The Real Ben Carson Scandal

The GOP presidential candidate should be facing more questions about his (thin) campaign platform than his bio.

Republican candidate Ben Carson is facing the scrutiny that comes with the territory of being a presidential frontrunner. And as much as he may protest, there's nothing unusual or unprecedented about the media vetting a presidential candidate.

To Carson's credit, however, what has gotten a little lost in the hoopla over whether he misrepresented certain details of his biography -- for instance, claims that he was offered a place at West Point and that he stabbed someone in his youth -- is what he would actually do as president. Even Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who disagrees with Carson on just about everything, noted as much over the weekend.

The problem with moving on and focusing on his policy platform, which Carson urged on Sunday, is that he barely has one. The famed neurosurgeon rocketed to the top of the polls based on his remarkable personal story, soft-spoken manner and record as a conservative evangelical with the guts to speak out against political correctness.

Carson's campaign, however, has no single defining issue. He has no catchy "9-9-9" tax proposal, as did Herman Cain in 2012. He's not the candidate warning voters about "death panels," as did Sarah Palin in 2009.

Instead, Carson is banking on the appeal of his personal narrative. After all, why risk your position in the race by releasing actual proposals packed with pesky details that may give your opponents an opening?

One need only browse Carson's slick website for evidence of the thinner-than-usual campaign platform. For example, Carson's "Issues" page on health care contains just three paragraphs, 99 words to be exact:

We didn’t need the monstrosity of the $1.2 trillion Affordable Care Act. Even after it is fully implemented for 10 years, 23 million people still won’t have any health insurance.

We need to re-establish a strong and direct relationship between patients and their physicians. For instance, I strongly support Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) which empower families to make their own decisions about their medical treatment. HSAs will also drive down health care costs while protecting patient choice and freedom.

More freedom and less government in our health care system will mean lower costs, more access, and continued innovation.

In comparison, a similar section on former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's (R) campaign website contains a more detailed explanation about his proposals to replace the Affordable Care Act that comes in at nearly 400 words.

Obviously, word count alone isn't indicative of the breadth of a particular proposal. But it does speak to how relatively little time Carson has spent elucidating his designs on the White House in detail -- especially in an area as critical and expansive as health care.

On Medicare, a political land mine, Carson has been similarly ambivalent. He supports instituting health savings accounts in favor of the traditional entitlement program, but he has not sufficiently explained whether such accounts would provide the same level of coverage. The presidential hopeful defended himself in an interview last month, explaining that he "would never get rid of the programs,” but rather “provide people with an alternative and I think they will see the alternative we’re going to outline is so much better than anything else.”

GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson's thin campaign platform should be getting more attention than his bio.
GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson's thin campaign platform should be getting more attention than his bio.

Carson's campaign took a step forward on one issue Monday when it finally released more details about his tax plan. The candidate previously advocated for a tithing-based flat tax of 10 percent, modeled on the Biblical practice of giving one-tenth of income to the Church. In an interview on Fox, Carson said his plan actually calls for a 15 percent tax rate. Additionally, it would end all tax deductions and loopholes, and lower the tax on capital gains from 20 percent to 15 percent.

The proposal generally resembles that of many of his rivals, which analysts have noted disproportionally benefit the wealthy and risk blowing a hole through the federal government's budget.

But surely such a plan is worthy of the same level of vetting scrutiny as his biography, because as HuffPost reporter Jonathan Cohn wrote on Friday, "what Carson would do to the tax code or Medicare probably has a much bigger effect on people's lives than whether he's prone to exaggerating details of things he did four decades ago."

Correction: Palin first spoke out against "death panels" in 2009, during the debate over the Affordable Care Act.

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