Saturday, March 15, 2014

Ben Carson for President?

Some of you probably have known for quite some time who Dr. Ben Carson is. For some reason, I have just recently heard about him. In an email received recently, a friend told me about the movie “Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story.” June and I watched that inspiring film on March 7.
The very next day Carson was a featured speaker at this year’s CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference). At that meeting there was some hubbub by those seeking to draft him as the Republican presidential candidate in 2016.
Carson (b. 1951) was the second son born to a minister and his young wife (they married when she was 13; he was 28) in Detroit. Young Ben’s parents separated when he was 8, and he and his brother were raised by their remarkable mother. Carson once remarked,

Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my mother.’ I’m not sure I want to say it quite like that, but my mother Sonya Carson, was the earliest, strongest, and most impacting force in my life. It would be impossible to tell about my accomplishments without starting with my mother’s influence.
Carson, indeed, went on to accomplish much. He graduated from Yale University and then obtained his M.D. degree from the University of Michigan. After medical school he became a neurosurgery resident at the world-famous Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
At age 32, Carson became the hospital's Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery. Then in 1987, he led in the first successful separation of Siamese twins joined at the back of their heads. “Gifted Hands” climaxes with the details of that grueling 22-hour-long operation.
Somehow I missed hearing about Dr. Carson speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast in February 2013. (I have recently listened to it on YouTube.)
It was because of some of the gutsy things Carson said in that 27-minutes talk, with the President sitting just a few feet away, that gained him great acclaim, especially among political conservatives.
Just eight days later Carson was an hour-long guest on the Sean Hannity Show. He has been very popular among conservative Republicans ever since—so much so that a National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee has been formed.
(Their website is, and they have already raised more than $3,000,000.)
And on at CPAC on March 8, Carson came in third place (with 9% of the votes) in the poll indicating who the participants most wanted to be President.
Chances are, though, Dr. Carson won’t be the Republican candidate for President in 2016. But should he be?
Carson is obviously very intelligent and has exhibited the ability to overcome great difficulties in order to achieve greatness. He was an outstanding success as a neurosurgeon, his chosen profession. (He retired last summer.)
Further, Carson is certainly a dedicated Christian man with a fine wife and seems to be morally upright in every way. It certainly would be hard to argue with any of those qualifications.
But he has made some very questionable statements in the political arena that make it hard to see him as a viable presidential candidate.
For example, Carson has said ObamaCare is the worst thing for this country since slavery. He has also has made some dumb statements about not raising the debt ceiling. Moreover, he has no experience whatsoever in public office.
So while I have great respect for him as an individual, as a neurosurgeon, and as a person of faith, no, Ben Carson for President doesn’t sound like a good idea.


  1. Ben Carson sounds like one of those Christians who participates in that American Protestant distortion of ethics which reduces ethical living (morality) to interpersonal relations. In this postmodern age with our sociological awareness, I would argue, that that’s at best a half morality. I wonder, if coupled with a cruel and unjust social ethic, is it any morality at all?

    While a man who is a conscientious physician and a devoted family man is to be admired for those traits, if he stands by accepting a cruel and unjust system of health care such as ours has been, he doesn’t earn great respect from me.

    Back during the presidency of Bill Clinton, we had a few debates here and there about politicians and their interpersonal morality. While we might prefer that people in power have both good ideas and interpersonal moral integrity, people like Clinton and Carson raise the question: If we have to choose, is it better to have politicians with good ideas but questionable interpersonal morals or with high interpersonal morality and bad ideas. Again, we know too much about how social systems work to prefer the former, or so I would argue. People in power with admirable interpersonal morality but bad ideas are far more dangerous than those with good ideas and sloppy interpersonal ethics.

    Just a reminder: Jesus apparently held a bias against family relations. MLK, Jr., dallied. Mohandas Gandhi cruelly quit sleeping with his wife in some, in my view, misguided attempt at a higher spirituality.

    (P.S.: I just read over what I’m about to post, and realize it’s a bit more hard-hitting that I’m comfortable with. But even though I might not be willing to defend with great vigor, it makes the point, so I’ll leave it as it is.)

    1. Anton, I much appreciate, and mostly agree with, your "hard-hitting" comments.

      For a long time I have emphasized the importance of public morality over private morality for politicians and other public leaders. In that connection, I have often said, The private life of public people is nobody's business.

