Before entering the political arena, Ben Carson was best-known among African Americans as “that brilliant black doctor who separated conjoined twins.” His rise from poverty was inspirational and a source of pride.
For many, that pride began to change when Carson slammed President Barack Obama and started championing conservative viewpoints.
In an interview, NewsOne Now host Roland Martin asked the retired pediatric neurosurgeon why African Americans, who are predominantly Democrat, should cross party lines to vote for him. “If they will actually listen to what I’m saying and not what people are saying what I’m saying,” Carson said. “Go back and look at my life. Look at what I do.”
In The Root’s Meet the Candidates series, which examines where the leading presidential candidates stand on some of the issues that matter most to black people, we’ve already taken a look at Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio. We continue now with a look at Carson.
With the economy rebounding, black people don’t want to be left behind. Early in his campaign, Carson met with community leaders last year in Baltimore, shortly after the riots, and told them that fixing the economy is the main solution to crime and poverty in black neighborhoods. Reducing taxes and regulations would lead to economic growth that would benefit everyone, he stated.
If he’s elected, low-wage workers should not expect a minimum wage increase. Carson has fallen in line (he previously held a different view) with other Republican candidates to oppose Fight for $15, the movement to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
“Every time we raise the minimum wage, the number of jobless people increases,” he said at the Nov. 10 GOP debate. “This is particularly a problem in the black community. Only 19.8 percent of black teenagers have a job, or are looking for one. And that’s because of those high wages. If you lower those wages, that comes down.”
Carson also counsels the poor not to get trapped in the welfare system. In a sharp exchange with Whoopi Goldberg on The View in 2014, Carson said that the welfare system can “rob someone of their incentive” toward self-improvement. He later lamented to Fox News’ Megyn Kelly that welfare has become “intergenerational” for too many people.
At the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2015, he said, “We need to understand what true compassion is, to reach out to individuals who think that being dependent is reasonable as long as they feel safe. … I’m not interested in getting rid of a safety net; I’m interested in getting rid of dependency.”
As Carson frequently points out, obtaining a higher education is an important key to escaping poverty. Scores of African Americans are pursuing that path, but they are disproportionately burdened with tremendous student-loan debt, according to the Urban Institute. Carson, however, speaks very little about a solution to the student-loan crisis, which has surpassed the $1 trillion mark.
He has blamed universities for contributing to the crisis and wants to hold them responsible for repaying the interest on student loans, as a motivation for them to find ways to lower the cost of a college education.
While Carson doesn’t give many details about his higher-education plan, he has a lot to say about health care. The retired physician shocked many with this remark at the Values Voter Summit in 2013: “Obamacare is really, I think, the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.”
If elected, Carson would back efforts to repeal the president’s signature health care program. Carson, according to the candidate’s website, would expand individual choice and restore the doctor-patient relationship. He plans to accomplish that through individual health savings accounts, which the government would automatically open for everyone at birth.
Ultimately, these accounts would negate the need for Medicare and Medicaid, Carson explained to Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press.
Regarding reform of the criminal-justice system, which is a hot-button issue for African Americans, Carson has indicated that he would do very little until he sees evidence of police racial bias. He has, however, rejected mandatory minimums for prison sentences and has expressed support for felon voting rights. “After they have paid their debt, if they are American citizens, they should be able to vote,” he said at a forum last year.
Black Lives Matter
When it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement, the only black candidate in the race told NewsOne Now’s Martin that he’s “disappointed.” Carson said that the movement fails to “recognize the carnage in the black community, from institutions like Planned Parenthood and crime on each other, is very significant.” He added that Black Lives Matter should be “all-encompassing” in its focus by addressing other challenges, such as poor school systems and illegal drugs. He also told CBS News that BLM is “bullying” people and that he would prefer less emphasis on race.
Carson stands shoulder to shoulder with other conservatives in unabashed opposition to gun control. In his defense of gun rights, Carson has made some controversial statements. His comment that Nazi gun control laws enabled the Holocaust sparked tension with Jewish groups. And after a mass shooting at an Oregon college, he drew verbal fire for saying, “I would not just stand there and let him shoot me.”
There’s at least one area where Carson disagrees with the other leading candidates in the Republican field: voting rights.
Several states began erecting what many view as barriers to voting after a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2013 struck down a key feature of the Voting Rights Act. Most Republicans have argued that racism is largely in the rearview mirror and that civil-rights-era protections are no longer needed. But in a CNN interview, Carson said, “Of course I want the Voting Rights Act to be protected. Whether we still need it or not or whether we’ve outgrown the need for it is questionable. Maybe we have, maybe we haven’t. But I wouldn’t jeopardize it.”
At the same time, though, he has expressed doubt that racism is behind the wave of voter-fraud measures.
Previously in the Meet the Candidates series:
Up next in Meet the Candidates: A closer look at Ted Cruz.
Nigel Roberts is a New York City-based freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter.