Blow, Kristof and Collins

Mr. Blow says “With Ben Carson, the Doctor is Always Out” and that after this week’s string of dumbfounding comments emanating from the candidate, I’m starting to doubt everything that comes out of his mouth.  Mr. Kristof considers “3 Peerless Republicans for President: Trump, Carson and Fiorina” and says any  of the front-runners would make history by being elected without basic experiences of every other occupant of the Oval Office.  Ms. Collins says “Too Many Bushes Spoil the Broth” and that Jeb’s supporters are hearing from the whole family: Columba, George, Barbara, George W. and Laura.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Oh, Ben.

On Tuesday, Ben Carson was on “Fox & Friends” and was posed this hypothetical: “If a gunman walks up and puts a gun at you and says what religion are you, that is the ultimate test of your faith,” as the Oregon shooter reportedly did to his victims.

It wasn’t a question per se, but the interviewer obviously wanted to know how Carson would react in that incredibly stressful circumstance.

Carson responded:

“I’m glad you asked that question because not only would I not probably not cooperate with him, I would not just stand there and let him shoot me. I would say, ‘Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can’t get us all.’ ”

Then Carson chuckled.

Oh, Ben.

Do you not see why so many people saw this as a callous, thickheaded blaming of the victim? The statement doesn’t honor the heroism of Chris Mintz, who did exactly as Carson suggested — charged at the shooter, was shot seven times, but wasn’t able to incapacitate him — and it also devalues the lives and reactions of all the other victims who didn’t or couldn’t charge the shooter.

Which of us truly know precisely how we would react — even those of us who are sure that we would be fearless — when caught off guard and caught up in an active mass shooting where bodies, ripped open by bullets, are falling all around?

On Tuesday evening, Carson appeared on Fox News’ “The Kelly File,” where the host, Megyn Kelly, put this statement to him: “The accusation there, Dr. Carson, is that you appeared tone deaf and that you seemed callous in the laughter about a massacre and what you would have done.”

Carson responded, “I’m laughing at them and their silliness.” “Who?” Kelly asked. “The people asking that question,” Carson responded.

Hold up! When the original statement/question was put to Carson, the “them” were the hosts on “Fox & Friends,” and Carson’s response began with “I’m glad you asked that question…”

I’m starting to doubt everything that comes out of this man’s mouth.

On Wednesday on “CBS This Morning,” Carson defended his comments, saying, “I want to plant in people’s minds what to do in a situation like this because, unfortunately, this is probably not going to be the last time this happens.”

What Carson wants to plant in people’s minds flows counter to what the Department of Homeland Security wants to plant in their minds as “good practices.” The agency prioritizes personal protection and fleeing over engagement:

“If you suspect a potential active shooter situation, you must quickly determine the most reasonable way to protect your own life. If there is an accessible escape path, attempt to evacuate the premises.”

The recommendations continue:

“If evacuation is not possible, you should find a place to hide where the active shooter is less likely to find you.”

And then:

“As a last resort, and only when your life is in imminent danger, you should attempt to incapacitate the shooter by acting with physical aggression and throwing items at the active shooter.”

On Wednesday, Carson appeared again on Fox News, responding to the criticism over his Tuesday comments.

“I’m not gonna change and become — you know, you know — a vanilla envelope that they can accept. They’re never going to accept me because I don’t believe in political correctness. So I can twist myself in pretzels trying to fit into their silly little box or I can be who I am. And we need people who are willing to stand up and talk what’s logical right now.”


Oh, Ben.

Did you mean manila, perchance?


This is not about whether speech should conform to political correctness, Mr. Carson, but about having a reasonable expectation that politicians can speak correctly. You, apparently, cannot.

We have to deal with all of the issues that contribute to our epidemic of gun violence in this country — everything from better assessment and treatment of mental illness, to sensible, national gun-control measures, to addressing a fame-obsessed, violence-soaked culture.

Our politicians won’t stand up to the gun lobby. But we can’t simply, as Carson recommends, throw our bodies at armed men.

