Jason Hines: I Admire Ben Carson, But … That Speech!

bencarsonIn April of 1990, Reader’s Digest published an article “Dr. Ben Carson: Man of Miracles.” As a 9 year old child, I remember reading that article and admiring Dr. Carson. I admired his struggle, his ability to overcome the challenges of his childhood. I marveled after his obvious intelligence and his miraculous accomplishments. When I found out he was Seventh-day Adventist like me that cemented my fandom. His story spoke to me as a shy smart kid, making my way through my first year at a public school. Dr. Carson showed me that with a little hard work and ingenuity, you could accomplish anything. I thought about Dr. Carson whenever I thought my dreams were unattainable. I believed in Dr. Carson. I read about him voraciously into my teenage years. Later that year (1990), I read his autobiography Gifted Hands. In 1996 I read his second book Think Big. At that age I considered him one of my role models. I don’t just consider him a great surgeon, but I consider him to be the greatest surgeon who has ever lived. I thought that in 1990, and I believe it now.

My admiration for Dr. Carson almost makes me reluctant to say what must be said. Dr. Carson’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast last Thursday was amongst the worst speeches I’ve ever seen given in such a public forum. I wish I could walk back from that assessment but I can’t. While I do not agree with Dr. Carson’s politics, my assessment is not necessarily based on the fact that I don’t agree with many (if any) of his policy prescriptions. Instead it’s based on what I believe makes a good speech. I am incredibly disappointed in Dr. Carson. Partially because he has shown a serious conservative bent in the past few years that seems to deny his own history, but also because many things he said did not stand the test of logic. On some facts he was just ignorant. Other times he engaged in some poor biblical analysis. There are several examples in his speech, of which I have only picked a few. (You can find a transcript and video of his speech here. Please go listen to it. I could not fit all the issues I had with this speech in one post.)
  •  At a National Prayer Breakfast, it’d be nice if you talked about prayer –That’s right. In the entirety of his 26 minute speech, Dr. Carson barely mentioned prayer.  He quoted a verse at the beginning (2 Chron 7:14) and saying that his mother prayed for wisdom to help him and his brother become more scholastic. For some, the most glaring problem with this speech is that it was not appropriate for the occasion. Clearly I agree with that assessment. The National Prayer Breakfast has traditionally been a place where partisan rancor has been laid aside, and Dr. Carson ruined for many what should have been a break from that. Now I’ll admit that’s not the main reason I’m upset. If the speech had been better, I don’t know that I would be as concerned about it being out of place. I do know what’s out of place though. You probably shouldn’t shill your book during your speech. I know that much.
  •  The PC police? – At the beginning of the speech, Dr. Carson went on a rant about the evils of political correctness, at one time saying we need to get over the sensitivity of being offended but also saying that we needed to be respectful of people with whom we disagree. He used as his example the tried and true war on Christmas, stating that people shouldn’t be offended when you say Merry Christmas because it is a greeting of good will. I wonder what Dr. Carson will do when someone says, “The way you can show me respect is not say Merry Christmas to me because I don’t believe in God.” Sometimes you can’t have it both ways. Of course the other thing that bothers me is that Christianity should not always be about saying whatever you want to say no matter how anyone feels about it. We should be compassionate and patient and loving. (Col 3:12) Moreover, political correctness doesn’t keep people from saying what they feel, as Dr. Carson asserted. What it does is help people be more respectful while expressing what they feel. In other words, it keeps peoplefrom looking like jerks.
  • A Church-State Problem and some bad exegesis — The most glaring problem to me was his use of tithing to support the idea of a flat tax. The first problem is that comparing tithing to taxing is just bad exegesis. Tithing is not something that we do simply because we’re trying to fund the church. Tithing is a sign of faith between the believer and God. It signifies that the Christian believes that God provides and therefore I can return some of what He has given to me. Of course the other problem with this is that Dr. Carson does not tell the whole story of economics in biblical Israel. As my friend Preston pointed out, economics in Israel also includes Jubilee Year, where all debts are forgiven. Something tells me Dr. Carson’s conservative friends would not be fans of that. Then there is the church-state problem. We should not be passing laws that are particularly religious. So Dr. Carson’s argument that we should have a flat tax because that’s the system God uses is patently foolish. What about the people who don’t believe in God? Should they be forced to follow the religious determination of what is a fair tax system? I think not.
  • If you can’t finish, don’t start – Dr. Carson went on to try and explain the best thing to do in terms of healthcare. He tried to describe a very complex system of healthcare accounts and then said that it was too complex to fully explain in this setting. He was absolutely right about that. He broke what is the cardinal rule of public speaking – if you can’t explain what you mean succinctly, then skip the point. All he did was leave us with a rambling and confusing section of his speech that came from nowhere and went nowhere.
  •  Get your facts straight – These are some minor points, but I think they show how far Dr. Carson was out of his depth. First, the United States did not win the War of 1812. At best it was a draw, and the U.S. sustained more deaths and injuries, did not accomplish their stated objective (a takeover of Canada), and lost slaves as well. Furthermore, the men who held the flag aloft at Fort McHenry and inspired Key to write our national anthem would not have thought of it as protecting “one nation, under God,” considering that no one ever said that until 1948 and it wasn’t official until 1954. Finally, I wish Dr. Carson wasn’t so ignorant about what they teach in law school. I went to law school and know a lot of people that have been there. No one at law school taught me “to win, by hook or by crook,” as Dr. Carson claimed. I don’t know anyone who was taught that in law school. What were we taught? We were taught to think critically, to be more observant. They taught us how to mediate, negotiate, and solve problems. Those are the things Dr. Carson said were needed. Maybe we should have more lawyers in the room sir.
  • Spare me the false platitudes – Towards the end of the speech, Dr. Carson just started throwing out half-baked statements to make points that I guess he didn’t have time to fully develop. He said that the reason our national symbol, the bald eagle, flies so high is because it has a left wing and right wing (insert laugh here). Laying aside the fact that chickens also have left and right wings and barely get off the ground, this play for bipartisanship rings hollow in light of the speech that came before it. Dr. Carson mentioned no left wing principles or plans that he thought were good. This is further proven by the fact that in conservative circles his speech has been reported as a criticism of the President and his policies. In the aftermath of the speech, Dr. Carson has been making the conservative media rounds in support of this point. When you make such a partisan speech, you seem even more disingenuous when you attempt to throw the left wing a bone at the end.
With the exception of his analysis of tithing and taxing, my criticism has nothing to do with Dr. Carson’s political beliefs. I don’t think that his opinions are what make this a bad speech. I will admit that my admiration of Dr. Carson is part of the reason why I hold him to a higher standard. I expect that he would have a better sense of time and place. I expect that he would have the ability to stay on topic for the event. I expect him to be efficient in his language and be able to explain his thoughts clearly. I expect him to say things that stand the test of basic logic. I don’t think that’s too much to expect from the greatest surgeon ever. And what bothers me most is that a lot of people thought the speech was great.

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JasonHines

A Harvard Law graduate, Jason Hines practiced commercial litigation in Philadelphia for five years. In 2008, Jason decided to devote his life to work in religious liberty. To that end, he enrolled at the Seminary at Andrews University, where he earned a Master’s Degree in Religion. He is presently a PhD candidate in the Religion, Politics, and Society at the J.M. Dawson Institute for Church-State Studies at Baylor University. Jason blogs about religious liberty and other religious issues at thehinesight​.blogspot​.com and is also an associate editor of ReligiousLiberty​.TV, an independent religious liberty website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

14 Comments

  1. Jason,
    Your criticism of his criticism of PC is itself PC. If he had gotten the memo of the talking points he clearly ignored it. He should have towed the liberal line and talked the talk that is acceptable in the presence of Mr. Obama. Mr. Obama can and does use such ocasions to push his agenda. When he does, praise is heaped on him for doing so.

    Your comment also reflects the left’s understanding of bipartisonship: bipartisonship is when everyone surrenders to the liberal position and doesn’t even mention that there are other opinions..

    His point about tithe was by way of example. Not as what to do for religious reasons. We all know a flat tax will never pass. Far too many products of our educational system think that paying the same percentage is the same as paying the same amount. Politicians capitolize on and reinforce that by saying things such as ‘it’s not fair that a rich man should pay the same as a poor man.’

    I feel for him because he is now squarely in the cross hairs of the Obamabots gun sites. Oh, I’m not supposed to use such violent rhetoric. But it’s only violent when coming from a non-liberal. (FWI — Sarah Palin’s map was just like one earlier published by the DNC and broadcast by the various networks).

    The usual silencing mechanism for what he said is to somehow call him a racist. When an African American dares break from lockstep his message is rendered mute by calling him an uncle tom. You refrained from that but came close …“deny his own history”. There was a bit of the “how dare he”.

  2. I agree with this assessment. It was a golden opportunity missed.

  3. My friend … I read your article and you cannot make me believe for a moment that your politics have not shaded your critique of Carson’s speech, just as if I will not try to act as if my politics do not favor my liking of his speech. I think your piece is extremely knit picky on trees while completely failing to see the forest. Let me share an observation for your consideration … maybe Carson is making his rounds as you put it on conservative media because that is the only media that allows a different point of view. All the other media outlets tend to express only one narrative for the public and by in large you expect from the media to be anit conservative and pro liberal. Therefore if it is not in favor of the present administration it will not get exposure. You certainly cannot count the other media outlets to report on the speech period because that is what PC is all about. PC is not about communicating respectively. It is about intimidating people to be silenced by calling people bigots or racists or whatever you want to label them from having a different position. This Dr. Carson knows well being that students, facutly, and parents tried to have him removed from giving a commencement speech at a major university not too long ago because of his expressed belief in creationism. That is PC — You will be punished if you do not believe or act in a way that WE (whoever we is, wants). Criticize Carson for not speaking about prayer, how much did the President say about it? He basically suggested it doesn’t work because he prays at the breakfast and then goes back to the White House to watch CNN. But I think you really need to re examine just how much of your problem with Carson was not about the speech but really about your political ideology.

  4. A friend gave me as a gift Carson’s book. I had not known anything about his conservative bent. I was astounded by so much of what he wrote. I certainly agree with Jason Hines. That was no place to tout one’s book. But perhaps those conservative folk just ate it up.

  5. Glenn,

    I wasn’t going to respond because I think much of what you said is not worthy of response, but I do want to clear up one thing. My saying that his ideas, “deny his own history,” was not about attempting to call him an Uncle Tom (I actually hate that phrase and do not use it ever.). It was about denying the fact that Dr. Carson would not be where he is without public assistance. Went to a public school, relied on public funds in many ways, and now he supports denying or reducing many of those benefits to others. But while I’m here let me say this too. You drastically misunderstand my point about bipartisanship. I never said he should say his policy prescriptions that are conservative. I said that it’s disingenuous to make statements about bipartisanship when you have said nothing that supported any left wing position. Thanks for your comment.

  6. Jason,

    I think we just spoke on FB, but I want to make it clear here, as I did there, that I did not hide the fact that I don’t agree with Ben Carson politically. But notice my post is largely about the rhetorical problems with the speech (contradictions, bad exegesis, insufficient explanations, incorrect facts, false platitudes). Those are criticism that can be made regardless of the content. There are tons of speeches that I don’t like politically but that make sense within their own framework. The same cannot be said for Dr. Carson’s speech. Thanks for your comment.

  7. I think it is naive to believe that politics didn’t influence your perception of Carson’s speech. We all perceive the world around us through our own experiences and beliefs. To deny that is silly.

    It is interesting that you haven’t expressed a problem with Obama’s very political speech…just Carson’s. The so-called Prayer Breakfast long ago became a way for secular politicians to appear religious while espousing politics. This annual forum would more accurately be called, “Prayer Breakfast for Politicians” Of course it is political. Duh.

