For a generation of Christians (me among them), the name Ben Carson brought to mind the inspirational story of an angry young man who overcame his temper to become director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital and the first neurosurgeon to separate conjoined twins at the head. The politicized Ben Carson who emerged on the stage of the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast was a shock. Since then, Carson has become a popular, if controversial, political pundit. In his new book, One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future, he lays out his vision for what some see as a presidential campaign platform. Our interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Christine A. Scheller:We spoke when the Affordable Care Act was affirmed by the Supreme Court. Your comments about the act seemed more moderate then. Has your perspective on it changed?
Dr. Ben Carson: I think it’s still a fundamental transfer of power from the people to the government. It’s exactly the wrong way to go, as demonstrated by the VA scandal. You just put layers and layers of bureaucrats between patients and healthcare providers and that is going to lead to the kinds of inefficiencies that we’re seeing with the VA, but it’s going to be considerably worse with more people involved.
And yet, a new study out of Rutgers University found that the number of uninsured citizens in the state has been reduced from more than a million to 430,000. Isn’t that a victory?
That’s a victory in only one sense. Of course, if you take people who don’t have health care and you make it available to them, that’s a good thing. But the way you do it, that’s where the problem occurs. Should we provide healthcare for everybody? I think so. I think a responsible society should do that and we can certainly do it. We pay twice as much per capita for healthcare as anybody else in the world. It’s a matter of incredible inefficiency. But if we’re going to do it, let’s do it in a way that puts healthcare in the hands of the individual and their healthcare provider, not in the hands of bureaucrats, which just leads to a bigger, eventually much more expensive system.
Because that had a profound affect on the nation.
In what way?
People resonated with that beyond anything I could have possibly imagined. It completely changed my life as well. I began to hear from so many people. I recognized that people in America have been made into enemies of each other and we’re not enemies. The real enemies are those who are trying to divide us up into every possible group. A wise man by the name of Jesus said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I want to make it very clear to people that we’re not each other’s enemies, that the kinds of things that are affecting our nation really should not be partisan issues, because they affect all of us. If we go over the financial cliff, everybody is going over the cliff–Democrats and Republicans. There are so many issues that we need to deal with as intelligent and rational people.
There was also a lot of criticism of the speech. Did you hear less of that than you did of the praise?
Considerably less, but it wouldn’t have mattered because of course you’re going to be criticized if you come out against the status quo, if you come out against people who are trying to fundamentally change America. What I would recommend to you if you really want to get a good idea quickly of what I’m talking about, there’s a video on Vimeo called “.” If you’ve got 92 minutes to invest, look at that.
There’s also a book called The Naked Communist. It was written in 1958 by Cleon Skousen, the same guy who wrote The 5000 Year Leap. It lays out the whole progressive plan for fundamentally changing America. The only thing that’s truly amazing is how quickly it’s being done. One of the ways to do it is to make the population dependent. You can read this in the writings of Vladimir Lenin, Karl Marx, Saul Alinksy. They talk about the best and fastest way to make the people dependent is to take control of their healthcare, which is the most important thing they have.
In the first half of the book, and in your comments now, you’re calling for more respectful dialogue. But there are ways in which you describe the “secular progressive” left that seem to undermine this message.
I don’t think so. You have to call a spade a spade. You have to point out what the problems are. It’s like if you’re a doctor and there’s a cancer there, you can’t say, “Well, these cells have a right to be there too; they’re actually nice cells.” No, you have to point out what is going on, because we’re talking about people who are trying to fundamentally change America from what it was. This was a very different nation from all the other nations of the world, where we respected each other’s rights to do whatever we wanted to do. The secular progressives, on the other hand, they want to shut people down. They don’t want to hear you. They don’t want anyone else to hear you. If you have a business, they want to destroy it. If you have a reputation, they want to destroy it. These are not good people by any stretch of the imagination. To try to soft-peddle it and make it seem like they are good people is ridiculous because what they pose is a threat to the American way of life. It’s a threat to Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike. People need to understand the difference.
I read your memoir, Gifted Hands, to my son, who had neurofibromatosis. Because of the field you were in, it was something we could identify with, and we found a lot of hope and inspiration in it. In that book, you described your mother as a strong single mother who was responsible for the trajectory of your life. Do I remember correctly that she would occasionally break down and spend time hospitalized?
And so, I wondered as I was reading your more politically conservative, anti-socialist rhetoric, wouldn’t it have been better for your mother to have had more personal support from the community, however that was meted out, so that she didn’t end up breaking down from the stress?
I think she did extremely well under the circumstances, coming from where she came from, having the kind of trauma that she had in her life, discovering that her husband was a bigamist, trying to raise young sons by herself. The system did support her. They were very kind and generous people. I don’t think a socialist medical system would have made her better.
I was a single mother for a short time. I worked and received Medicaid for myself and my son. During that time he was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis by a pediatrician who treated me abominably, I assumed because I was on Medicaid. I’m really grateful I had the support that was necessary for my child to get good healthcare. In the book, you do say we should provide better support for single mothers who want to go back to school, but your compassionate side gets lost for me when you compare social services to communism.
We have much better ways of doing it though. Go to AmericanLegacyPac.org and look at what we propose, using health savings accounts. For all Americans to have health savings accounts, it eliminates just the thing you were talking about — somebody treating you differently because you’re on Medicaid. That doesn’t happen with the health savings account. Everyone is treated exactly the same, and gets the same quality. That’s what we need in the system. We don’t need a two-tiered medical system.
Is that a realistic option? The battle over the ACA was intense. How would such a transition happen?
It’s extremely feasible. I’ve gone over it with a number of economists, with Physicians for Reform. In fact, the Congressional Health Care Caucus came out yesterday with legislation pushing the health savings account, and they indicated in the legislation that it was largely driven by me. This is where people go wrong, because they listen to propaganda. They think that people like me don’t want to take care of the poor and it’s the opposite. Not only do I want to take care of them, but I want them to have the same kind of care as everybody else.
In what had to be a painful decision, you withdrew last year as commencement speaker from Johns Hopkins University, the institution with which you’ve been affiliated throughout your career. A year later, in light of Condoleezza Rice and others withdrawing under pressure as commencement speakers, what are your thoughts about this phenomenon?
My thoughts are that we have gone almost over the cliff in terms of political correctness, and have forgotten one of the major premises of this country, which is freedom of speech. Our universities are supposed to be bastions of intellectual thought, conversation, looking at alternatives. We are teaching the students gossip. If someone doesn’t agree with you, we don’t want to hear from them. We don’t want to hear what they have to say. We don’t want anyone else to hear what they have to say. This is the beginning of fascism.
And yet, Michael Kinsley defended you in the New Republic last year and he could be described as a “secular progressive.” So maybe we’re not all so bad in the media?
Did you hear what Michael Bloomberg had to say about this?
It was very responsible. He was particularly talking about Ivy League institutions, but he said it was a total shame what was going on in America, and that universities really need to stop and take stock of what messages they’re sending. We’re turning into something different and we don’t want to turn into something different. In my case, the university certainly did not withdraw the invitation. The gays tried to drum up the media, which is pretty easy, to get the left wing media involved. It was very clear to me that the graduation would be about me. It wouldn’t be about the graduates and all their accomplishments. That’s why I withdrew.
Your wife is listed as coauthor on this book. What was her role in writing it?
She does a lot of the research. I like everything I say to be factually based.
I have to ask, are you planning to run for president?
It’s not something I have a desire to do by any stretch of the imagination. After a long and arduous career in neurosurgery, I was looking forward to a little bit of relaxation. But obviously I find my life going in a very different direction. The drumbeat is getting louder and louder. So I am keeping an open mind, but it is still not something I want to do.
Is your experience as the head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins what qualifies you for the position?
I think the thing that is perhaps most important for leader is wisdom, because obviously we have a lot of people with a lot of experience in the world of politics who are not very good leaders. You also have to have enough humility to be able to listen to people, and you have to have a very good understanding of where you’re going. If you’re going to be the leader of this nation, you have to have a good understanding of the constitution and what the role of government is, what the role of the three branches of government are. You have to understand the role of the pinnacle nation in the world in leadership, and how that’s done. You have to understand geopolitical strategy. You have to know history, not only of this country but of multiple other countries. A lot people in leadership of our nation have significant deficits in those areas. It really doesn’t matter how long they’ve been in politics. The more important issue is what you can bring to the table.
And so, if I was to ask: “Why should UrbanFaith readers vote for you?” would that be your answer?
My answer would be, “I’m not running for anything yet.”