Selling Snake Oil

Following my recent post about Ben Carson, I got an email from my cousin, the cardiologist/medical researcher whose expertise I often cite here. He was livid about an aspect of Carson’s biography of which I’d previously been unaware: his willingness to use his prominence and medical credentials to hawk snake oil.

Carson first spoke out in favor of Mannatech products over a decade ago when he claimed that the Texas-based company’s “glyconutritional supplements,” which included larch-tree bark and aloe vera extract, helped him overcome prostate cancer….

As the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month, Carson’s relationship with the company deepened over time, including “four paid speeches at Mannatech gatherings, most recently one in 2013 for which he was paid $42,000, according to the company.” …

Mannatech supposedly made $415 million in the last 12 months selling pills and powders made from larch bark and aloe, known as glyconutrients, marketed under the trade name of Ambrotose, a so called “nutritional supplement that helps the cells in one’s body communicate with one another”…

My cousin’s blog has more detail.

During the last debate, Carson denied having a ten-year relationship with the company, which claims its nutritional supplement can cure autism, cancer and other serious illnesses. (Mannatech paid $7 million to settle a deceptive marketing lawsuit in Texas).

Politifact rated Carson’s response “false.” 

Paul Krugman also noted Carson’s relationship to Mannatech, but went on to comment on the GOP’s sale of “snake oil” more broadly, noting

As the historian Rick Perlstein documents, a “strategic alliance of snake-oil vendors and conservative true believers” goes back half a century. Direct-mail marketing using addresses culled from political campaigns has given way to email, but the game remains the same.

Krugman listed several examples, from Glenn Beck’s Goldline, to Ron Paul’s book sales, to the recent New York Times series exposing a number of conservative PACs whose fundraising benefits the people who run the PACs, rather than the causes they ostensibly support.

You might think that such revelations would be politically devastating. But the targets of such schemes know, just know, that the liberal mainstream media can’t be trusted, that when it reports negative stories about conservative heroes it’s just out to suppress people who are telling the real truth. It’s a closed information loop, and can’t be broken.

A world of frightened, uninformed and disoriented people is tailor-made for guys selling snake oil.


Rape, Incest and Ben Carson

Shades of Richard Mourdock and “what God intended”!

Among the many other retrograde positions he has taken, Ben Carson wants the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and criminalize all abortions. As Ed Brayton reported at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, 

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said on Sunday that believes Roe v. Wade should be overturned, and that women should not be allowed to have abortions even in the case of rape or incest.

“The mother should not believe that the baby is her enemy and should not be looking to terminate the baby,” Carson opined to NBC host Chuck Todd. “We’ve allowed purveyors of division to think that baby is their enemy and they have a right to kill it. Can you see how perverted that line of thinking is?”

There are a number of possible responses to this latest evidence of Carson’s worldview: the most rational is to simply shrug. Ben Carson isn’t going to be President of the U.S.–despite his current lead in GOP polls, he isn’t even going to be the Republican nominee, so the fact that he wants to make women carry their rapist’s baby to term–however creepy or nauseating one might find that–is ultimately irrelevant.

On the other hand, Carson is hardly the only Republican who sees “God’s will” in the consequences of a rape. Mourdock and Akin were the most high-profile, but there are plenty of others–almost all of them men– who want to deny women not just the right to abort, but access to birth control as well. (After all, if you give us the right to control our own reproduction, we’re likely to get all uppity and start thinking we’re equal to men.)

I don’t really expect this latest pronouncement to damage Carson’s popularity with the GOP fringe. After all, if stating that racism wasn’t a problem before Obama’s election, that Muslims should not be allowed to be President, that evolution is a “Satanic plot,” that we need to get rid of Medicare and Medicaid, and that university professors should be monitored and censored only operated to endear him to the party base, this latest evidence of bizarre reasoning is unlikely to offend them.

What’s a little misogyny among Republicans?