During a Facebook question and answer session, he seemed to suggest that he preferred bodies riddled with bullets to more gun control. Carson wrote:

“There is no doubt that this senseless violence is breathtaking — but I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away.”

Oh, Ben.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

The leading contenders for the Republican nomination for president tell us three interesting things about America.

First, many G.O.P. voters are so disenchanted they’re willing to entrust the country to candidates — Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina — with zero experience in elective office or military command. Only two men without previous time in major elective office or the military have been president, Herbert Hoover and William Howard Taft, and both had held cabinet posts. No president has ever been as inexperienced as any of these three leading Republican candidates.

Second, the public feels an odd awe for C.E.O.s and presumes they know how to run things, even if their records suggest otherwise. This cultural reverence for C.E.O.s perhaps also explains why pay packages have increased — and why Fiorina was allowed to take home a $21 million severance package after she was fired as Hewlett-Packard’s chief executive for incompetence.

Third, the only kind of welfare that carries no stigma in America is corporate welfare. For all Trump’s criticisms of government, his familywealth came from feeding at the government trough. His father, Fred Trump, leveraged government housing programs into a construction business; the empire was founded on public money.

My bet is that Trump, Fiorina and Carson will fade, and that voters will eventually turn to a more conventional candidate, perhaps Senator Marco Rubio. From the Democrats’ point of view, the scariest Republican ticket might pair Rubio with John Kasich. Rubio has natural political skills, projects youth and change, and would signal that the Republican Party is ready to expand its demographic base. Rubio and Kasich would also have a decent chance of winning their home states, Florida and Ohio — and any ticket that could win Florida and Ohio would be a strong contender.

But instead, Republican primary voters for now are pursuing a bizarre flirtation with three candidates who are the least qualified since, well, maybe since Trump put his toe in the waters before the 2000 election.

In that sense, they offer a window into the American psyche — part of which is our adulation of the C.E.O.

There’s something to be said for C.E.O.s’ entering politics: In theory, they have management expertise and financial savvy. Then again, it didn’t work so well with Dick Cheney.

More broadly, the United States has overdone the cult of the C.E.O., partly explaining why at the largest companies the ratio of C.E.O. compensation to typical worker pay rose from 20 to one in 1965 to 303 to one in 2014,according to the Economic Policy Institute.

In any case, even if you were conducting a job search for a great C.E.O. to lead the free world, you wouldn’t turn to either Trump or Fiorina.

My sense is that Trump isn’t the idiot that critics often claim (the most common words voters used to describe him in a recent poll were “idiot,” “jerk,” “stupid” and “dumb”). This is a man who is near the top of diverse fields: real estate, book writing, television and now presidential politics. He’s a born showman, a master of branding and marketing. But he doesn’t seem a master of investing.

Back in 1976, Trump said he was worth “more than $200 million.” If he had simply put $200 million in an index fund and reinvested dividends, he would be worth $12 billion today, notes Max Ehrenfreund of The Washington Post. In fact, he’s worth $4.5 billion, according to Forbes.

In other words, Trump’s business acumen seems less than half as impressive as that of an ordinary Joe who parks his savings in an index fund.

An index fund might also have been less ethically problematic. In the 1970s, the Justice Department accused Trump of refusing to rent to blacks. And in 2013, New York State’s attorney general sued him, alleging “persistent fraudulent, illegal and deceptive conduct”; Trump denied the charges.

If Trump’s performance as a business executive was problematic, Fiorina’s was exceptional. Exceptionally bad.

Put aside the fact that she’s the C.E.O. who fired thousands of workers while raking in more than $100 million in compensation and pushing H.P. to acquire five corporate jets. Just looking at the bottom line, she earned her place on those “worst C.E.O.” lists she appeared on.

As Steven Rattner wrote in The Times, Hewlett-Packard’s share price fell 52 percent in the nearly six years she was at the helm. H.P. did worse than its peers: IBM fell 27.5 percent, and Dell, 3 percent.

Oh, and on the day she was fired, the stock market celebrated: H.P. shares soared 7 percent.

If I wanted a circus ringmaster, I’d hire Trump. If I wanted advice on brain surgery or hospital management, I’d turn to Carson. Fiorina would make an articulate television pundit. But for president?

