Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Forget West Point; focus on Ben Carson’s crackpot ideas

REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Ben Carson has called the Affordable Care Act the worst thing to happen to Americans since slavery.

To paraphrase Bernie Sanders: “Enough with Ben Carson’s damn scholarship to West Point.”

It’s true that, unlike Hillary Clinton’s emails, the national media has spent only the last few days obsessing over whether, in one of his memoirs, Dr. Carson exaggerated or fabricated his account being offered a full scholarship to West Point.

Personally, I am willing to accept that someone encouraging him to seek an appointment to West Point said something to him that he remembered as such an offer. That’s good enough for me. Thanks to the aforementioned obsessionization, we all  now know that there is not really such a thing as a full scholarship to West Point, since the cost of a West Point education is paid by the government for all who enroll there. I don’t believe this particular controversy is worth even this fat paragraph by me, let alone the media storm it has received.

Ben Carson believes the stories in the Old and New Testaments are literally true. Literally. True. As evidence that he could be a qualified president despite his lack of experience in government, he cited — as if this was evidence — that Noah’s ark was built by amateurs, yet it completed its mission of saving all the species on Earth from the biblical flood, while the Titanic was built by professionals. (By the way, the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank, and this is true even though not covered by the Bible.)

Ben Carson calls progressive taxation a form of “socialism.” He recommends — and would propose as president — a flat tax to replace the entire federal tax system. He used to say the single flat rate would be set at 10 percent, because he believed that to be God’s plan. Now he says it might have to start at 15 percent. Neither of those figures would fund the government (although he also favors a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution).

Ben Carson used to favor doing away with Medicare and Medicaid and replacing them with “health savings accounts” (although he now says he would not abolish the old program but that everyone would voluntarily switch from them to his health savings accounts).

Ben Carson has called the Affordable Care Act the worst thing to happen to Americans since slavery. Ben Carson has said and written that Second Amendment-type rights to bear arms, if they had existed in Germany in the 1930s, would have prevented Hitler’s genocidal policies.

The main point of Ben Carson’s autobiography (in which he claimed to have been offered a scholarship to West Point) — that he rose from a childhood of destitution to a successful career as a neurosurgeon — is true and admirable. His utterances on world history and public policy and such scientific issues as evolution are crackpot. Somehow, notwithstanding all these cracked pots, he has risen (according to the polls) to be one of the two leading contenders for the presidential nomination of one of America’s great political parties, the party, in fact, of Lincoln.

I suggest that instead of spending any more time vetting what someone who may have wanted to recruit him into West Point might have said to induce him to seek an appointment to that military academy (and, by all accounts, he did not seek such an appointment), we spend our Carson time vetting his policy proposals so that, if he becomes the Republican nominee or if he becomes president, the nation will know what it is getting.

Comments (28)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/09/2015 - 09:38 am.

    There’s a link

    If we can’t trust his statements about his personal history, why should we trust any other statement that he makes? It’s not simply that they’re inaccurate or unverifiable; it’s that they all promote his image.
    When a business makes billing errors that all turn out to be in its favor, you start to wonder. Same here.
    It appears that he will say anything to advance his own interests.

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/09/2015 - 09:48 am.

    Health Savings accounts

    I do a lot of babbling about a lot of stuff, and a big reason why so much of what I say is inconsequential is that I don’t really have a firm understanding of issues. The merits or lack thereof of health savings accounts is one such issue. I suspect they are a bad idea, but I don’t really know. How would a plan with such a feature compare with what we have now, Obamacare? Do the advantages, whatever they might be, justify the disruption of the current system? Who wins and who loses in comparison to the status quo?

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/09/2015 - 11:37 am.

      The answer

      In Carson’s scheme banks, insurance companies, and providers win, everyone else loses. I could go into more detail but that pretty much sums it up.

  3. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/09/2015 - 10:23 am.

    I don’t think it’s in the best interest

    of the democrats to start a debate about which side’s candidate is most honest and trustworthy. But have at it.

    A similar thing happened to me that happened to Carson. When I was at the University of Minnesota, I was told that if I applied to medical school I would be “automatically” accepted because I am Sioux. I didn’t take that to mean that all my tuition and expenses would be paid for, but who knows. I told them no thanks.

    To Carson’s credit, he was told that about West Point because he was a superstar in ROTC and not because he’s black. He told them no thanks, he had plans for Yale medical school.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/09/2015 - 12:00 pm.

