As the days and weeks go on, Ben Carson is digging himself a hole that is soon going to be too deep to climb out of. The good doctor is getting caught in one fabrication after another. Some of his tall tales involve things that are little more than silly stories of a youth that he claims was filled with violent incidents. But some of them involve matters of real importance, and subjects that a candidate for president of the United States should be more familiar with.
Carson recently proved his ignorance of U.S. policy towards Cuba while campaigning in Florida, where polls have him running ahead of Floridians Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. The Miami Herald gives Carson a bit of a pass on that, saying that he admitted that he wasn’t completely clear on what they were talking about.
But in the middle of a discussion about Cuba policy, Carson decided to throw out a ridiculous and totally erroneous bit of information about Medicare and Medicaid fraud, saying that it is “huge — half a trillion dollars.”
According to Mother Jones, the total expenditures for Medicare and Medicaid last year were about $980 billion. So Carson is saying that fraud makes up over 50 percent of the cost of those programs. He is only about 40 percent off. In 2013, Republican congressman Peter Roskam said that the rate of Medicare fraud was about eight to ten percent, a claim that Politifact rated as “mostly true.” But Politifact points out that the number cited by Roskam includes both fraud and improper payments. As they observe, there’s a difference between the two, and “out-and-out fraud” amounts to a far smaller amount than improper payments.
The rate of fraud in the Medicaid program is estimated to be between three and ten percent. So we’re looking at a number somewhere around $60-90 billion, according to most estimates. That’s still a large number, but nowhere near the amount Carson is claiming.
Why does Carson say these things? Considering what the Miami Herald said about his lack of knowledge of Cuba policy, Ben Carson seems to be someone who has never taken the time to become familiar with many of the things he needs to know to be president. That should concern everyone, given his current status as one of the top two GOP candidates. It could be said that someone like Dr. Carson, who is regarded by almost everyone as a brilliant physician, has spent so much time focused on his craft that he has never taken the time to educate himself on matters of policy that a president needs to know about. That’s the generous take on things.
The other possibility is that Ben Carson is simply a liar, who is unconcerned about whether what he says is factual or not. Steve Benin has this to say at MSNBC.com:
In 2015, it appears Carson is pushing the boundaries of post-knowledge politics. It’s not that he’s lying, per se, because it’s quite likely that in Carson’s version of reality, his claims have real merit. This is more a situation in which a presidential hopeful has decided knowledge itself is unimportant.
Kevin Drum at Mother Jones agrees:
Couldn’t Carson have just made a mistake? Sure. But here’s the thing: some mistakes are so big they give away the fact that you’re entirely ignorant of the subject at hand. If I told you that Babe Ruth hit 800 home runs in his career, it might just be a brain fart. But if I told you he hit 5,000 home runs, it’s a giveaway that I’m faking. I don’t know the first thing about baseball.
Whatever Carson’s reasons for throwing out such ridiculous claims, he may find that while he can fool most of the GOP base most of the time, his “post-knowledge politics” are not going to fly with the full electorate. And that’s great news for Democrats.
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