Ben Carson’s National Prayer Breakfast Speech

Ben Carson’s rousing speech at last week’s National Prayer Breakfast has garnered a lot of widespread attention. Depending on your point of view, this is either a heroic address that is proof that this man needs to be our next president, or it’s an insulting attempt to humiliate Barack Obama. You’ll never guess which side I’m on.

First, the speech for those of you who have not seen it:

Things get really interesting at around the 17 minute mark as he directly confronts Obamacare and economics more generally.

Actually, upon initial viewing, I did wonder if this was the appropriate venue for Dr. Carson’s remarks. After all, shouldn’t the National Prayer Breakfast be a time where we put aside partisan debate and concentrate on what draws us together? This is what Cal Thomas – no fan of President Obama – thinks:

His remarks were inappropriate for the occasion. It would have been just as inappropriate had he praised the president’s policies. The president had a right to expect a different message about another Kingdom. I’m wondering if the president felt drawn closer to God, or bludgeoned by the Republican Party and the applauding conservatives in the audience (there were many liberals there, too, as well as people from what organizers said were more than 100 nations and all 50 states).

If Carson wanted to voice his opinion about the president’s policies, he could have done so backstage. Even better, he might have asked for a private meeting with the man. As a fellow African American who faced personal challenges and overcame them, the president might have welcomed Dr. Carson to the White House. Instead, Carson ambushed him.

Carson should publicly apologize and stop going on TV doing “victory laps” and proclaiming that reaction to his speech was overwhelmingly positive. That’s not the point. While many might agree with his positions (and many others don’t as shown by the November election results), voicing them at the National Prayer Breakfast in front of the president was the wrong venue.

Leftists were much more vehement in their criticisms of Dr. Carson. Suddenly the very same people who think the entire concept of a National Prayer Breakfast is an affront to the sanctity of  the separation of Church and State were howling at Dr. Carson’s impropriety on such a solemn occasion.

There are several reasons why this criticism is unwarranted, and why Dr. Carson should proceed with his “victory laps.”

First and foremost, we have turned these occasions into sanguine, boilerplate affairs. What exactly is the purpose of this event? To mouth pious cliches about religion while not deigning to offend anyone’s delicate sensibilities? Dr. Carson did not insult the president, but rather he touched upon very serious issues and offered opinions based on his experience in the field. One would think such honesty and forthrightness would be welcome, but there are certain people among us who think the 11th Commandment is “Thou shall not offend anyone’s delicate sensibilities.” In a world where passive-aggressive disobedience is de rigueur, (see Fr. James Martin’s twitter feed to get a sense of what I’m talking about), it’s refreshing to see someone state their case with no apology.

Okay then, you might say, it’s still not the appropriate venue. After all, this an event centered around religious dialogue. Dr. Carson’s subject matter had nothing to do with prayer or religion.

Au contraire. To begin with, many of the people criticizing Dr. Carson would have similarly bellyached had he concentrated solely on “social” issues such as abortion. More importantly, it’s a false dichotomy to suggest that economic issues must be kept separate from the social ones. I have rebuked a certain strain of thinking on the right that suggests we need to get away from social issues and instead focus solely on economics. As I’ve said countless times, we cannot divorce social conservatism from economic conservatism. Well, the reverse is true. Those who favor certain socially conservative policies or attitudes – opposition to abortion, a desire to strengthen families, etc. – make a grave mistake when they turn around and embrace leftist economic policies. Just as social libertinism fosters cultural attitudes that lead to left-wing economic policies, statist (or corporatist, or whatever adjective you want to throw out) economic policies foster a cultural milieu that is an affront to what social conservatives desire. In other words, it’s a two-way street. If you want stronger families, don’t encourage economic policies that help chip away at the family. Sexual “liberty” breeds the conditions for single parenthood and the need for a welfare state. But a welfare state encourages attitudes that lead to sexual libertinism.