      Problems with the story

      He was not in ROTC, which is a college undergraduate program, and obliges those who benefit from government funding to make a commitment to military service after graduation.
      He was in a high school program designed to feed students into ROTC when they matriculated.

      Second, he did not go to Yale’s medical school.
      He was an undergraduate Psychology major at Yale, then went back to his hometown medical school: The University of Michigan.

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/09/2015 - 10:32 am.


    “Forget West Point; focus on Ben Carson’s crackpot ideas”

    Thank you, Eric, for the morning’s sensible political suggestion.

    Doing so would – fairly quickly, I would hope – diminish Carson’s standing in the polls, and with Republican voters. That is, unless the GOP’s “Southern Strategy” of years past truly has turned around to bite its creator, and the Republican Party has become the wholly-owned subsidiary of the evangelical fringe and America’s neofascists. If so, the GOP would richly deserve a new status as a kind of lunatic fringe of the American political spectrum. With any luck, it would vanish into an alternate political universe, taken seriously by no one outside those fringes, and some other, more reality-based group will take its place.

  5. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 11/09/2015 - 11:27 am.

    True to form

    I see Dennis avoided all the other, more relevant points Eric raised. But I can’t blame him.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/09/2015 - 11:38 am.

    Crackpot ideas

    Hear hear!

  7. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 11/09/2015 - 12:29 pm.


    Health Saving Accounts (HSAs) are a neat tool, but that shouldn’t be taken to mean they are a system in themselves. First a little background on how they work before I launch into why they won’t work.

    HSAs let you take some money out of every paycheck pre-tax and sock it away. Later in the year then you can spend it on certain health care expenses using those pre-tax dollars instead of post-tax. In that aspect they’re pretty darn neat.

    A downside though is any money left in your HSA at the end of the plan year is lost, so there’s that to consider. Because of this, HSAs are only good for predictable expenses. You know your medication is going to cost $x amount, so you sock that away.

    As a comprehensive medical plan though you can easily see how this won’t work. It’s January, your plan starts, and you deduct $100 per month to cover some diabetes medication you take. June comes along and you’re diagnosed with cancer, which will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to treat, at a minimum. $1200 doesn’t quite cut it, eh?

    Or you get hit by the proverbial bus, slip in the bathtub, or fall out of the deer stand and break a leg. Now you’ve got a huge hospital bill that you can’t possibly pay even if your entire paycheck went into the HSA.

    Again, an HSA is a neat idea and a good tool, but not practical for any sort of medical procedure that’s not 100% predictable.

    Also it’s not practicable for anyone who doesn’t have a job, such as the elderly, young, disabled, and unemployed. And it’s unworkable for people who are poor and live paycheck to paycheck. How are you going to sock away a couple hundred a month when you’re already struggling to pay the rent and put food on the table?

    Neat idea, but let’s not pretend that this is a workable solution to our health care issues.

    • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/09/2015 - 02:18 pm.

      Thank you very helpful.

      From where I sit, it seems to me that any system is going to have it’s advantages and disadvantages, is going to favor certain people or certain situation over other people or situations. Are we in a position where we are truly making the best the enemy of the good? Are we demanding that the only acceptable health care system is one that is of uniform benefit to all? Am I correct in thinking that is an unattainable goal?

      • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 11/12/2015 - 12:13 pm.

        Health Care

        The goal is indeed that we want to get a minimal level of health care for everyone and this is no unobtainable: every industrialized country on the planet already has one. Most of them implemented their plans after WWII while the United States went down the privatized insurance route.

        [Side note: During the war companies started offering insurance plans as a way to attract workers when they couldn’t offer higher wages due to a freeze. Kaiser Permanente, the huge insurance conglomerate, started out as Kaiser Shipbuilding Company, but their insurance arm grew larger and more profitable than ship building after the war.]

        Some people will say that we simply can’t afford health coverage for everyone, but these other countries cover everyone for roughly 40 – 50% of what our insurance costs. And they get better results. Their infant mortality is generally lower with life expectancy is higher. From a public policy point of view it’s pretty much a no-brainer that we should follow suit and implement a similar plan as quickly as possible.

        The current system is one that’s untenable, with premiums the poor can’t afford, enormous deductibles, mountains of paperwork, and poor results. Currently doctors get paid based on how many procedures they perform. Consequently, there are several people per physician whose only purpose is to find the optimal codes to charge a procedure to so the doctor and hospital can get maximum reimbursement. And the more procedures they do, the more they get paid.