      For example, President Bush II for many years has been a very moral man in his private life. As far as we know, he has been completely faithful to his wife. And while that is a good thing, he still is the one who led our country into what I consider an immoral war. I would much rather have a President who cheated on his wife but kept the country out of war than vice versa.

      So that is one of the main things I think about Carson: in spite of his brilliance and impeccable private morality, I do not trust what he would do in the public realm, for I have heard/seen disturbing things he has said about public matters.

  2. I appreciate local Thinking Friend Tom Lankford taking the time to send the following comments (and then give permission to post them here):

    "Your honest liberal friends might say that Carson is no less or no more qualified than Obama to be POTUS. At an intellectual and scholarship level, Carson is off the scale compared to Obama.

    "While it was provocative hyperbole and maybe offensive to a slave, with all due respect, maybe you missed the point regarding his slavery comment regarding Obamacare. I think he was referring to government dependency, which is a form of slavery that creeps up on us over a long period of time and then we don't even realize the psychological slavery or addiction we are in and that we are being bought and sold by politician that are gifting us with programs paid for by the Treasury or punishing us with a punitive IRS to maintain their power or ideology, it happens on both sides of the political spectrum. This form of slavery can literally enslave entire countries as happened in the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, etc.

    "Ben Carson made it on his own and is very intelligent, whereas Obama had a lot of ideological folks granting him political favors along the way. I understand it because I've played the same game Obama has played in many arena's of my life. But, all I've just said makes no difference because you and I just have different ideologies. With the right checks and balances, we can moderate toward the middle in an effort to give more people the true opportunity of life like Ben Carson had based on his and his mother's hard work. I just don't want the government becoming the proverbial mother of all.

    "As was mentioned in my last email to you, tough conversations need to be had with irresponsible people just as Ben Carson's mother had with him and his brother, and they need to pay for their own mistakes just as I have had to do. I am always willing to help for a reasonable time but not from cradle to grave."

    1. Tom, let me respond to your comments one paragraph at a time.

      As to qualifications, opponents of Barack Obama in 2008, and afterward, often said that he was "unknown" and "inexperienced." But he had been a state senator and was a U.S. Senator.

      So it puzzles me how some people now, and maybe some of the same people, think that Carson, who has never held any public office, is qualified to be considered a viable presidential candidate.

    2. Tom, and then about Obamacare and slavery.

      I heard/read what he said about that matter, and I think I understand his position fairly accurately.

      I understand that Carson said that Obamacare was a lot like slavery since it was all about control. And as I understand it, he sees Obamacare as being, or at least leading to, socialized medicine. (It is certainly not unusual for doctors to be against socialized medicine, for in countries where medicine is socialized doctors are far less well off financially than in this country. I saw that in Japan quite clearly.)

      To prove his point about control, Carson quoted Lenin, who said, “Socialized medicine is the keystone to the arch of the socialist state.”

      I seriously question the premise of Carson's statement and his use of the slippery slope argument. And I have a hard time understanding the "paranoia" of those who think that the attempt to provide health care for all U.S. citizens is starting down a path that will cause the U.S. to end up like the Soviet Union, China, or Cuba.

    3. And then regarding Carson's intelligence:

      There is no question that Carson is a very intelligent man, and his overcoming a challenging childhood to be able to study at Yale and to finish medical school was outstanding. Still, superior intelligence does not necessarily mean that one's political, religious or ideological views are correct or superior to those who hold other views.

      And while Barack Obama's childhood was perhaps better than Carson's, he certainly was not born with a "silver spoon" in his mouth as, say, George W. Bush. And he, too, must have a high I.Q., or else he could not have ended up at Harvard Law School and been selected to serve as president of the "Harvard Law Review." So I don't know the basis, Tom, of your assertion that "At an intellectual and scholarship level, Carson is off the scale compared to Obama."

    4. It is an odd right-wing rhetorical ploy to use the word "slavery" with regard to dependence on public programs but not with regard to dependence on private corporations and other businesses. I fail to see how dependence on government programs for health care (at my age I'm one now on medicare) "enslaves" a person anymore than depending on a corporation or private health insurer, either one of which can strip you of your coverage almost at whim.

  3. Eric Dollard, another local Thinking Friend, shares these comments:

    "I agree with you, Leroy. Despite his many admirable traits, I could not vote for Dr Carson for president because of his political views and his inexperience."

    "I am still puzzled by the Republican obsession with the ACA ("Obamacare"). It keeps health insurance in the private sector (for the most part) and it is here to stay. I have noticed that, despite its very rough rollout, the ACA is now supported by a majority of Americans (but perhaps not by a majority of likely voters). Although the ACA is flawed, it is not the end of the world. Note that the Republicans have not proposed a viable alternative to the ACA, which may be a good thing since any Republican alternative would probably be much worse.

    "I would much prefer universal Medicare, but that won't happen during the remainder of my life."

  4. Eric, thanks for your comments, with which I wholly agree.

    According to a CNN poll posted online three days ago, only 39% of the people polled said they approved ACA and 57% opposed it. But, and this is what the right-wingers usually fail to mention, 12% of those who oppose it do so because it is not liberal enough. All of them, I assume, would prefer ACA to what we had before, so that would make over 50% in favor--which is still not very strong support. But I think by this time next year the percentage of those who approve will significantly increase.

  5. As an articulate and very gifted physician and surgeon, Dr. Carson would probably make an excellent Surgeon General of the United States. But we really need someone in the Presidency who has strong governing experience (state governor), or CEO of a major corporation - someone who understands budgeting and financials, payroll, the problems with governing, and the background of reaching out to those with differing views in running a viable government. That is not our current president, or Ben Carson. There are good, viable candidates from both parties (and other parties) who have those credentials. We need them now.

  6. I remember once reading an editorial comparing Robert E. Lee with Ulysses S. Grant. Lee graduated at the top of his class, was devoutly religious, an outstanding gentleman, and the head of the army defending slavery. Grant was rather the opposite on all counts. It was the last contrast that put these men in the history books. Ideas matter.

    Dr. Carson, like Lee, appears to be an outstanding person. However, that is largely irrelevant to his qualifications for President, because what matter even more are the political and economic policies that would flow from his election. Those policies are hard to discuss, because they drive us deep into personal assumptions about the world that are surprisingly difficult to articulate. Yet, there are dozens of hot-button issues which line up quite neatly on partisan lines, for complex and deep reasons that are largely invisible. I suspect most if not all of us have had many heartfelt worldview debates with friends, without anyone ever changing a view on anything of import. It is very difficult to get to the deep layer where change might happen.

    Republicans and Democrats live in different universes with different facts and different laws of nature. This is the painful truth we need to confront before we can discuss anything of import. This is why we pretty much cannot discuss global warming or defaulting on the debt, or much of anything else. We have almost no common ground on which to start the discussion. Even when we use the same words, we frequently use them with different meanings.

    I do not say this to celebrate this impasse, but rather to suggest that we need to find a new way to communicate that gets us past the rhetorical warfare that usually passes for political and economic discussion. I say this confessing that I do plenty of rhetorical warfare myself. Perhaps the value of discussing a person such as Dr. Carson is that it gives us a chance to step past the minefields of specific issues and begin to think of a way to defuse them.

    1. Very well put, Craig.

      I recently put a short posting on facebook about needing to teach students critical thinking skills while it is still legal. Only two friends clicked the like tab - my most liberal, and most conservative friends. Each has encountered local government censorship for statements which needed to be articulated.

      I do not foresee any quality change in the near future. As the late Jerry Heaster, formerly of the KC Star, noted, our national polarity and published communication is approaching that of the years just before the Civil War. There is very little leadership to take us in a different direction. Even "Christendom" is polarized, and neither side acknowledges the other.

  7. Craig, I much appreciate you posting your (as usual) thoughtful comments. What you wrote is quite important, I think.

    Tom wrote above, "you and I just have different ideologies." To the extent that is true with any two people trying to have a conversation, real dialogue is difficult. That is why I think it so important for us always to try to understand the other person's viewpoint or worldview as well as to explain our own. Both are hard to do. (And understanding and agreement are completely different.)

    Perhaps we need more discussion about worldviews (or ideologies, although I don't particularly like that word). As you suggest, it doesn't do much good to talk about "hot button" issues as long as there is not some understanding of the underlying worldviews of those participating in the conversation.

  8. Dr. Carson has just published a new book, "One Nation."

    His interview with "Christian Post" about it and other matters can be found here: