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Is Dr. Carson’s conservatism just plain common sense?

March 6, 2013

Last night, I published a blog post that criticized Dr. Ben Carson, who recently appeared on the NPR radio show On Point with Tom Ashbrook. I then linked my article to a comment I made on the  On Point website. My comment and my article were critiqued at the NPR site and my blog by a reader who went by the name of Carl Will.  You can read Carl Will’s full comment here or here. Carl’s basic response was this: (1) Ben Carson’s opinion was common sense because conservatism by its very nature is common sense; (2) Carson and other medical professionals do not need the government to interfere with medical decisions because we can’t trust government to do anything right; (3) Carson’s criticisms of Obamacare are universal among doctors, who know more than most people about the healthcare system; and (4) Carson’s avoidance of a question about the “N” word was OK because (a) the question was stupid and (b) adults should not “fly off the handle” because of “some derogatory name calling.”

The following is my updated response.


Is Dr. Ben Carson’s conservatism just plain common sense?

After all, the only thing that conservatives like Carson are asking for is that Americans take personal responsibility for their own lives and that government be limited so that its only main role is to provide citizens with the freedom necessary to purse their own goals.

Other conservative ideals — free markets, individual liberty, traditional American values and a strong national defense — also sound like just plain common sense.

But life is more complicated than this. For one thing, when conservatives say they are for free markets, individual liberty and the right for all citizens to pursue their dreams, they are implying that liberals are somehow against these things. They are not.

When conservatives say they believe in “traditional American values,” it is not clear exactly what those values are and how liberals are opposed to them.

But let’s go back to the original question that Carson has raised over the past two weeks. Is conservatism not really an ideology, but rather “common sense?”

The answer, I suppose, depends on your perspective. I could make the same argument about liberal views. For example, it is common sense to help those who are hungry or who live in poverty when the private sector cannot do the job by itself; it is common sense to educate people; it is common sense to build roads so workers can get to their jobs; it is common sense to build police and fire stations to protect citizens and private investment against crime; it is common sense to defend the nation against foreign sabotage against our vital infrastructure; it is common sense to provide healthcare to all citizens; it is common sense to ask government (i.e. you and me) to do things that private enterprise either will not do, or do at such a price that many would be left out.

Anyone can claim the mantle of common sense. But let’s acknowledge that we are all being ideological. If you have an idea and a world view (for example, your world view that government should stay out of the way of its people), then you are ideological. I freely admit that I am ideological. My objection to Dr. Ben Carson is that he skirts this issue and tries to act like he is some how above the fray. He tries to act like he is so completely objective that we should trust all of his judgments because, after all, they are not ideological, they are only common sense.

I’m sorry. To me, that is being disingenuous. He denies that he is a conservative in an attempt to shield himself from criticism. It’s a cop out. What he seems to be saying is: no one has the right to criticize me because I just want what everyone else wants: common sense.

Your statement that “a doctor or educated individual that can think…doesn’t need Government to get involved in personal choices” does not address my point at all. I don’t know what personal choices you think I want the government to take away from Ben Carson. He is free to say whatever he wants. But he must know that if he refuses to support those statements with facts, his statements will have less credibility.

Your next question, (Can you honestly tell me Government is doing a great job and has the American people’s best interest in-mind?) is too simple and does not allow for any nuance. Sometimes, government does an excellent job. It provides food to those who would not otherwise have it; it provides retirees with Social Security checks that many need to stay out of poverty; it tries to regulate workplace safety so that you don’t have to work in a sweat shop; it tries to regulate businesses so that — unlike in a place like China, where I have visited — you can live in a country where the air is somewhat safe to breathe. I can go on and on. I live in the DC area and see many federal employees work extremely hard every day for the public good.

Does government do everything right? No. It is sometimes inefficient. It is sometimes burdensome. And it sometimes makes bad decisions, such as bombing innocent people in other countries who pose no threat to us.

But I do not blindly condemn government just for being the government.

Am I a doctor? No, I am not a doctor. Are you suggesting that because I am not a doctor I can have no intelligent opinion about the healthcare system? Are you saying that all doctors, because they are doctors, know more about the entire national healthcare system than the rest of the country’s citizens? Are you suggesting that all doctor’s make all medical decisions correctly all the time? Are you suggesting that patients should do anything and everything their doctors tell them because, well, the doctor knows better? Have you never heard of doctors — good doctors — who sometimes make mistakes? Has anyone ever told you to question everything your doctor tells you to make sure that, as the patient, you are getting the best possible care? And what about your position on personal responsibility? Do you throw that ideology out the window when it comes to what your doctor tells you? Don’t you have personal responsibility for at least some of your own medical decisions?

I have been a patient. I have had three major illness in my life. Does that give me a perspective about the health care system that is worth listening to? Should I have listened to everything my doctors told me? What should I have done when the first doctor I saw was completely baffled by my condition? Should I have said, “Well, he’s the doctor. If he doesn’t know how to fix me than I better just go off and die?”

Of course not.

Finally, the “N” word is not just some playground utterance that adults should laugh away and ignore. It is a word that was used historically by one group to dominate over another. It is a word that was used to exert power and exploitation. It was a word that was used by white people to make black people feel inferior. To ignore that is to ignore the power of words. You can try to dismiss it. You can try to say, “Oh, you are just being politically correct.” But if you do that, know that you are copping out. You are not recognizing the power of certain words. And if you do not recognize the power of certain words — if you do not respect that — then you can’t move the conversation forward. You can’t resolve the emotions someone feels over a word because you refuse to acknowledge the emotions themselves. Sorry. When you are callous to the pain and suffering caused by a word, then you are the problem, not the person who feels the pain.

Tom Ashbrook’s question about the “N” word was very relevant in that situation. Ben Carson was making a point that people stifle debate through political correctness. As his example, he used this case where some people (he didn’t say who) ostracized a man for calling another man “an oriental.” Carson suggested that the term “oriental” should not be considered offensive. He waved off any discomfort the Asian man might have felt by being called “an oriental.” Instead, Carson said the Asian man should just “get over it” and turn the other cheek. He said that the other people in the room should not have come to the Asian man’s defense. That they should have “gotten over it” too so as not to stifle discussion.

So the reporter, Tom Ashbrook, did what any good reporter would do. He tried to test Carson. He tried to see if Carson himself could do the same thing he was asking the Asian man to do. Ashbrook wanted to see if Carson would “just get over it” if someone used a certain word about him. Ashbrook essentially asked Carson whether he could turn the other cheek after someone else ignored all the work Carson had achieved in his lifetime and reduced it all to one nasty, horrible word (the N word.)

And what did Carson do when faced with that test? He avoided it.

Carson had two choices to make at that moment:

(1) He could have said, “You know what, I don’t care if someone calls me the N word. I would turn the other way.” In other words, Carson could have defended his earlier position and shown the world that Dr. Ben Carson puts his money where his mouth is. That even if he was called the N word, he would look the other way and continue a discussion with his adversary; or (2) Carson could have said, “You know what, I would be offended by that word. That word is a horrible word. And America cannot advance the racial discussion forward until that word is damned to history — where it belongs. I was wrong in my other position. I should have placed myself in that Asian man’s shoes and better understood how he felt.”

But Ben Carson did not take either of those choices. He took a third position: avoid the issue all together. Yes, he was too afraid to say either of those things because either of those positions might open him to criticism. So he found a way not to answer at all. He was a coward.

No one forced Ben Carson to be on Ashbook’s show. Ben Carson chose to be on that show. It was his personal responsibility to explain himself.


From → Commentary

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