        That means implementing universal health care just ain’t enough. We also need to switch the compensation system from procedure-based to outcome-based. The latter means that the doctors get paid more if they make their patients healthier. For example, if a patient keeps coming in with an ear infection, rather than just treat the infection itself, figure out why they keep getting the infection in the first place and resolve the root cause. That drops the number of hospital visits, thereby making the whole system cheaper.

        It’s a tough row to hoe as you’re looking at uprooting several large and entrenched industries. They’re going to fight the whole initiative tooth and nail as they don’t like change anymore than anyone else. But it has to be done as the alternative is limping along with our current system, Obamacare. Or worse yet, going to back to the abomination we had before Obamacare.

        Forward is the only option.

    • Submitted by Charles Spolyar on 11/09/2015 - 02:57 pm.

      HSA vs Flex Spending

      The HR Benefits nerd in me can’t help it…

      You’ve confused HSA and a FSA (Flexible Spending Account) .
      Both are pre-tax dollars for medical expenses.
      HSA is only if you are in a “high deductible” plan – and what you put into the account earns interest and does NOT expire. You can even keep the account if you change insurance plans or employers. The individual limit for contribution for 2016 is $3,350 per year.
      FSA is the one you have to “use it or lose it” and is limited to $2,550 per year for an individual.
      For the most part you can only have one or the other…

      • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 11/10/2015 - 08:45 am.

        How high is the deductible in such a plan?

        How much does a “high deductible” plan cost a year? Is there a yearly limit on medical coverage in such a plan?

        • Submitted by Russell Booth on 11/10/2015 - 01:02 pm.

          HSAs and HDHPs

          In general, the higher the deductible, the lower the premium. My single-coverage HDHP cost $4.21 per two week pay period.

          The health plan cannot limit the coverage amount, but the IRS limits the out of pocket expense of the insured to $6450 for single and $21,900 for a family HDHP for 2015. An HSA-compatible HDHP must have a minimum deductible of $1300 for single and $2600 for family for 2015 and, of course, the deductible cannot exceed the maximum out of pocket limit.

          HSAs are portable. meaning you keep it if you leave an employer or change health plan. Unlike an FSA, an HSA does not have to be opened through an employer. Once you turn 65 you can use it like an IRA and report withdrawals as taxable income if you do not have eligible expenses to reimburse. HSAs are also an inheritable asset.

          You can also save your documentation of eligible expenses to reimburse yourself at any time in the future, so your shoebox full of EOBs, Rx receipts and invoices from your eyeglasses represents a pool of funds that you can withdraw at any time if you have not already done so.

          Am HSA is like an IRA with an escape hatch. You can take out funds without tax or penalty prior to retirement age if you have eligible medical, Rx, dental and vision expenses.

          • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 11/14/2015 - 12:56 pm.

            I don’t know where you got an HSA for that price, but

            when I looked into getting one as a self-employed person after I moved here in 2003, the premium was $250 a month, exactly the same as a regular policy at the time, with a $3000 deductible. In other words, to take full advantage, I would have had to put aside an additional $250 each month.

            I realized that 1) I couldn’t afford to do this, since I was in the process of getting set up in a new city, and 2) All I was really doing was prepaying the deductible.

            My brother is a doctor in private practice, and he hates the insurance companies. In fact, he recently dropped his contract with one of Minnesota’s Big Three because they kept “reassessing” his claims and asking for full or partial repayment.

            Even our so-called “non-profit” companies seem determined to take in as much money as possible and pay out as little as possible. Their success in doing so is reflected in the sky-high salaries paid to their executives and their lavish headquarters. And Minnesota is supposed to be one of the more affordable states!

          • Submitted by Christopher Williams on 11/16/2015 - 04:46 pm.


            I’ve had a HSA since before Obama was in office. Whenever they first came out. 2005 maybe? The reason republicans suggest these, is that, if you are spending your own money out of your own account – then presumably you’ll shop around for the best deal. And the magical free hand of the market will lower costs. Except I don’t know how that is supposed to work. your high deductible health plan still limits the doctors you may see to in network and out of network. So right off the bat competition is limited. It’s like “Yeah, go find the best deal out there with your own money but you can only shop at Target or Walmart!”. In shopping around for the medical needs I’ve had over the years I’ve found 1) It’s incredibly difficult to compare prices. Because you’re not just buying a widget. You need a consultation and diagnosis to really find out what you need to buy to solve the problem and by them you’ve already visited the doctor. Believe me, my latest medical vague thing “I think I have a sinus infection and double ear infection” didn’t have a single provider willing to commit to a hard cost. So shopping around was useless.

