Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Ben Carson surges in polls — but remains a mystery on policy

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Despite his preternaturally calm demeanor, Ben Carson has a habit of relying on extreme-sounding analogies to make his points.

The New York Times has a fresh poll out Tuesday showing, for the first time, Dr. Ben Carson leading the field nationally for the Republican nomination, with 26 percent of likely Republican primary voters, followed by Donald Trump at 22 percent. None of the other candidates are in double digits and it would be silly to attach any importance to the distance between third-place finisher in this poll, Marco Rubio at 8 percent, as opposed to fourth and fifth-place holders Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina, tied at 7.

It’s also the first national sample in months to show anyone other than Trump leading the field.

I have come to despise the degree to which poll results drive the coverage and the campaign, but this is nonetheless interesting heading into Wednesday night’s Republican debate. I won’t speculate on how Trump and Carson will handle this, but I guarantee that Trump will be the faster talker of the two and will make little sense and that Carson will be both serene and truly radical.

Carson, for example, is not just pro-life on the abortion issue, but he is, as he says on his website, “unabashedly and entirely pro-life.” He does not believe in abortion during the first trimester, not even in the case of a pregnancy caused by rape or incest. As for an abortion that is necessary to save the life of the mother, he said on “Meet the Press” Sunday that “that’s an extraordinarily rare situation. But if in that very rare situation it occurred, I believe there’s room to discuss that.”

Extreme-sounding analogies

Despite his preternaturally calm demeanor, Carson has a habit of relying on extreme-sounding analogies to make his points. For example, in that same Sunday interview, he compared the current legal status of a first-trimester fetus to that of a slave in the days of legalized slavery, referring to the legalized power of the slaveowner to treat a slave any way he wanted. Again, the question was about a pregnant woman’s right to an abortion during the first trimester, which he absolutely opposes. He said:

“Think about this. During slavery — and I know that’s one of those words you’re not supposed to say, but I’m saying it. During slavery, a lot of the slave owners thought that they had the right to do whatever they wanted to that slave. Anything that they chose to do. And, you know, what if the abolitionist had said, you know, ‘I don’t believe in slavery. I think it’s wrong. But you guys do whatever you want to do?’ Where would we be?”

I assume it’s clear from the above what he’s driving at. And he obviously acknowledges that these kinds of analogies are controversial. (He has also called the Affordable Care Act a form of slavery.) 

But on the abortion/slavery analogy, he’s saying that there was a time when a slave’s life was valued so little that his master could kill him if he chose. We now view that as barbaric and are glad that the abolitionists campaigned against it. He thinks those who say no to elective abortion are waging a similar battle for the lives of the unborn, and one day we will view them as we now view abolitionists.

I take Carson to be completely sincere and open about his views at a level that compares with no one in the race for president other than Bernie Sanders. I’m not crazy about the currently fashionable word “authenticity” to refer to sincerity in a politician. But whatever it is, Carson has it. He does not tap dance on the issues. He does not triangulate.

Tax plan?

On the other hand, many of his policy views are extremely unformed as yet. In the issues section of his campaign website, he says:  “We need a fairer, simpler, and more equitable tax system. Our tax form should be able to be completed in less than 15 minutes. This will enable us to end the IRS as we know it.”

But that’s all. What’s his tax plan? He has said in interviews that he favored a flat tax: “You make $10 billion, you pay $1 billion. You make $10, you pay $1.” In one interview, he said he wants the plan to be revenue neutral, so the flat rate might have to start off around 15 percent. But he suggests it could quickly be lowered to 10 percent. But in the first Repub debate, he suggested the 10 percent is a plan from God, “because God’s a pretty fair guy.”

If Carson is the front-runner, he will — and definitely should — be pressed for more details and justification on such a plan. But here’s one hint to his thinking. He has said that a graduated income tax amounts to “socialism.” I understand what he means by that — in the sense that one might call anything that takes from the rich to help the poor is somewhat socialistic, but it makes hash out of the current understanding of the difference between what we have in the United States and “socialism” and it remains for Carson, in his new prominence as the poll leader, to explain what might be left of the “social safety net” if he has his way.

Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/28/2015 - 08:58 am.

    Like Bush II

    ‘All hat and no cattle’.
    Counting on people who vote on general impressions because they’re too lazy to sort out the real issues.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 10/29/2015 - 08:47 am.

      Make it A Long Neck

      So he seems like the candidate a guy would most want to have a beer with? (Like anyone would want to hang out with any of these clowns.)

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 10/28/2015 - 09:33 am.

    “The party of ideas” stretches it’s boundaries again.

    Meanwhile, the general election gets closer.

    Ms. Clinton is very happy.

  3. Submitted by Andrew Rockway on 10/28/2015 - 09:40 am.

    I wish we’d question the premise that a simpler tax system means fewer brackets or even a single “flat” rate. Looking up the rate you pay is the absolute easiest part of paying taxes. Calculating income is the tricky bit. If a candidate wants to simplify the tax code by getting rid of deductions, fine, but let’s make them say they want to eliminate the Mortgage Interest Deduction or the Earned Income Tax Credit and so on.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/28/2015 - 10:52 am.

    Well Yeah

    Policy of any kind is almost impossible for people who either don’t believe in governing or simply can’t govern. This isn’t a “Carson” problem it a republican problem, they haven’t had a policy beyond winning elections since Clinton got elected. They have: “issues”, but no policies. For instance repealing “Obamacare” isn’t actually a health care policy, it’s just an attack on Obama. Tax cuts could be a policy for republicans but in fact they’re just magical thinking. Sometimes I actually wonder if some conservatives and republicans really understand what a “policy” is, it’s almost like they don’t believe in having “policies” sometimes.

