister in France, could give pieces of paper to ship captains who'd take them by boat all the way to Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, other important people would read words scratched onto the paper and respond in kind with a "reply."

In this fashion, early Americans could discuss important matters like constitutions and other government stuff ministers would care about. This was called "correspondence."

Guess who was writing these letter thingies? Thomas Jefferson.

And do you know who was replying? George Washington and James Madison, among the most important framers of our Constitution.

So here's the crazy thing: Jefferson, Madison, Washington and others were discussing how the U.S. Constitution should be written.

After the Constitution Convention was over, Jefferson had this other idea called a "Bill of Rights," which you might have heard is a part of the Constitution. Jefferson sorta played a key role in all that First Amendment, Second Amendment stuff. If you don't believe me, go ask the American Civil Liberties Union, which is big on rights like free speech and freedom of religion.

Saith the ACLU: "The American Bill of Rights, inspired by Jefferson and drafted by James Madison, was adopted, and in 1791 the Constitution's first 10 amendments became the law of the land."

The ACLU even quotes Jefferson's argument: "A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse."

To get the basics of Jefferson's role in the creation of the Bill of Rights, which are, as I mentioned, a pretty important part of the Constitution, all you have to do is read the Spark Notes version. Or you can get it in easy Q&A format from the U.S. Archives.

All that laughing I did at Carson's expense? I take it back. I guess he sorta did know what he was talking about, after all.

A website is now demanding that in the wake of the Mastio piece fifteen news agencies and "verified Twitter accounts" owe Ben Carson an apology for the way they covered this issue.

Some thoughts:


1). I am still trying to figure out if Mastio's piece is sarcasm.  I'm not sure.

2).  I am guessing that Carson's handlers saw the Mastio piece and thought it might be useful in fending off critics on this issue.

3).  If the piece is not meant to be sarcastic it is still filled with historical problems.  Here is historian Kevin Gutzman (used with permission from his Facebook page):


One more time: 1) there is no evidence that Thomas Jefferson had any -- any -- effect on the "crafting" of the US Constitution, and 2) the Bill of Rights was *not* "his idea."
1) He was in France in summer 1787, at a time when it took six weeks for a letter to cross the Atlantic to the east and longer to the west. The delegates to the Convention were all sworn to secrecy, so they could not have consulted him even if they had desired to do so and it had been practicable.
2) The first promise to seek a bill of rights was made by Federalists in Massachusetts to get Governor John Hancock and other waverers to support ratification. None of them consulted Jefferson--who was still in France, if anyone in Boston had cared. James Madison was finally persuaded to favor a bill of rights, which he had opposed, by political imperatives in Virginia: the North American Baptist movement happened to be centered in his home county, and local Baptists insisted he promise to seek amendments, particularly one like the Establishment Clause, before they voted for him over James Monroe for Congress. Everyone knew this was his motivation at the time.

Again, Carson should have just admitted he made a mistake, noted that he did get the facts straight in his book, and move on.  It is never a good idea for a political candidate to try to challenge a historian. After all, we do this stuff for a living.