            Like it was said above, it’s neat that it earns interest, is portable, and works great for predictable costs – but that’s all it’s really good for. Just pre-paying already expected costs tax-free. Which, generally, isn’t how most of us encounter health care in real use.

      • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 11/12/2015 - 11:44 am.


        Thanks for the correction, Charles!

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 11/10/2015 - 11:54 am.

      The Main Point

      “let’s not pretend that this is a workable solution to our health care issues.”

      Exactly… Anyone can slice and spin this stuff anyway they want, but no one should take their eye off the two main health care situation balls:

      1) Americans are paying at least twice as much for health care than anyone else in the industrialized world and getting the worst health care outcomes of any of those countries: American families (remember “Family Values”?) are paying thousands of dollars more per year for the least effective, least efficient, most incompetently managed, poorest performing set of services that the industry marketing wizards have branded “The Greatest Health Care System in the World!”;

      2) While they are not the biggest culprit in the colossal scam, the insurance industry has no business being involved in health care. Far from “adding value,” they add massive amounts of confusion, and are the key, indispensable “middle man” that shields health care providers (“non-profit” hospital administrators) and the other “Biggest Players” (drug companies and health care products and services manufactures and suppliers) from having to reveal their true costs, markups, profits, etc., from consumers so it is impossible for consumers to make any kind of “informed buying decision” whatsoever, keeping “competition” locked away in the Complete Myth category: The, “Your money or your life,” model works much better for those profiting from illness, and the insurance industry is the key ingredient in keeping that model alive and well.

      The sudden explosion of “high deductible plans” (the use of the word “plan” strikes me as another one of those completely bizarre marketing buzzwords that is oxymoronic, at best), and their necessary counterpart, “Health Savings Accounts,” are nothing more than the only (or best or most “saleable”) option insurance companies have for protecting their and their shareholders (obscene) profits from the Affordable Care Act’s outlawing of “pre-existing conditions” and “lifetime coverage limits.” They are nothing more than the latest incarnation of the mechanisms used to pass all (immorally exorbitant) costs on to the consumer and ensure the consumer keeps paying nearly as much as they do for housing for the promise of access to health care services, if and when needed (maybe — depending on your “plan”).

      Getting the insurance industry out of the heart of the “health care marketplace” (how sick is that term?) would most likely prove the single most effective step America could take to start bringing its inhabitant’s health care costs in line with the rest of the civilized world’s approach to covering the (real) cost of that basic human need.

      Having been a doctor working in the midst of it for years, Ben Carson should know that. Or, at the very least, know “Health Savings Accounts” are beyond meaningless when it comes to a real solution. It leads me to believe he’s chosen to live under a huge (but lucrative) rock all his adult life which, I suppose, could tend to make “high deductible plans” and “health savings accounts” look like a good idea that everyone will be able to afford shortly after he’s elected and his low tax “trickle-down” economic plan kicks in and all Americans start making the kind of money he’s used to.

      (“A physician salary survey performed by the American Medical Group Association reported a median salary of $462,801 for pediatric surgeons, while the rival Medical Group Management Association reported an average salary of $475,645.”

    • Submitted by Russ Hilbert on 11/16/2015 - 02:41 pm.


      Your statement is factually incorrect Mr. Adler. You do not lose any money left in your HSA at the end of the year. I happen to have a HSA account and can tell you for a fact that it rolls over each and every year whether I use any for medical expenses or not. Not only that but my employer gives me a lump sum each year starting with the first year I enrolled to assist with building this account and also help with any immediate need when I first enrolled.

      The fact is that the HSA works as well as a traditional medical plan and you get to keep your money and use it when you want rather than giving it to the insurance company every month and never seeing it again.

      Ask anyone who actually has a HSA and they will tell you the same thing.

  8. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 11/09/2015 - 12:49 pm.

    Ben Carson Will Remain Popular with The GOP Base

    because he never says anything that makes them uncomfortable,…

    and often says exactly what they want to hear.