The fact that these tyros are the three leading presidential contenders for a major political party is a sad window into our political dysfunction.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Happiness is being on the Jeb Bush campaign mailing list. Recent highlights:

Sept. 27 — Columba Bush emailed to say she wants me to get to know the Jeb she knows, who is a person of principle. Also very tall. “But Friend, no one is going to see that side of him if he misses his critical End of Quarter fundraising goal of $200,000.”

Sept. 29 — President George H.W. Bush is in my inbox. The good Bush! He wants me to know that Jeb is ready.

Later that day …

Barbara Bush just wrote, asking me to donate some money. She admits she’s not as big into email as her son. (Jeb brags that he spent 25 to 30 hours a week emailing when he was governor. He has a book coming out about this and a lot of the messages seem to involve thanking people for writing.) Anyhow, the former first lady mentions that — although she has no idea why — her family calls her “The Enforcer.” I am not entirely clear on why she’s bringing that up. Is it a threat?

Sept. 30 — Oh, wow, they’re rolling out W. He feels Jeb “has what it takes to lead our nation.” Also, both he and Laura would really appreciate it if I send some money.

Later that day …

Jeb wants to make sure I caught his brother’s note: “Really thankful to have his support on this journey.” I think someday we should discuss the national tendency to describe everything as a “journey.” Journey is getting a bad name.

Oct. 4 — Big news from Jeb: He’s been talking with his parents, and they think it would be great if I could get to know them personally. “Today we’re launching a contest to fly one lucky winner down to Texas at the end of the month to meet Mom and Dad. All you have to do is chip in $1.”

Oct. 6 — Columba wants to make sure I got Jeb’s note about the contest to meet George H.W. and Barbara. “Jeb loves meeting his biggest supporters, and I can’t think of a better way to do that than flying you to Houston to meet the whole family.” She and Jeb are going to be there, too. Although not, apparently, W. and Laura. Maybe they’re on a different journey.

• • •

This is far from the first time a candidate for president has dragged the family into fund-raising efforts. (By the end of the campaign, you’re going to see third cousins serving as honorary guests at $100-a-plate dinners.) And eventually, we’re going to have some serious conversations about Bill Clinton. But right now, we’re starting to get so many Bushes, the nation is in danger of becoming one large political hedge.

This week Jonathan Martin and Matt Flegenheimer reported in The Timesthat the Bush organization is seriously considering having George W. campaign for his brother in South Carolina, where people apparently look back on the invasion of Iraq as the best of times. South Carolina was a critical victory for W. in 2000 and I remember interviewing Republican primary voters who said they were going to vote for him because they knew if he got in trouble, his parents would straighten him out. It seemed sort of sweet at the time. Oh well.

The longer the race goes on, the closer Jeb seems to snuggle up to his older brother. We’ve come a long way from the “my own man” distancing epoch. After that, there was the arm’s-length era of Well, I wouldn’t have expanded Medicare. And then it was on to the fabled moment during the last debate when Donald Trump dissed W., and Jeb shot back: “You know what? As it relates to my brother, there’s one thing I know for sure. He kept us safe.” He then went on to mention the hugging of the firefighter at ground zero.

The World Trade Center was such a terrible, terrible tragedy that it seems unseemly to use it for political leverage in any way. However, if you’re going to bring it up, the accurate way to describe George W. Bush in relation to 9/11 would be something like, “The man who, despite the best intentions in the world, failed to keep us safe.”

Chances are, Jeb did envision a campaign in which he was the only Bush in sight. Just last month he told voters he knew he’d never get elected “by being the third Bush running for president.” But desperate times breed desperate measures. Very hard to go around bragging that you were a terrific Florida governor at the same time Florida Republicans are saying they’d much rather vote for Trump.

Plus, the big donors are getting restless. Dissatisfaction on the part of your former constituents is one thing, but there’s nothing worse than cranky oligarchs. Dangers abound. It’s a time when you need to see your kin flocking to the rescue. One person’s hedge is another person’s security blanket.



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