Saunders: New conservative star Dr. Ben Carson to speak in Raleigh this week

bsaunders@newsobserver.comJune 24, 2013 


Dr. Ben Carson poses for portrait at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland, February 15, 2013.


Years ago, a man who worked as a soccer referee called to tell me that Raleigh’s Upper Room Christian Academy was one of the schools whose games he officiated.

At the time, the Upper Room Church of God In Christ’s polarizing pastor, Patrick Wooden, was embroiled in one controversy or another and was much in the news. That’s not what the soccer official wanted to talk about, though.

Never, the ref gushed, had he encountered children as well-behaved and mannerly as those from Upper Room. I don’t remember his exact quote, but the words “character” and “values” still stand out.

Dr. Benjamin Carson, the much-sought-after, world famous neurosurgeon who is retiring this week from medicine for a possible life in politics, said the same thing when asked why he was kicking off his post-medicine career as the featured speaker at a scholarship fundraiser for the church’s school Thursday.

“For one thing, they asked me,” Carson responded. “For another thing, it’s a place that is advocating values in a nation where we’re trying to get rid of values.”

I was picking my jaw up off the floor and forgot to ask who was trying to get rid of values.

Since so many on the right who’ve recently adopted Dr. Carson as their hero speak only about what is wrong with America, I asked the famed surgeon what’s good – you know, what about America excites him.

“I’m excited about the potential that still exists,” he said. “I was in India two weeks ago, looking at the squalor there and recognizing how difficult it would be for somebody to rise. They have a caste system. In this country, however, you can come from nowhere and you can go to the top if you’re willing to work hard and take responsibility for yourself.

“That’s probably the crowning jewel of America,” he said.

Anyone familiar with Dr. Carson’s life story knows that he worked hard, overcoming the perception of teachers, fellow students, even of himself, that he was incapable of learning and was destined for failure. His nickname in school, he has written, was “Dummy.”

Through hard work he persevered, and in 1987 he became the first surgeon to successfully separate twins joined at the back of the head. He has since become a world famous M.D., but he is about to become an even more famous A.B.O. – Anti-Barack Obama-ite.

That’s primarily because, in telling his real-life Horatio Alger story, Carson leaves out the part government played in his success. Not only that, but it often appears that he is demonizing government as well as people who find themselves in the same position his family once was.

He extols his mother for working two and three jobs and knocking on farmers’ doors and offering to pick four bushels of corn or beans if he’d give her and her boys one bushel. And yes, she made his brother and him turn off the TV and write book reports and then read them to her.

Without the government program that provided free eyeglasses to his almost-blind self, though, Carson wouldn’t have been able to see how to read and research those reports.

Food stamps

In his fascinating autobiography, “Gifted Hands,” he wrote how his grades improved tremendously after he received the welfare specs. He also wrote “By the time I reached ninth grade, mother had made such strides that she received nothing but food stamps. She couldn’t have provided for us and kept up the house without that subsidy. … (W)e received food stamps and couldn’t have made it without them.”

But now he decries “the welfare state”?

Oy. That’s like the comment by government-hating Hollywood actor – see, they’re not all leftwing commies – Craig T. Nelson, who on a Fox News program praised rugged self-sufficiency by declaiming “I’ve been on welfare and food stamps. Did anybody help me out? No.”

He never said anything that funny on “Coach.”

I asked Carson how he responds to the charge that his family and he benefited from the same social programs that he now blames for killing initiative in others.

“First of all, I’d say that we’re all products of our time,” he said, “but we have to look at what effect these programs have. Particularly when you look in the African-American community, and you see the proliferation of social programs and handouts and government support, what good has it done?”

Providing a “safety net is not the responsibility of government,” he continued. “If you look around the world, historically all governments that have tried to be safety nets have failed, have bankrupted themselves. The safety net comes from the community. … We need to be thinking of ways to get people out of desperate situations, not ways to keep them in.”

Carson also urged the black community to “learn to turn dollars over. After you turn them over a few times in your own community, then let them go out. That’s how you build wealth. As that wealth is building, you have to remember to reach back and help the next person up. If the African-American community could learn that lesson, instead of always just taking their money and sending it out, they wouldn’t have to depend upon anybody else.”

Walking the walk

Carson, to his credit, walks the walk when it comes to his personal sense of altruism, and such sage advice is what he will be delivering at the Raleigh Convention Center on Salisbury Street. The program is from 6:30 p.m. to 9, but you can meet and have your picture taken with Carson – and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest – from 5 p.m. to 6:30. For more information, you can go to

Carson was coy when asked whether politics is in his future, but said, “Well, certainly, having a national voice is in my future, and helping people recognize that, in order to remain free, you have to be active and willing to stand up for what you believe in. You can’t be passive.

“The things that I’m saying now, I’ve been saying for many, many years. I just have much more of a platform now. Speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast, you reach millions of people. … When you get a gigantic audience like that, it crystallizes things.”

Did it ever. That National Prayer Breakfast was like his coming-out party. Those of us who admire accomplishment were already fans, but Dr. Carson became the pin-up boy for conservatives and tea partiers when they interpreted his comments about government – with President Obama sitting mere feet away – as a slap at the president and his policies.

At the end of the interview, I asked, “Dr. Carson, would you be ‘Dr. Carson’ without the government assistance your family and you received?”

“I think,” he said, pausing to carefully choose his words, which he delivered in that disarmingly soft-spoken way of his, “that the main assistance I received was direction and wisdom from God.”

He didn’t answer the question, but perhaps we’ll get an answer Thursday night. or 919-836-2811

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