According to the polls, Dr. Ben Carson is one of the leading candidates for the Republican nomination for President.
His primary qualifications for that position appear to be his outsider status (he has never run for nor held a political office); his calm demeanor and soothing voice; and, his propensity for making outlandish and/or uninformed statements.
These statements have been far-ranging but tend to be concentrated around guns and other matters that have appeal to the hard-core Republican faithful.
The question is does Ben Carson mean what he says and if he does what does it mean and say about him? Let's do a work-up and examination and see what can be determined beginning with the good Doctor's prescriptions on guns.
Dr. Carson does not appear to be afraid of anything or anyone. That's true because he has guns and God on his side.
And, for Dr. Carson, while God may rule in the great beyond, guns rule here on earth. Here are some of the things that he has said about that supremacy.
- On his Facebook page in 2014, Dr. Carson proclaimed, "The baton of freedom is in our hands. We must make absolutely sure that we will never let the right to keep & bear arms be removed from those who follow us in this nation. Let me make it absolutely clear that I am extremely pro-Second Amendment. I will never let anyone tamper with that right."
- In an interview with Don Lemon of CNN, Dr. Carson opined, "Well, it makes me question, you know, what's happening to us as a people. You know, people are the problem, not so much guns. You know, people use knives, people use bats. People use hammers to bludgeon people to death. And I don't hear anybody taking about taking those things away."
- In his new book, A More Perfect Union, Carson redefines history asserting that if the Jews had been armed they might have been able to stop Hitler. Specifically, he writes, "through a combination of removing guns and disseminating propaganda, the Nazis were able to carry out their evil intentions with relatively little resistance."
- When asked on CNN about his commentary regarding Hitler's Germany and whether gun control laws led to the slaughter of 6 million Jews, Carson responded: "I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed. I'm telling you there is a reason these dictatorial people take guns first."
- Almost immediately after the tragic shoots at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, Dr. Carson offered an education lesson stating that he 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.'" Later, he told CBS, "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."
- When he got pushback on his community college comments, Dr. Carson defended his position observing in a post, "I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away."
- Dr. Carson does not restrict his advice to the college level. He extends it down the educational continuum past the primary level right into kindergarten recommending that teachers there add gun use to their pedagogical tool kit. He told USA Today, "If I had a little kid in kindergarten somewhere I would feel much more comfortable if I knew on that campus there was a police officer or somebody who was trained with a weapon...If the teacher was trained in the use of that weapon and had access to it, I would be much more comfortable if they had one than if they didn't."
That's a sampling of Dr. Carson's pronouncements on guns. They are not "politically correct" using the usual definition of that phrase. If, on the other hand, being politically correct is saying things that appeal to your desired voting bloc, Dr. Carson's pronouncements are totally politically correct.
With that perspective in mind, here is a smorgasbord of comments that Dr. Carson has made that may be constituency focused:
- "I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I would absolutely not agree with that." (Meet the Press interview)
- "You know Obamacare is really I think the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery." (Values Voter Summit)
- "I think some people have that (welfare) as a way of life...."perhaps some of the things that are going on right now which could be easily remedied are not being remedied in order to keep the economy depressed because there would be no appetite for many of the social programs if people were doing well." (Fox Interview)
- "Being gay is a choice...because a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight-- and when they come out, they're gay." (Chris Cuomo interview)
- "I find the Big Bang Theory fascinating....I mean you want to talk about fairy tales that is amazing." (2012 speech)
- "I personally believe that this theory that Darwin came up with was something that was encouraged by the adversary (Satan)." (Speech at "Celebration of Creation").
- "If you're gonna' have rules for war, you should just have a rule that says no war," he said. "Other than that, we have to win." (Fox News Interview)
Here's a possible take on this. Dr. Carson is the Sarah Palin of this presidential cycle (although we are not certain whether he can see Alaska from his front porch) making statements intentionally designed to evoke Pavlovian responses from his intended audience. In so doing, he panders and reduces his political commentary to the lowest common denominator.
While Carson's words and approach would probably not draw a positive response from many in the mainstream and the media in general, it stokes up his base which appears to be the guns, God and guts (i.e., true-blue, red-blooded Americans) crowd. Put simply, he is engaging in what has become politicking as usual for some candidates in this era when politics and elected officials are held in low regard at best and contempt at worst.
Let's assume that Carson is not really serious in much of what he says but is being intentionally provocative and evocative to generate excitement and allegiance from his targeted segments. That's the positive interpretation.
If on the other hand, Dr. Carson is serious in his words, he is frightening. He is expressing a level of ignorance and arrogance and, most importantly, a subtle bigotry that flies in the face of informed civic discussion and dialogue.
Bigots come in all sizes, shapes and colors. They can be doctors, lawyers, and maybe even Indian chiefs. Bigotry is not a crime but it is not an answer to the problems of a great nation.
The answer to bigotry is democracy. This year's presidential primaries and elections will determine which prevails. (In the interests of full and open disclosure, Frank Islam is on the national finance committee for Hillary Clinton.)