Barry Saunders

Do as Ben Carson says – not as he did

Before being called away in April for a week of top-secret research – my mission: to see how many pina coladas a man could drink daily before forgetting his name – I had an interview scheduled with presidential contender-now-candidate Ben Carson.

On the appointed day, there sat I by the phone, as giddy as a zit-faced schoolboy waiting to see if he’d have a date for the prom.

The call from Carson never came, leaving me heart-broken and wondering “Was it something I said, Ben?”

You see, last year while interviewing Carson, I asked him about the hypocrisy inherent in his loudly and oft-stated views on government assistance for poor people: dude’s against it, even though his family and he benefited from public housing, food stamps and other programs.

To his minimal credit, Carson acknowledges that had it not been for a government program that checked his eyes, discovered his vision problem and provided him with free glasses, the world of education might have never opened up for him and he’d have never become a surgeon.

Several other Republican presidential contenders and Carson were in Raleigh last weekend eating chicken, kissing babies and making speeches. He didn’t call then, either.

True believer

It’s unlikely Carson was afraid of me. More likely, the reason he has been unheard from is that his campaign is in flux. Besides, when we talked earlier, one thing was clear: Carson is a true believer in and defender of the maxim “Ask not what your country can do for you: but boy, look at what it’s done for me.”

He predictably denied being a hypocrite, despite claiming that the same government assistance that lifted his family out of poverty kills initiative and breeds dependency in the poor.

Guess what?

It does, at least among some people. Not every person receiving government assistance is, as conservatives who’ve demonized the poor claim, an able-bodied wastrel content to kick back drawing a check, sucking down a 40 and gnawing on the succulent bones of contentment – pickled pig’s feet, yum – while watching “Judge Judy” on a 50-inch LCD television and gabbing on his free Obama phone.

Nor, of course, is every welfare recipient a hard-working, temporarily down-on-his-luck striver champing at the bit to rejoin the workforce. Some people are lazy and, if given a choice between working and receiving a check for no work, would choose the latter.

There was a huge tree on a main street in Rockingham in the 1960s and early ’70s. On the first of the month – the day the government checks arrived – the mailman didn’t have to walk as far as usual: some people would meet him, grab their welfare checks and say “farewell.” Anyone driving by could see those people – 10 to 15, at most – waiting for a welfare check and use that to demean the community of thousands.

Carson, if he’d ever gone through Rockingham, would’ve been one of those demeaners. Here, then, with apologies to Michael Jackson and his love song about a rat, is my ode to one. Maestro, hit it:

Ben, the two of us need talk no more.

We both know what you were calling for.

A friend to help you make your case

Now that you’re in the race

You want to talk to me

you’re seeking the pres’dency ...

Ben, some people would call you a fool.

They wonder how you ever got through school.

You wouldn’t have, not without those gubment glasses

But now the poor, you kick in their ...

And you, my Ben, I see

have not an ounce of empathy.

Ben, some people think that you’re a clown

the way you’re always putting poor people down.

You once were poor yourself

with powdered milk on your shelf.

But with your newfound expertise

You demean eaters of welfare cheese.

But we all may eat some again

with a president like Ben.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

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