Ben Carson, Joan Gubbins and Identity Politics

People usually use the term “identity politics” to mean blocs of voters who cast their ballots for people with whom they share an identity.

For example, during the last two Presidential elections, opponents of President Obama often attributed his huge advantage among black voters to his skin color. Of course, “they” would vote for one of “their own.”

If that were true, of course, African-Americans would be lining up to support Ben Carson. They clearly aren’t, and a lot of Republicans don’t understand why. The confusion lies in a profound misunderstanding of what we should probably call “communities of interest” rather than “identity politics.”

Most readers of this blog, even those who lived in Indiana at the time, will not remember Joan Gubbins, a particularly unpleasant woman who served in the State Senate in the 1970s. Gubbins was a forerunner of today’s social conservatives–among other things, she opposed the Equal Rights Amendment and memorably campaigned against her opponent in one primary by going door-to-door and explaining that the voter’s choice was between “a good conservative Christian and a damn liberal Jew.”

The Women’s Political Caucus (of which I was a member) endorsed her male opponent, who supported a number of women’s rights measures.

Women’s organizations like the (now defunct) Political Caucus and Emily’s List usually support women candidates–but not those with positions inimical to women’s rights. In the 2008 Presidential race, no self-respecting advocate for women’s equality was persuaded to vote Republican because Sarah Palin was on the ticket.

Latinos support candidates with reasonable positions on immigration and other policies relevant to that community. Whatever Ted Cruz’ ethnicity, he’s not going to get the Latino vote.

Women don’t disproportionately support Hillary Clinton because she’s female; they do so because she has championed women’s issues. (Sorry, Carly. As Sara Palin’s candidacy should have demonstrated, female plumbing isn’t enough.)

In 2016, African-Americans aren’t going to vote for a monumentally unqualified Ben Carson, whose positions suggest that he suffers from something akin to Stockholm Syndrome.

Anyone who thinks that “identity politics” means voting for someone who “looks like me” just doesn’t get it.


Experience Really Does Matter

When I grow up (like that will ever happen!), I want to be Gail Collins.

The witty New York Times columnist has an uncanny ability to hit political nails on their pointy little heads. Most recently, she considered the emergence of Presidential candidates like Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson, both of whom are touting their total lack of political experience as a reason to vote for them.

Virtually every elected president in American history — not counting the occasional military hero — made his way to the top by getting elected to other offices first. There are a couple of exceptions who just served in the cabinet, like Herbert Hoover. We can all look forward to hearing a candidate vow to return us to the golden days of the Hoover administration.

(Here in Indianapolis, we have some recent experience with a chief executive who knew nothing about politics or the governance of a city–or even what a city ought to look like– when he was elected. His steep learning curve has cost Indianapolis in numerous ways.)

When she was in business, I doubt that Fiorina would have hired a high-level executive who had no experience relevant to the position being filled, so one wonders why she thinks her own lack of experience somehow qualifies her for the presidency. (I won’t even raise the issue of her ignominious departure from Hewlett-Packard, after controversies which suggest she wasn’t all that successful in the private sector, either.)

I’ll leave the final word to the better wordsmith. As Collins wrote

People who run for president boasting that they aren’t politicians are frequently just trying to compensate for a lack of political skill. Carson (who presumably wants to run government like an operating room) is going to appeal to the folks who think the military is plotting to take over Texas, but otherwise, his only political gift seems to be for making outrageous statements. Fiorina ran for the Senate in 2010 and was beaten by Barbara Boxer, who was thought to be a vulnerable incumbent until Fiorina got hold of her, racking up a grand total of 42 percent of the vote.

On the plus side, Fiorina’s campaign produced one of the all-time great attack videos, in which her more moderate primary opponent was depicted as a Demon Sheep, portrayed by a man crawling across the grass with what looked like a wooly rug over his back and a piece of cardboard on his face. After that it was downhill all the way.

If you’re shopping for candidates with no experience in the business they want to lead, I’d say at least go for the one with the Demon. But really, there are smarter buys.