With the steady increase in the Republican support for Ben Carson, especially in Iowa, it is time to take a closer look at what Ben Carson has said that has caused his popularity to rise with Republicans.
In Iowa Carson leads Donald Trump by 12 to 14 points in the polls of October 26th. More surprisingly, in the CBS/NYT poll of October 27th, Carson has also taken a four point lead over Trump, but other more recent polls now show Trump back in the lead amongst Republicans nationwide.
So what is Ben Carson’s appeal? Ben Carson has absolutely zero experience in government at the local, state and federal level. He cites his early childhood experience of being poor and being raised by a single mom who drove him to succeed academically. He cites his anger issues as a teenager and how he found religion to overcome that anger. From his book, “As a teenager, I would go after people with rocks, and bricks, and baseball bats, and hammers. And, of course, many people know the story when I was 14 and I tried to stab someone."
After the CNBC debate, we did not learn any more about Carson’s proposals than what he has already mentioned in talk shows. However, he came across as the calm person on a stage where aggressive anger (as opposed to passive anger) was often on display. So he has indeed apparently learned to control his anger, at least publically. However, anger is an inherited emotion that we all possess to varying degrees. It cannot just be easily turned off, but it can be suppressed.
Carson is now a devout Seventh Day Adventist, and his adherence to those beliefs has helped to not only control his anger but also mold his worldview on the role that government should or should not play in people’s lives. Those worldviews are often to the right of the Republican establishment, but Christian Evangelicals, however, can certainly relate to them. It is the Christian Evangelicals who are his new base of support.
As Carson has expounded more on what he would do as President, Democrats and some Republicans have raised concerns about how disconnected he seems with reality. As a calmer and less shrill like version of Sarah Palin, Carson is not shy about sharing his views that not only reveal his ignorance of a subject, but are often politically incorrect. His invoking of the Hitler and Nazi comparison when talking of our government, and President Obama specifically, have caught the scrutiny of the media; perhaps he is just borrowing from the Trump success of championing political incorrectness. Or are his comparisons to Hitler an alternative way for Carson to vent his anger in a dispassionate way? It is not easy to suppress anger in the long term, and it can manifest itself in other ways. For example, in an interview published in GQ on March 23rd, Carson’s inner rage against President Obama is revealing in this exchange with the interviewer, Armstrong Williams, a conservative media impresario who officially serves as Carson’s business manager:
"He looks good, Williams said of Obama. He looks clean. Shirt’s white. The tie. He looks elegant."
"Like most psychopaths," Carson grumbled. "That’s why they’re successful. That’s the way they look. They all look great."
"He faces the same challenges you will face," Williams said. "He’s gotta convince people to believe him. That’s all he’s doing: selling his narrative."
"But he knows he’s telling a lie!" Carson vented. "He’s trying to sell what he thinks is not true! He’s sitting there saying, ’These Americans are so stupid I can tell them anything.’ "
Is Ben Carson an angry black man that resents the success of Barack Obama? Why does he exhibit such vitriol against a person of his own race? Are we seeing the reinvention of the 14 year old Carson that wanted to stab and kill someone? I am not a psychologist, but Carson’s expressed feelings against President Obama are disturbing for a candidate for the President of the United States. The new controlled Carson does not overtly express his anger by waving his arms and shouting in an aggressive manner. Rather he comes across as sincere and genuine to his supporters. His ultra-calm demeanor is cited by many of his supporters as a positive. Donald Trump, on the other hand, says Carson is so lacking in energy that he makes Jeb Bush look like the energizer bunny. Nevertheless, in the next several months we should pay careful attention to Carson’s suppressed “anger” and how it is likely to surface again and again in his political incorrect statements.