    That his statements are inaccurate,…

    continuously demonstrate massive ignorance of the issues with which ANY president would have to deal,…

    continuously demonstrate that he has no working knowledge (nor personal memory) of the challenges of the lives of other black and minority citizens in the US,…

    and continuously demonstrate that he has no ability to do basic math,…

    let alone understand the complexities of government funding,…

    government spending,…

    the federal “debt” as opposed the federal “deficit,”…

    the dearth of actual taxes paid by corporate America and our nation’s heaviest financial hitters,…

    where the vast majority of federal dollars are spent,…

    how changes in tax policy would effect the Federal government and society in general,…

    and what the words of the Bible actually SAY,…

    according to the arguments provided by Biblical scholars and people of faith of every stripe,…

    NONE of this matters in the least,…

    because the Republican base share all the same ignorance, deficits and dysfunctions.

    Unless someone successfully convinces Carson’s supporters that he’s not REALLY one of them,…

    which is what’s behind these attacks based on his dishonesty about his personal history,…

    those who are JUST LIKE HIM (except for his money of course),…

    will continue to support him,…

    except for the ones who are really, really angry,…

    who will likely continue to support Trump.

    Carson as president would be a massive disaster because he would seek to govern the world that only exists in the alternate reality bubble in which he and his faithful followers live,…

    while remaining completely blind, and deaf to the world as it actually exists.

    He would never be able to comprehend what the real problems of our nation and world ARE,…

    falling back on that old “conservative” canard that the world would be “saved” if only everyone else were “just like me,”…

    and thus would never address those problems,…

    nor be able to understand why his favored policies, if enacted,…

    consistently produce exactly the opposite result from what he intended.

  9. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/09/2015 - 02:40 pm.

    Will This Hurt His Candidacy?

    I seriously doubt that Dr. Carson’s crackpot ideas will hurt him. His factually-challenged ideas about history or fiscal policy, as well as his lack of understanding of science outside of neurosurgery, all fit in with Republican anti-intellectualism. Anyone who challenges his accuracy is part of a conspiracy to bring him down, and that’s the end of the discussion.

    His loonier theories will find a surprising amount of acceptance in those circles. Do many Republicans really believe that Satan inspired the writing of Origin of Species? Perhaps not, but you will find a lot of them who can understand the reasoning behind that statement, and who will try to come up with some verbal dodge as to why it “makes sense.” Do they think that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain? Oh, heck, that’s just his opinion, and what about those scientists who think they were built by aliens (Who else would regard Erich von Daniken as a “scientist?”)? It’s the same mentality that rejects anthropogenic global warming, evolution, and, on the not-so-distant fringes, relativity and set theory.

    Remember that the last Republican President was George W. Bush, who will never be remembered as a towering intellect. Remember that his father had to play down his learning when he was a candidate. Remember the venerated President Reagan, who was President in an era when there still was a concern for these things, meaning his handlers had to spend an inordinate amount of time explaining what he meant (“When he said trees cause pollution, he meant . . .”). Dr. Carson fits right in.

  10. Submitted by Richard O'Neil on 11/09/2015 - 03:31 pm.

    “…because he never says anything that makes them uncomfortable,…”

    I suggest you put a period between “anything” and “that” to more accurately describe Mr. Carson.

    The term “nothingburger” might also characterize the fellow.

  11. Submitted by Bill Willy on 11/10/2015 - 12:45 pm.

    Carson shocks Trump!

    Barely awake, I saw a news segment this morning in which Don put an interesting twist on his “takedown efforts” related to the recent Carson stories confusion. The interesting thing was he didn’t attack him from the point of view of maybe being dishonest, but from the, “What in the world’s going on here?” perspective:

    “We’ve got someone coming out and saying I stabbed some guy, I hit my mother in the head with a hammer, I hit somebody else across the face with a padlock. . . And he’s admitting it and it’s like he’s PROUD of it, and he’s using it to prove how honest he is? And his pole numbers go up on account of it? I don’t know. I don’t get that. What does it say when someone admits to things like that, and says they have ‘pathological anger issues,’ and people think it’s great that he’s telling everyone that and maybe he’d make a great president? I don’t get it. Something’s not right about that.”

    Struck me as kind of an “interesting” (and currently unique) take on things: If it turns out Carson’s been lying or exaggerating, that’s not good for his campaign. But, from Don’s point of view, it might be a worse thing is he’s NOT lying because, “Do we really want someone who says he hit — or was inches away from hitting — his own mother in the head with a hammer sitting in the oval office?”

  12. Submitted by rolf westgard on 11/13/2015 - 11:37 am.

    thank you Eric

    For a superb article.

Leave a Reply