    Do you really believe that Carson shouldn’t have brought up any point that he couldn’t fully explain (“If you can’t finish, don’t start”). So if you were giving Carson speech advice, it would be: “Don’t say anything unique or challenging because there isn’t time to explain yourself fully.”

    Why has Carson’s speech become such a hot topic in the media? Why did it motivate you to go to the effort of scolding Carson about his poor content, delivery, and subject matter? Would you have gone to the trouble if he had just talked about prayer? Of course not. Carson was political. Just as you are political in your response to him. He said things you don’t agree with. Why didn’t you write a response pointing out your disagreements, rather than finding it necessary to criticize the context or quality of his speech?

    Carson dared to speak out. Doing it five feet from Obama has added to the buzz and stirred up a lot of passion.

    Further, the speech was delivered by a genuine hero of against-the-odds childhood. But you don’t even want to give him that credit…wishing that he would give public education (government) the praise for his success. You are not alone in your criticism of the successful.

    Carson believes in self-determination…individuals are responsible for themselves and have the God-given ability to succeed. Obama believes people are victims and must be taken care of by the government, or at the very least, give government credit for their success. Even more, Obama believes that they are not just victims of circumstances, but victims of those who are successful. As such, Obama’s politics and beliefs have a built-in disdain for those who rise above their circumstances…for those who become successful. Carson says, “You can be successful,” and Obama says, “If you are, you will be the enemy.” Carson had the chops to even point that out, challenging us to praise the successful and tell their stories as a means of motivating society to do better.

    Carson’s speech was, as his opening remarks predicted, not politically correct. Had they been, you wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of excoriating the man your title says you admire.

  8. Mr. Hines: I thought the speech was just right, in the right place and at the right time. This had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with what is right. I am so glad he didn’t swell up and go PC. It may have been Brother Ben’s Best Opportunity. Like Daniel talking straight to Nebuchadnezzer.

  9. Jason: I understood your assessment of the speech. Carson was on Fox News talking about how all these people want him to run for president and he told Sean Hannity that he wouldn’t mind. He is an arrogant person with no original ideas who found a niche in a party desperate for someone different. His stunt at the breakfast means he is either gunning for a position in the national GOP machine or trying to sell more books. Unlike you, I do not admire Dr. Carson. His speech showed how unimpressive he is.

  10. Dale Fuhrmeister says:

    Ed Dickerson says it all. Go to http://​outlookmag​.org/​p​o​l​i​t​i​c​a​l​-​c​o​r​r​e​c​t​n​e​ss/
    Get off the manipulation train! Political correctness is a thinly veiled attempt, and all too successful at times, to control others and quash all debate by those who don’t have a prayer and winning in such a debate!

  11. Jason, when was the last time you “critiqued a speech” given at a National Prayer Breakfast? To suggest that his politics had nothing to do with you writing this piece rings quite hollow. What seems more obvious is an attempt at damage control for the perceived disaster of a conservative African-American.

  12. A Seventh-day Adventist personality is it the news and guess what? some Seventh-day Adventists (or claiming to be…) already bulldoze the man. He is too conservative, he is too “smarty-pants”, he could’t finish his argument, he said nothing but “false platitudes”…
    It looks like the same story like this one: “For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” Luke 7:33–35 NIV
    Dr.Carson, be careful with these (SDA) lawyers. They will sue you anyway…

  13. Marc (and actually anyone else who may come this way),

    I have received a lot of criticism about this piece. I don’t mind it actually, and my only regret is that it would be practically impossible to respond to you all. I have found that most of the criticisms about the post fall into 2 main categories, and so I responded on my blog, where this piece originated. Feel free to go there and read the piece, and we can have a more full discussion there if you like. Here’s the link to my response — http://​thehinesight​.blogspot​.com/​2​0​1​3​/​0​2​/​t​h​e​-​a​f​t​e​r​m​a​t​h​.​h​tml

    Jason Hines

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