Putting the anger issues aside, should Democrats worry about his rising popularity? It is fair to say that unless Republicans can take both the House and a filibuster proof majority in the Senate, the chances of his “crazy ideas” making their way into legislation are pretty low. However, like President Obama, he can take executives actions on a whole host of issues. Furthermore, as Commander-in-Chief, his foreign policy and military options are extensive, and I shudder to think of how anger might enter into those decisions. Most importantly though, as President he would get to appoint perhaps two new justices to the Supreme Court, both of whom would likely be clones of his crazy worldviews, if one can even find such a unique person.
The specific topics below of primary interest to Democrats summarize what a Ben Carson presidency would look like if he had the full support of a compliant Republican Congress.
Carson’s Budget and Tax Policy is implausible.
Ben Carson advocates for a 10 percent flat tax on income for everyone with no exceptions for the poor. It is based on the Biblical tithe (10 percent) in which the Israelites were to give 10 percent of the crops they grew and the livestock they raised to the tabernacle/temple [2 Chronicles, 31:5]. According to an analysis by Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ), “Ben Carson’s 10 percent flat tax is utterly implausible”.
Carson has been vague on his 10 percent flat tax outside of the example he used in the second [CNN]Republican debate. In the CNBC debate, he was equally evasive. Depending on what is included or not included, his tax plan according to CTJ would only raise revenues of about $1.1 trillion. That sounds like a lot of money, but it falls woefully short of current taxation and spending levels. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) projects tax revenue in 2016 of $3.5 trillion and spending at $4 trillion.
In addition, Ben Carson has also advocated for a Constitutional amendment that would require Congress to balance the federal budget every year. Such an amendment would stand little chance of passage in state legislatures, but if it somehow came into law, it would mean that the federal government would not be able to borrow money to make up the shortfall. Spending would be limited to what the government could collect in taxes…i.e. $1.1 trillion. According to CTJ, revenues would be slashed by $2.4 trillion and the federal government would not be allowed to borrow to make up the difference. Federal government spending would have to be drastically cut by 72 percent. Those kind of cuts can only be achieved by eliminating Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and the entire US military.
Furthermore, as a part of his flat tax plan, Carson told a Tea Party convention in South Carolina that he would eliminate the IRS as being an unnecessary middleman. Other Republicans have also proposed a flat tax so he is not entirely out of step on this issue. We should understand, however, that any flat tax draws a higher percentage of income from the poor than what is extracted from our current progressive income tax structure. The poor would pay higher taxes under Carson’s proposal as it stands.
Under criticism from economists, Ben Carson has subsequently backed off his 10 percent “tithe” saying his tax rate could actually be as high as 15 percent. He mentioned that in the CNBC debate but was challenged to explain by the moderator. He failed. By my simple arithmetic (and presumably the moderator’s) the 15 percent would only increase revenue to about $1.7 trillion, way short of the revenue goals. Carson needs to consult real economists. He will not find the answer he needs in the Bible.
Would Carson stop interest earnings on the Social Security Trust Fund?
Ben Carson is supportive of pensions for the elderly and proposes increasing the retirement age gradually. On the other hand, he is opposed to the government “borrowing” the surplus funds in the Social Security Trust Fund. It is a common misconception by many Americans and conspiracy theorists that the Trust Fund has been “robbed” by the government. Chris Christie claimed in the CNBC debate that the government “stole” the Fund’s money.
As any candidate for president should know, the surplus money in the trust funds (both Social Security and Medicare) are indeed borrowed (or a better word is invested) by the government who issues interest bearing special bonds and treasury notes to those funds. While some conspiracy theorists choose to call them “IOUs” there is absolutely no chance that the government would default on paying them. Those bonds and notes are backed by the full faith and credit of the American government, the same as our currency.
As per the 2015 Social Security Trustees report, “Total social security expenditures in 2014 were $859 billion. Total income was $884 billion, which consisted of $786 billion in non-interest income and $98 billion in interest earnings. Asset reserves held in special issue U.S. Treasury securities grew from $2,764 billion at the beginning of the year to $2,789 billion at the end of the year.”