  5. Submitted by Peter Stark on 10/28/2015 - 12:30 pm.

    Department of Education

    Here’s a bit about his crazy ideas for the Department of Education:

    Unlike some of the other GOP presidential hopefuls, Carson wouldn’t shutter the department. Instead, he’s been saying, he’ll turn it into an investigatory body and use it to keep tabs on colleges and universities that may be espousing political biases.

    What’s more, higher education institutions found guilty of doing so, according to Carson’s proposal, would lose eligibility for receiving federal aid.

    In an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd on Sunday, Carson said, “The way that works is, you invite students at the universities to send in their complaints and then you investigate.”
    Saving for education

    When Todd pushed back, saying that the plan could infringe on First Amendment rights, Carson objected.

    “It’s not a violation of the First Amendment because all I’m saying is taxpayer funding should not be used for propaganda,” Carson said. “It shouldn’t be.”
    Sure sounds like a reasonable proposal to me. Carson is indeed out of his depth if he thinks this kind of scheme would 1) pass the US Congress, 2) be at all workable in the practical universe. The Department of Liberal Wrongthink would be inundated with troll complaints at an unbelievable rate.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/28/2015 - 01:11 pm.

    The know-nothing

    Mr. Carson might be a talented neurosurgeon (I have no personal knowledge of his medical skills), but intellectually, and especially as a political leader, he’s a child. What we’re hearing from him is either completely and totally uninformed, or it’s the “either-or,” absolutist thinking of a preschooler for whom there are good guys and bad guys, but nothing in between. That Carson apparently has numerous supporters, who presumably have no problem with that sort of faux-thinking, ought to be frightening to sensible citizens everywhere, regardless of their political persuasions. Moreover, no one, absolutely no one, should be supporting a candidate who purports to know the will of God. That sort of megalomania might deserve institutionalization, but at the very least, it characterizes a person who should be kept far, far away from a public position with any degree of actual power to affect the lives of people who are not under his direct medical care.

    Civilized people in other parts of the world ought to be (and may be, for all I know) looking on in slack-jawed terror as lunatics take over the Republican Party, and even more frightening, millions of Americans think of them as bona fide political leaders, with the implicit assumption that these potential candidates at least “sort of” know what they’re talking about. All the evidence so far suggests that that faith in the reasonableness and knowledge of the Republican field is, to phrase it as politely as I can, misplaced.

  7. Submitted by Bill Willy on 10/28/2015 - 01:42 pm.

    And the Plans From God guy takes the lead!

    “He does not tap dance on the issues. He does not triangulate.”

    “the 10 percent is a plan from God, because God’s a pretty fair guy.”

    And non-guys that have abortions are slave-killing plantation owners.

    He doesn’t triangulate; he multiangulates by communicating whatever fair truth God decides to have him impart.

    And he’s on the verge of being crowned the new Republican frontrunner (which should trigger some fresh and gritty “Trump Fights Back!” stuff).


    The longer these people hang around the top of the heap, the less outrageous “filterless half-wits, scam artists and asylum Napoleons” sounds.

  8. Submitted by Tim Smith on 10/28/2015 - 02:50 pm.

    as opposed to

    Hillary the weather vane, like her hubby, puts her finger to the wind to find out what she believes. No that she will ever expose herself to a reporter that will question her on it. Her whole party just has a run out the clock strategy that will get her to the finish line.

    The liberal Dems adoration for “policy” is a bit much some times. The view of the world from 20,000 feet policy wonk types who have little real word experience in anything besides big education and the halls of government power. Too many are obsessed with controlling others and thus freedoms are being lost. We need a happy medium.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 10/28/2015 - 04:00 pm.

      Synonyms and Antonyms of POLICY

      a way of acting or proceeding
      Synonyms line, methodology, policy, procedure, program
      Related Words blueprint, design, plan, scheme, strategy; intent, intention, purpose; approach, direction, method, path, pathway, tack
      the ability to make intelligent decisions especially in everyday matters
      Synonyms discreetness, discretion, gumption [chiefly dialect], horse sense, levelheadedness, nous [chiefly British], policy, prudence, sense, sensibleness, wisdom, wit
      Related Words street smarts; farsightedness, forehandedness, foresight, foresightedness, forethoughtfulness, judgment (or judgement); brains, gray matter, intelligence; logicality, logicalness, practicality, rationality, rationalness; discernment, discrimination, insight, sagacity, sapience; acumen, astuteness, clearheadedness, keenness, penetration, perspicacity, shrewdness; care, caution, circumspection, precaution, premeditation

      NEAR ANTONYMS: shortsightedness; brainlessness, foolishness, half-wittedness, idiocy, senselessness, stupidity; carelessness, heedlessness; unreasonableness

      ANTONYMS imprudence, indiscretion


      Yeah, sure.

      We need less policy and more of the antonyms.

      • Submitted by Tim Smith on 10/28/2015 - 04:30 pm.

        why so serious

        oh the time on your hands.,……

        • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 10/28/2015 - 04:59 pm.

          Because the issue is serious –

          Dictating how every American should live his or her life contradicts everything about this country’s history. Carson doesn’t want to allow a Muslim to be president but is fine with ramming down his religious beliefs on everyone else. What a joke!

Leave a Reply