Baltimoreans say the darnedest things!


Ben Carson hits the front pages: Ben Carson is on the front page of this morning’s New York Times. In our view, some basic principles can be learned from his recent political rise.

Why is Carson on the front page? As he starts, Trip Gabriel includes parts of the Standard Story:
GABRIEL (3/21/13): Dr. Benjamin Carson was a political unknown just weeks ago.

Then with a single speech delivered as President Obama looked stonily on, he was lofted into the conservative firmament as its newest star: a renowned neurosurgeon who is black and has the credibility to attack the president on health care.

In his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast last month, Dr. Carson criticized the health care overhaul and higher taxes on the rich, while warning that “the P.C. police are out in force at all times.”

Overnight, he was embraced by conservatives including those at The Wall Street Journal editorial page, which proclaimed, “Ben Carson for President”—a suggestion Dr. Carson helped feed at a high-profile gathering last weekend, the Conservative Political Action Conference. He was interrupted by sustained cheers when he coyly said, “Let’s just say if you magically put me in the White House...”
Carson wasn’t exactly “a political unknown” just a few weeks ago. But as it happens, we watched his prayer breakfast speech on YouTube at the start of this week. (Click here; prepare for Gethsemane.) Did Obama “look stonily on” as the good doctor spoke—and spoke, and spoke and spoke? Or was he simply cursing the fates, marveling at the overpowering tedium of Carson’s endless address?

For ourselves, we couldn’t tell. But Carson’s speech was so dumb, so dull, so powerfully punishing that it would have made an escaped convict beg for the mercy of being returned to his cell.

Here we reach one of the marvels of the age: When we’re confronted with manifest piddle, we the people can’t tell! For decades, we had gatekeepers—let’s call them Walter and David—to keep us away from such speeches.

Now, every crackpot can make a speech, or even host a talk radio show. And when they do, it turns out that we the people lack all powers of discernment.

They're kooky, but we can't tell!

We assume that Carson actually is one of the world’s leading surgeons. It’s amazing to think that a person can be so good at one thing and so clueless about everything else. That said, the power of ego may be involved here. We were struck by Gabriel’s description of Carson’s voice mail:
GABRIEL: Dr. Carson has been all but overwhelmed since his speech at the Feb. 7 prayer breakfast, which exploded on YouTube and was fanned by his follow-up appearances on Fox News.

“If you are calling with remarks regarding that speech, please do not leave a message on this voice mail,” his office recording instructs callers, referring them to a fax line and e-mail address. The recording, nearly seven minutes long, also includes instructions for speaking requests, media interviews, school visits and autographs, as well as how to buy Dr. Carson’s books “and other merchandise.”

Sales of “America the Beautiful,” his latest book, soared to 46,000 in the six weeks since his prayer breakfast speech, from fewer than 1,000 sold this year before to the speech, according to Nielsen BookScan.

“People all over the nation are starved for honesty and common sense,” Dr. Carson said in his office. He had seven pens jammed in the pocket of his physician coat, which he wore over blue scrubs and scuffed white sneakers. He spoke very softly, but not because he is shy or self-deprecating. He told the CPAC audience that some of his most poignant feedback came “from older Americans who said they had given up and they were waiting to die and now they felt a sense of revival once again.”
We believe the part about the plugs for Carson’s book and “other merchandise;” Carson sprinkled several such plugs into his prayer breakfast marathon. Meanwhile, what can you say about a person who thinks he’s so sharp that he is now giving older Americans their only reason to live?

Believes that, then says it in public?

What made Carson’s prayer breakfast speech so dumbfoundingly tedious? Among other factors, it was his attempt at political thought. Consider this example:
GABRIEL: He draws on the Bible’s description of tithing to argue in favor of a flat tax, a perennial favorite of conservatives. “You make $10 billion, you put in a billion; you make $10, you put in 1,” Dr. Carson explained at the prayer breakfast. “Now some people say that’s not fair because it doesn’t hurt the guy who made 10 billion as much as the guy who makes 10. Where does it say you’ve got to hurt the guy?”
In his address, Carson did say that he supports a “flat tax” because of Biblical admonitions concerning tithing. More specifically, he said that “the fairest individual in the universe, God” gave us this basic principle.

“So there must be something inherently fair about proportionality,” he said.

Regarding the idea that everyone has to put something into the pot: Does Carson know that working people already submit many dollars through their payroll taxes? If he knew, he didn’t betray his knowledge. Everybody clapped.

Carson’s other thoughts this day seemed to be drawn from the shallowest waters of the modern talk radio wading pool. He thinks “political correctness is horrible.” (We’ve got to stop being afraid to say “Merry Christmas” to Jews.) To prove that 16 trillion really is a big number, he told the crowd how long it would take to count to that number by ones.

He said he thinks the national debt is too large. He said he thinks the tax code is too complex. He’s willing to say that academics are more important than athletics. He seems to think he revolutionized urban education by putting “reading rooms” in some low-income schools.

“Many teachers have told us that when we put a Carson Scholar in their classroom, the GPA of the whole class goes up the next year,” Carson admitted. It’s hard to believe that any sane person could swallow, then repeat, such ideas.

This was one of the most punishing speeches we have ever observed. But many people can watch this drivel and think it’s utterly brilliant. It’s fairly clear that Carson is one such person. But then, we liberals are getting pretty good at gulping our tribe’s twaddle too.

The gatekeepers are long gone—and we the people have little discernment! Beyond that, Carson’s message on his voice mail is seven minutes long.

Something we for got to include: In his prayer breakfast speech, Carson manged to get in a crack about “death panels.” It wasn't clear what he meant, or whether he thinks such panels exist as part of Obamacare.

Ben Carson gives us a reason to live. He's also world-class clueless.


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  2. I was astonished at how stupid the article was and how stupid Carson seemed no matter how decent a doctor.


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  5. The first online version of this article included this quote from Carson:

    "Dr. Carson said that he is in the new top federal bracket of 39.6 percent for family income above $450,000, and with Maryland state taxes added in, “I pay a lot more than half of what I make,” he said."

    I wrote to both the reporter and the Public Editor to point out that given Maryland's 5.75% top marginal rate for couples making over $300,000 and Baltimore's 3.2% income tax, there was pretty much zero likelihood that Carson's statement about his family's tax burden was true. I suggested that it would be good journalistic practice to point this out, given that Dr. Carson's veracity and grasp of tax policy might be relevant to an article portraying him as a potential candidate for the presidency.

    The public editor's response was to strike the last half of the sentence from subsequent editions (and thank me for my help!):

    "Dr. Carson said that he is in the new top federal bracket of 39.6 percent for family income above $450,000."

    Journalistic best practice for dealing with egregious falsehoods spoken in public is to ignore them.....

    1. That's unbelievable. Not only do those rates not add up to "a lot more than" 50%, but a) they are MARGINAL rates, and b) they are the merely the rates that get applied to TAXABLE INCOME, after deductions and before credits -- they in no way indicate what his actual, EFFECTIVE tax rate was (i.e., the actual dollar amount he ended up paying in taxes divided by his total income).

  6. My son is in med school. He often feels overwhelmed by how smart his doctor-teachers and his fellow students are. He also often feels distraught over how idiotic and clueless his doctor-teachers and his fellow students are.

    Rand Paul is an ophthamologist. Usually a specialization highly respected by other doctors (though there are big red flags in his case). Carson is a surgeon. Surgeons: ever seen the movie Malice?

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