If Carson, and presumably some of his Republican colleagues, had their way, government investing of those funds would not be allowed, and the $98 billion in 2014 interest earned by that fund lending to the government would instead be zero, quickly accelerating the time at which the Trust Fund would be exhausted. Such a crazy idea is not unlike stuffing the surplus funds under a mattress where they would gain no interest. The Carson idea would likely be exposed as totally stupid before he would be allowed to implement it, but fear mongering about the Social Security Trust Fund makes for good political propaganda on the campaign trail. It is disconcerting, however, that any candidate for president would demonstrate such total ignorance on the subject unless he/she has spent too much time reading uninformed populist conspiracy theory websites and less time educating himself by reading actual government reports by experts. Or perhaps it is just deliberate deception against the American people designed to stoke their anger. Republicans, especially those at Fox News, are very good at that.
Ben Carson would Abolish Medicare and Medicaid
Ben Carson for the past few years had stated that he would abolish both Medicare and Medicaid and replace them with “cradle-to-grave health savings accounts” funded by $2,000 per year government contributions. According to Politifact, “Carson’s overarching plan is to divvy up what we spend on Medicare and Medicaid — $585.7 billion and $449.4 billion, respectively in 2013 — into personal health savings accounts, giving individuals control over their own health care and cutting out the middle man.” Confronted with criticism by economists and some of his fellow Republicans of how it could (or couldn’t) work, Carson unveiled in the Fox News and NBC Sunday talk shows, what appears as some kind of knee jerk reaction to repackage his savings account health plan with caveats that only seem to add to the confusion. In an about face, Carson now says he doesn’t want to do away with Medicare [that would be political suicide], but “he hopes people will find the accounts so attractive that they’ll voluntarily leave the program.” Yeah right. He repeated that claim in the CNBC debate.
As the New York Times reported on October 27th, “It’s very hard to determine who would benefit from the Carson plan or how much it would cost the federal government. It seems possible that it could actually cost more than the current system.” His responses to questions in the Sunday talk shows opened up even more questions than Carson had answers for. To stave off additional queries, he said he would be unveiling the details of his new plan in a few weeks.
In any case, Medicare supports some 49 million senior citizens, and politically savvy Republicans know enough not to mess with Medicare, except to make tweaks to the system. Paul Ryan’s alternative voucher plan was widely condemned in 2012 for the same reason. Yet Ben Carson’s proposal to eliminate both Medicare, Medicaid as well as the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) for health savings accounts demonstrates how shallow and ill thought out his proposals are when subjected to scrutiny. If he is counting on the ignorance of the American public to score points now, then Democrats must be quietly hoping he continues down this path that will help to ultimately kill his candidacy once the facts are known.
Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare)
Like Medicare and Medicaid, Ben Carson’s health savings account plan would also do away with the Affordable Care Act, which Carson calls “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery” a point that resonates with his evangelical base.
What may be less known to his base is that the current system of employers offering health insurance to their workers would come under pressure as Carson is looking at “getting rid of all tax deductions and loopholes” that are the economic incentive driving those employer-based plans. Some 151 million Americans are currently covered under employer-based systems, and the tax benefit to employees is approximately $2,200 per person according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Details are still sketchy, probably because Carson himself hasn’t thought though the implications. Meanwhile, we’ll have to wait a few more weeks.
The above issues are just part of the Ben Carson agenda. In many of the other issues from Planned Parenthood to the LGBT community to foreign policy he toes the Republican line, and in others he is out of step somewhere in far right field where no sane Republican will go. One only needs to Google “Ben Carson gaffes” to find a whole list of things that Carson has said that one might find incredulous or stupid, but nevertheless are given a pass or are embraced by his supporters, many of whom share his apparent hatred of President Obama. Is that his main appeal…a black man selling hate against a fellow black man? I have a hard time understanding what or who drives Dr. Ben Carson…his disturbing persona and his worldviews on a whole host of political issues. To me he is probably the least qualified of the Republican candidates to become president. We should be concerned.
The Iowa Caucus is February 1, 2016. Worry?