Not every politician is a great speaker; but, when one’s political status is elevated to a position of leadership as head of a 50-billion-dollar branch of the federal government—a politician, a designated leader, should at the very least, be able to deliver a presentation that is focused and coherent.
That was certainly not the case when the newly appointed Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (H.U.D.), Dr. Ben Carson, formerly addressed career members of the agency earlier this week. Many observers found his comments non-sequitur and in some instances, bizarre.
The presentation, at times, seemed to ramble aimlessly, covering topics that ranged from his repeated comments about the value of public-private partnerships; to what he called the dangers of government dependency; to his ambiguous banalities about America’s entrepreneurial spirit; and disconnected antidotes about some of his personal life experiences. And yet, the talk was devoid of information regarding how he plans to maximize H.U.D.’s success in regards to its primary goals of housing affordability and the elimination of housing discrimination.
Few would argue that before Carson retired from the medical field, he was one of the most gifted and accomplished pediatric brain surgeon in the country, possibly in the world. He served as Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center for nearly 30 years—the youngest ever appointed to the position. Yet, he appears to have difficultly, to falter, in his attempts to translate those Medical Director skills and apply them successfully in a political environment—particularly as it relates to his penchant for bizarre and strangely inappropriate ramblings.
Some examples from this week’s speech include this statement, “Every human being, regardless of their ethnicities, or their background, they have a brain: the human brain, it remembers everything you’ve ever seen, everything you’ve ever heard. I could take the oldest person here, make a little hole right here on the side of the head, and put some depth electrodes into their hippocampus — and stimulate — and they would be able to read back to you, verbatim, a book they read 60 years ago.”
This comment was just one strange example. Add to that the equally strange remarks he made to the audience about his surgical career when he joked about how, he preferred to operate on young people rather than old geezers, because he preferred to get what he defined as a return on investment.
Perhaps the strangest and most provocative comment Carson delivered that day was his co-mingling remarks that attempted to relate the power of the human brain, (rooted in his expertise as a brain surgeon), to the issue of immigration and what he referred to as America’s can-do spirit. “You can’t overload the human brain,” he explained. “So, we need to focus a little less on what we can’t do and a little more on what we can do. After all, this is America,” he touted. “The can-do society, not the, what can you do for me society.”
Carson then proceeded to bolster this argument with his most bizarre comment that day, when he offered praise for the can-do spirit of the “other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships. Who,” he stressed, “Worked even longer, even harder for less.”
Despite wide-spread reaction to the many inexplicable comments delivered by Carson during the H.U.D. presentation, his comments were merely an extension the many bizarre statements, philosophies and positions he promoted during the 2016 Presidential Campaign.
In November 2016, Carson said, I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”
Another of his more infamous beliefs is related to the Egyptian pyramids and pharaohs. “My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain. Now, all the archaeologists think that they were made for the pharaohs’ graves. But, you know, it would have to be something awfully big if you stop and think about it. And, I don’t think it’d just disappear over the course of time to store that much grain.”
On the controversial issue of bathrooms for transgender people, Carson said, “How about we have a transgender bathroom?” He added to this sentiment that, “It’s not fair for them to make everybody else uncomfortable.” However, his rant on this issue did not end there. He agreed that everyone should have equal rights, then said, “But, I’m not sure anybody should have extra rights, extra rights when it comes to redefining everything for everybody else and imposing your view on everybody else.”
There were also his unbelievable comments on the issue of gun violence. “I grew up in the slums of Detroit,” he began. “I saw plenty of gun violence as a child. Both of my cousins were killed on the streets. As a doctor,” he added, “I spent many a night pulling bullets out of bodies. There is no doubt that this senseless violence is breathtaking; but I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away. Serious people seek serious solutions,” he concluded.
And then, there was his curious observation and comments about who, in society he considers stupid. “People are not as stupid as [the media] think they are. Many of them are stupid—O.K. But I’m talking about overall. He said he was referring to people in America, “Who take the disadvantaged people in our country and say, ’You poor little thing. I’m going to give you everything that you possible need.’”
Carson added, “That’s not helping those people, and all that you have to do is look what’s happened since the Great Society programs of Lyndon Johnson. We’ve spent $19 trillion and we have ten times more people on food stamps, more people in poverty, more broken homes, out of wedlock births, crime, incarceration.”
He continued, “Everything is not only worse, it’s much worse. You’d have to be kind of stupid to look at that and not realize that that’s a failure and to say we just didn’t do enough of it—that’s what I call stupid.”
Such comments, among many other equally as bizarre sentiments expressed by Carson, has added abundant fuel to his detractors’ concerns over the potential damage he can do as head of a federal agency that the nation’s underserved communities depend on to level the playing field in housing.
After sorting through the extraneous remarks Carson made during this week’s H.U.D. talk, there was a theme that seemed to permeate his presentation—the need to resist big government—a primary talking point of the Republican Party.
This central theme, when added to additional references he made in regards to public-private partnerships and the harms of government dependency, probably offered the clearest indication yet of what the future holds for the Department of Housing and Urban Development under Carson’s leadership.