Finally, if we’re honest about all this pablum of “promoting dialogue,” then what’s wrong when someone gets up in a public forum and expresses disagreement with a very public person sitting in the audience? Again, Dr. Carson was in no way disrespectful, and his words could have been addressed to politicians in both parties. Is President Obama so sensitive that he can’t handle someone expressing reservations about some of his policies? Well, I think we all know the answer to that question.

Of course we don’t want these events turning into completely partisan affairs. But perhaps the question we need to ask is why is what Dr. Carson said considered to be partisan? Is Dr. Carson emblematic of societal polarization, or is the person sitting to his left the real sign of how disagreeable our politics have become that we can’t even address substantive issues in a meaningful way without it being considered divisive?


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Dante alighieri


  1. The Left pushes it’s agenda relentlessly, in every way, every day, in every forum they can. Conservatives are the only one still playing by the Marquess of Queensberry Rules for political discourse. I applaude Dr Carson’s se of his opportunity, all right thinking people should seek out their opportunities and do likewise.

  2. The Left pushes it’s agenda relentlessly, in every way, every day, in every forum they can. Conservatives are the only one still playing by the Marquess of Queensberry Rules for political discourse. I applaude Dr Carson’s se of his opportunity, all right thinking people should seek out their opportunities and do likewise.

    I think we can leave the high school yearbook staff in peace, even if Dan Savage and his enablers refuse to.

  3. FWIW I think Dr. Carson makes a serious point about graduated tax rates, and I say that as a person who happens to favor them. We can all agree that it is wrong for government to tax in such a way as to deprive the poor of necessities (leaving aside the murkiness of definitions, etc.). Beyond that a reliable basis for graduated rates is hard to identify with confidence. The best explanation is grounded in the theory that the marginal utility of money diminishes. While that is almost certainly true for any one individual or household, it is problematic when applied to groups. Some people value money (and what it can buy) more than others. Others favor various types of psychic income. People make different life choices based on their different values and preferences. I support graduated rates because I do think that the marginal utility argument has some force. But I do not support it with a lot of enthusiasm since I have little confidence in guaging the strength of that force. While I doubt that Dr. Carson ever read Blum and Kalvin (who said all that could be said on this topic over 50 years ago), I bet that these scholars would be nodding their heads in sympathy at his point.

  4. The best explanation is grounded in the theory that the marginal utility of money diminishes.

    The utility of additional increments of income certainly does decline, but that is unaffected by the rate at which you tax income. The effect of escalating marginal rates would be that the utility to be derived from earning and owning property declines more rapidly than it otherwise would. I am not sure what is the argument for that.

    A solitary marginal rate conjoined to a general (per-capita) credit or exemption large enough to remove the most impecunious third from the income tax rolls will do agreeably. Both the rate and the dollar value of the credit or exemption will have to be higher than that to which people are accustomed, but the effect on labor force participation of elevating marginal rates is mild.

  5. I thought that the argument for a progressive income tax was that it acts to counterbalance regressive taxes such as sales tax, thus making the overall tax rate relatively flat. In theory. Whether that’s true in practice, I don’t know.

  6. J.,
    While it is true that sales taxes are generally regressive, I don’t think that is really the basis for a progressive income tax. The tax equity (vertical equity) justification is simply that a progressive tax spreads the pain more evenly because higher income folks won’t miss the dough as much. While there is intuitive merit in this justification, it’s actual truth is elusive because people value money differently. Moreover, taken to its logical conclusion this justification would suggest we should impose a tax system that is sufficiently progressive to allow all households to end up with the same after tax income. Of few Americans would support that for reasons of equity (my point about people valuing money differently and making different choices) and efficiency (the necessary 100% marginal rates would obviously result in a productivity collapse).

