FEATURE INTERVIEW - March 2016
Dr. Ben Carson
FastForward Speaks with Dr. Ben Carson
By Matt Geffen, Student Editor
Dr. Ben Carson speaks with FastForward about his place in politics, his endorsement of Donald Trump, his upcoming book, and the future of America.
Just five months ago, Dr. Benjamin Carson was a leading Republican contender in the 2016 presidential election, even challenging Donald Trump’s position at the top of the polls. By January Carson had become a familiar and amiable presence on the debate stage, though his charisma was often overshadowed by blustering exchanges between his peers as well as by Carson’s own unconventional responses and opinions. As the race progressed and GOP candidates including Chris Christie and Jeb Bush suspended their campaigns, Carson soldiered on, a calm and collected manner setting him apart from boisterous opponents like Trump and Ted Cruz. But after months of declining numbers and disappointing Super Tuesday results, Carson finally suspended his campaign on March 2, saying he saw “no political path forward.” Just over a week later, Carson caught the nation off guard with his endorsement of party frontrunner and fellow political outsider Donald Trump. Given the differences between the two, it was an unexpected development to say the least. Carson’s optimism and honest, composed approach to politics contrasts sharply with Trump’s, who has been criticized for racist and misogynist comments and has a reputation for braggadocio and personal attacks on his rivals.
FastForward reached out to Carson after his departure from the political arena in hopes of discussing his journey from pediatric neurosurgeon to GOP candidate, what’s next for him and where he believes the nation is headed.
Early one Monday morning I glance at my phone to check the time, hoping I gave Ben Carson the right number to call. Sure enough, a few seconds later my phone buzzes and a Maryland phone number with a 410 area code pops up onscreen. Carson introduces himself, but I assure him I know who he is.
We start at the beginning of Carson’s political journey. When I ask him when he decided he wanted to go into politics, he matter-of-factly replies, “I don’t know if I ever wanted to go into it.” Carson attributes his entry into the political sphere to outside pressure, saying that petitions urging him to run for president poured in to the point where he “could barely get into the office.” As Carson puts it, “At that point, I started saying, ‘I keep running away from this, but maybe I should listen.’” After forming an exploratory committee and making the decision to run in early 2015, the fundraising began. Carson for America and outside groups in support of Carson raised $77 million over the course of his campaign.
People who have been in politics for a little while have a bit of an advantage, because they kind of know who the trustworthy people are and who the other ones are.
I would be surprised if a third party doesn’t emerge sometime in the next couple of years. And it could potentially be a very strong movement.
When I ask Carson to elaborate on the issue of freedom of the press, he says “Recognize that the press is the only business that is protected by the Constitution, and the reason for that is because they are supposed to be on the side of the people and they are supposed to be honest, they are not supposed to be slanted to one side or the other, because as soon as that happens, it distorts the system as it was designed. And that’s why I feel that there should be standards for journalists, just like there are standards for doctors, there are standards for lawyers, there are standards for businesspeople. Why are there no standards for journalists? I’m not talking about censorship, I’m talking about common decency.” Carson has been an ongoing target of the media—a recent episode of The View featured an irate Whoopi Goldberg grilling him on his endorsement of Trump. Carson says his composure in the face of seemingly endless media attacks comes from a realization that “we live in a horrible environment.” He adds, “It’s been encouraged by lack of strong leadership, and what keeps me going is the future, is the children. The reason that I spent my whole professional career trying to save children and give them a new and better life, is because I feel that we have a duty to do that. And the same thing applies to our society. And I see it going down the tubes and recognizing the natural tendency of people to be self-centered and to be greedy, that that has to be resisted, it has to be fought. And it needs the kind of leadership that will provide real inspiration and direction as opposed to what we’ve had in recent years.”
