There are a couple of stories about primary elections in the American southeast that have caught Curmie’s attention this week. One is serious, and plays into larger issues of securing the electoral process. I might get to writing about that sometime soon, but that’s a complex and frankly rather terrifying issue. Sometimes, you just need a story best accompanied by raised eyebrows and an ample supply of popcorn.
|Melissa Howard and her fake diploma.|
That’s probably her real mom, though.
And that is why, Gentle Reader, the gods have provided us with Melissa Howard, an erstwhile candidate to represent the 73rd district in the Florida House. A little over a week ago, FLA News Online reported that Howard’s claim to have graduated from Miami University in Ohio couldn’t be corroborated. The National Student Clearinghouse lists Ms. Howard, maiden name Melissa Marie Fox, as having attended Miami in the early 1990s, but not as having received a degree.
On the one hand, it is passing strange that a political candidate would lie about something so easily proved one way or the other, but it’s just as odd that a news agency would pay to verify so pedestrian a credential: a BS in Marketing isn’t exactly going to make an otherwise reluctant voter to suddenly take an interest in a candidate. It is true, of course, that FLA News is a conservative site, and Howard’s opponent in the Republican primary, Tommy Gregory, is a more loyal minion of the NRA and in general the more frothing-at-the-mouth reactionary of the two candidates to replace current Representative Joe Gruters, who decided to seek a seat in the State Senate rather than run for re-election to the House.
Anyway, when the story broke, Ms. Howard, of course, denied it. According to the FLA News article,
She offered to send yearbook pictures and even provided a picture of her at a graduation ceremony. When FLA News asked for the one document that would verify graduation–a diploma–Howard promised to send an electronic copy but did not. She claimed it was in her mother’s storage unit in Ohio. Her campaign consultant later said Howard did not graduate in 1994, she was one credit short and later completed it in 1996. However, the campaign was unable to provide a copy of her diploma, despite four days of repeated requests.
Still, there’s not really a story yet. Getting a copy of a transcript can take a few days, and FLA News may well have been less than an honest broker in the proceedings.
But the campaign completely overplayed its hand, as with this preposterous claim:
This is just another attempt by our desperate opponent, Tommy Gregory to lie about Melissa Howard. He lied about her being a Democrat in Ohio, which the Supervisor of Elections refuted. There’s nothing he won’t do or say to hurt Melissa or her reputation within the community. It’s shameful. Melissa graduated with a degree in marketing and we have requested her transcripts from the University and have been told they take 4-6 weeks to arrive.
Anyone who knows anything whatsoever about the process of getting a transcript can tell you that whereas three or four days might be a bit short (although Curmie was e-mailed an electronic copy of his grad school transcript in a matter of hours a couple of years ago), 4-6 weeks is ridiculously long. One week, maybe. Four to six weeks (oh, so conveniently enough time to get past the primary in a safe GOP district), not a chance. Of course, that’s for a transcript as opposed to a diploma, but a transcript would certainly have served the purpose.
Former President Obama showed a prescience one might wish had been more on display during his actual term in office, in a speech in Johannesburg at a celebration in honor of Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday. He said:
We see the utter loss of shame among political leaders, where they’re caught in a lie, and they just double down and they lie some more…. Let me say, politicians have always lied, but it used to be if you caught ‘em lying, they’d be like, “aw, man…” Now they just keep on lying.
Obama’s remarks were widely and no doubt accurately interpreted as a not so thinly veiled excoriation of President Trump, whose administration has indeed reached levels of mendacity hitherto undreamed of even by the most dishonest of pols. But those comments certainly apply, as well, to the likes of small-time prevaricators like Melissa Howard.
What’s important here is that her falsified credentials were completely unnecessary. Ms. Howard is a successful businesswoman, and coming up one or two courses short of graduation (which appears to have been the case) from a quite reputable university is not an insignificant achievement, and, as Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune notes in a follow-up essay, “If Howard had been honest about not graduating, her academic credentials likely would never have been an issue in the race. There are other state lawmakers without college degrees.”
Indeed, it’s quite easy to imagine a scenario whereby an honest misunderstanding could have happened:
—Where’d you go to college?—Miami of Ohio.—What was your major?—Marketing.
And we now have a completely accurate and perhaps even completely honest exchange which leads to a completely reasonable but completely erroneous conclusion. Well, except for the fact that Miami doesn’t have a Marketing major... more on that later.
Even after the story broke, if she’d apologized, said she had come very close to graduating but struggled with that one course (or whatever), blamed her campaign’s website’s false claim on a miscommunication with a staffer, the chances that she’d have lost more than a handful of votes are pretty slim.
But Howard, to use President Obama’s phrase, doubled down, with headline-making results. Let’s face it, she’s the best-known failed state representative candidate in the country. Why? Because of the lie? No, as President Obama said, politicians lie. It’s just that in true Watergate fashion, the cover-up was worse than the crime. Howard stalled, claimed she’d made up the missing credits two years after finishing her full-time studies, asserted that her diploma was in her mom’s storage facility, then posed with Mom and Diploma in a stratagem that was nothing if not audacious. It even worked, briefly. FLA News Online even rescinded (as opposed to “retracted”) its story.
But then university officials became pro-active. Miami, as noted above, doesn’t offer a BS in Marketing; marketing students would receive a BS in Business. But Howard didn’t, in fact, major in Marketing, but in Retailing (why would anyone sane lie about this?), which would have led to a degree in Family and Consumer Sciences... assuming she actually got a degree. Moreover, one of the signatures on the obviously fallacious diploma was that of Robert C. Johnson, who was, alas, the Dean of the Graduate School, not of Business nor of Education and Allied Professions. Oops.
Still, Howard persisted, briefly, before finally admitting she’d lied about the degree, claiming, “It was not [her] intent to deceive or mislead anyone.” Wow. She accused journalists, her primary opponent, and at least by implication her presumptive alma mater of lying about her; she staged a trip to Ohio to prove an innocence that never existed; she ultimately fabricated a fake diploma, even somehow convincing her mom to pose with it. Curmie wonders what one must do to qualify as being intentionally deceptive on Ms. Howard’s home planet.
And yet she announced she was staying in the race! Joe Gruters, the Howard campaign treasurer and presumably same person who is the incumbent in that House seat, came up with one of the great political quotes of all time. First, he said he’d urge her step aside if arrested (!), but followed it up with this gem: “in the meantime it’s a slippery slope when you start asking candidates who lie to remove themselves from the ballot.” How, exactly, is anyone to take the Florida GOP seriously after that?
But, as they say in the late-night infomercials, Wait! There’s more! Of course, she lied about staying in the race, too. (Well, to be fair, it wasn’t really a lie, as she might just have been crazy enough to believe her own rhetoric.) But before she dropped out we also have an unnamed Republican political consultant saying this:
Common sense and normal politics would say she can’t survive it but everything seems to be upside down…. I wonder if people don’t feel anesthetized or insensate from [President Trump]. He set the bar so high or so low, depending on your point of view, that the stuff that used to matter doesn’t seem to matter.
When your own party’s mouthpieces start saying outright that the POTUS has so degraded normal standards of integrity that they don’t even matter anymore, it might be a portent of some serious introspection on the part of the handful of remaining Trump supporters who are otherwise intelligent adults.
Meanwhile, it strikes Curmie that there are three lessons to be learned from the Melissa Howard affair:
- Telling the truth is better than lying.
- When the hole is too deep, stop digging.
- If you need a diploma forged, don’t hire someone over Craigslist..