    I agree (assuming I understand you correctly) that the benefit to any one individual of an incremental $100 “declines more rapidly” in a graduated rate environment than it would in a flat rate environment. But this is an effect of graduated rates rather than a purpose, so I don’t see why anyone would offer an argument for that.
    The degree to which marginal rates affect labor participation depends on the rates. Plainly moving a rate from 33% to 36% would have a milder effect than a move from 33% to 73%.
    Finally, I agree that your single rate plus exemption approach is supportable on both equity and efficiency grounds, though graduated rates are also supportable on these grounds as long as the rates are not too graduated. Either approach arguably presents equity deficiencies depending on one’s view how income is earned and valued while the latter presents efficiency issues to the extent earners will spread income temporally as well as among family members in order to avoid the higher rates. Of course, all approaches are imperfect.

  7. Mr Deco: I’m afraid I have missed your reference to a year book staff, and have no idea who Dan Savage is. Is your quote of my comment and subsequent follow on meant as insult or insight?

  8. Templar,
    More insight than insult, I think. I believe AD was simply pointing out that while you are correct that we must be willing to take off our gloves, we nonetheless should refrain from hitting below the belt. In other words “opportunities” to push our conservative agenda should not include every forum, even if the Left does not recognize such boundaries. AD can correct me if I’m wrong.

  9. I believe Mike is correct in his interpretation of Art’s remarks.

    As for Dan Savage – you’re better off not knowing, though a google search can provide you the information if you’re desperate.

  10. Mike and Paul, thanks for the response. I did a search on Savage…another lapsed Catholic who seems to believe everything in life boils down to the right to fornicate on demand. You’re right, a few minutes of my life wasted.

    As for our choice of forums, I agree that the rules of good taste should always apply, but I am no longer such of fan of the old adage that rigidly dictated a proper time and place for everything. Dr. Carson’s timing transformed his 15 minutes into a week long event, and many people who may not watch politics closely would be exposed to it, certainly far more than if he had merely said it in public, but not in front of the POTUS.

  11. You are both correct.

    Templar, there is a pair of organizations (one I believe composed of high school teachers and one of j-school faculty) who jointly sponsor an annual conference for student newspaper and yearbook staff. It sounds like something of a boondoggle, but never mind. This past year, the knuckleheads on the organizing committee thought it a boffo idea to invite as a ‘key-note’ speaker (why would they need one?) an obnoxious homosexual who edits the main alternative newspaper in greater Seattle. He elected to address the topic of ‘bullying’. Now, I seem to have gotten through high school without the photography aficionados on the yearbook staff causing me any anxiety. So, I imagine, did this fellow Savage. Of course, discussions of ‘bullying’ are a wedge for discussions of sodomy and the nexus of social relations which surround it, including rude and stupid public chastisement of those this fellow Savage regards as cultural enemies. You would think a conference of yearbook and student newspaper staff might discuss better photography or concise and elegant writing but nooooooooooooo. I would love to attend a deposition with the inviting committee under subpoena and under oath.

  12. A careful analysis of the past five years makes one believe a campaign speech was something Obama thoroughly enjoyed hearing at any venue. And this one was brilliant.

  13. When I listened to Dr Carson speak, I felt like I had just received a desparately desired booster shot from a highly educated man that wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His speech validated my beliefs and principles that have guided me well for the past 57 years. These beliefs and principles are founded in the Christian faith, which I believe was very appropriate and an overall part of his message. He intelligently tied his convictions from life experiences and perceptions of what needs to happen to prevail over the fear of what could happen should we continue to proceed ahead under the status quo. I was impressed in his confidence that we all must be educated which if combined to a basis of spiritual knowledge and intelligence (not emotionalism or PC) that we use to confront and address problems within our society for the good of all. I’m reminded when Jesus spoke in the temple where prominent members of the Scribes and Pharisees were in attendence and Jesus proceeded to confront the hypocrisy of the times as it conflicted with the genuine message of God and what was expected. His message was also not received favorably by those who may have been exposed. Sometimes his pointed questions were embarrassing but his depth and insight portrayed such candid comments that fairly depicted his sense of knowledge, that the majority of the teachers had to treat him with every consideration. Such a tolerance in today’s society is not reciprocrated by some butb often expected by them when the light is on themselves!! DR Carso speech and delivery was in my view spot on and appropriate for this occasion.

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