Carson’s belief in the danger of having one ruling or political class without the people’s involvement in government appears to be a significant motivating factor behind his endorsement of Donald Trump. Carson tells me that there are many issues that he and Trump “have a lot of agreement on,” but points out, “The difference between us is [that] I tend to say these things in a more reasonable way. He tends to be a little more bombastic.” Although he was heavily scrutinized for his seemingly hesitant endorsement of Trump, Carson stands by his decision as the most practical one. He tells me, “I would’ve gotten a lot of scrutiny no matter who I endorsed. I seriously thought about just remaining neutral and not endorsing anyone, but when I looked at the piling on of the political class to stop Trump and when I looked at the millions, somewhere between ten, twenty million new people, who have come into the system because of him, I recognize that this is the political class trying to thwart the will of the people. And if I come out and endorse Trump, it might give him the little extra boost to prevent a brokered convention, because I feel that if there’s a brokered convention, then it’s over for this country, because Hillary or someone like her will win, they will get two Supreme Court picks, and we will be gone. I just looked at the big picture.” Although Carson may not condone all of Trump’s antics and his sometimes controversial and inflammatory behavior, Carson believes this aspect of his persona is something that appeals to the American people. “I have to admit that he really has discovered where the American people are. They’re still at a place where they respond to bombast; they don’t respond to calm, intellectual common sense.” When I ask Carson what he and Trump have in common outside of politics, he says it is “a love for our country and a strong desire to save it for the next generations.” He adds, “Donald Trump is a much more reasonable person than most people think he is. When you talk to him in private, he’s a very different individual. But he’s smart enough to have recognized what he has to say and do to attract attention. It’s unfortunate that that’s where we are—nobody wants to hear, or certainly while I was [campaigning], nobody wanted to hear about policy.”
I have to admit that he [Trump] really has discovered where the American people are. They’re still at a place where they respond to bombast... they don’t respond to calm, intellectual common sense.
Since Carson’s endorsement, Trump has praised the doctor’s expertise in the fields of health and education. On the topic of education, Carson says, “Between the ages of 17 and 24, 71 percent of applicants to our voluntary military service are rejected. Seventy-one percent. And the main reason is educational deficits. They cannot pass a [simple] test of basic math and communication skills, which means that our educational system is failing us. And that will have implications in terms of our national security. So what we need to do is figure out how we’re going to educate our people appropriately. We used to be number one in the world.” Carson envisions greater school choice and a voucher system at the state level as possible solutions to deal with the problem of below-standard schools. “That will force the ones that are not working to either get better or to disappear.” In addition to these proposals, Carson feels that technology in education is more accessible than ever and is crucial to education reform. “We can put the very best teachers in front of a million students at a time, instead of 30 students at a time. And those are the kind of things that will really allow us to catch up quickly, but we have to be dedicated to doing it.”
Carson feels that another very important issue the candidates in this election season have failed to address is the country’s fiscal gap. “This country owns over 150 trillion dollars in assets. You know, with even a minor degree of business acumen, we should be able to generate enough to prevent us from having these large debts, but we don’t, still we continue to accumulate because we’re so inefficient. But at any rate, the amount going out and the amount coming in should be almost the same, it should be fiscally responsible. We are not, and a gap has formed, that’s called a fiscal gap, to over 200 trillion dollars and growing. And that, of course, will destabilize the financial foundation of our country. And the people in Congress know that, but do you ever hear any of them talk about it? No, of course not.”
Although he says he would not look forward to running for office again, Carson does have plans for the future. “I do plan to write a book, once I really sort of rest up a little bit, about the things that are likely to be encountered when one enters the political arena, because I think the system was designed for citizen statesmen, it was not designed for career politicians...I want to put those things in a book so that people know them, because we need to expand the pool from which we select our leaders, way beyond the political class, if we want to thrive in the future.” Carson says he was also hesitant to get into writing in the first place—following the draft of his first book, Gifted Hands, he was told it would sell 15,000 copies, but the autobiography ultimately ended up selling two million. Carson laughs when I remind him that he’s outselling Hillary Clinton.
...Learn for yourselves. Read books and read multiple sources and don’t allow yourselves to be indoctrinated.
Asked what advice he would give to high school students, he responds, “Please, learn for yourselves. Read books and read multiple sources and don’t allow yourselves to be indoctrinated. And make sure you understand what this country is about. A person who is well informed and educated is a person who’s difficult to manipulate.” Ben Carson should know.
You can follow Dr. Ben Carson on Twitter @RealBenCarson and find him on Facebook at facebook.com/realbencarson.