House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy no longer represents any part of San Luis Obispo County — that ended in 2012, when district lines were redrawn. Yet we still take a semi-proprietary interest in “our” Kevin, so when The Washington Post published a story Friday that looked into the veracity of McCarthy’s “origin story,” we clicked.
McCarthy, a Bakersfield Republican, has a history of humblebragging about his somewhat rocky career start. Here’s an excerpt from a San Francisco Chronicle story published in The Tribune in 2011:
“McCarthy admittedly didn’t apply himself in high school. After graduation, he took classes at a community college and worked as a seasonal firefighter. He’d drive to Los Angeles to buy old cars, fix them up and then sell them for a small profit.
“His life changed the day he bought a winning lottery ticket. He invested the $5,000 in the stock market and dropped out of school to open a sandwich shop, Kevin O’s Deli.”
Versions of that story have been circulating since, but apparently no one looked too closely until The Washington Post, spurred by a tip from a reader, ran it by fact-checkers.
The newspaper found elements of truth in the tale — along with some Swiss-cheese sized holes.
For instance, McCarthy has insisted he was 19 when he won the lottery and opened the deli, though the California lottery didn’t start until he was nearly 21.
And the Kevin O’s Deli? According to a restaurant review published in 1986, it consisted of a counter and a refrigerator inside his aunt and uncle’s yogurt shop; there are no records indicating McCarthy himself owned a deli.
One more example: McCarthy said he ran the deli for two years before selling it to pay for college, but records show he started at Cal State Bakersfield in 1987, a year after he opened the deli.
In McCarthy’s defense, we can attest that memories fade with time, making it easy to lose track of our pasts and to conflate or even exaggerate stories.
That’s perfectly OK at a dinner party — or to lecture our kids about how easy they have it now. (When I was your age, we didn’t have these fancy remote controls. We had to walk all the way to the TV to change the channels! In the snow!)
But here’s the thing: When high-ranking politicians use feel-good, home-spun tales to justify public policy decisions, facts matter, and they need to be straight-up honest.
While we don’t doubt the young Kevin McCarthy was a hard-working entrepreneur willing to take risks, it’s also evident that he embellished his heartwarming sandwich shop story for political purposes.
For that, we toss “our” Kevin a brickbat on rye with a #fakenews pickle on the side.
Bouquets and brickbats appear occasionally in The Tribune. If there’s something (or someone) you would like to honor with a bouquet or chastise with a brickbat, email your idea to firstname.lastname@example.org.