Unlike a lot of come-from-nowhere potential presidential candidates (see: Cain, Herman), there's an easy way to track down many of Ben Carson's positions: His hundreds of speeches and six books (including his most recent, now in its 20th week on the New York Times Bestseller list.) While Carson is as firm as it gets on social issues, some of his policy and political positions don't necessarily follow a straight ideological line. I asked him about some of them while preparing this story. Here's what he had to say.
Fixing health insurance
Carson has long backed health savings accounts to pay for most individual health care needs. (He put details to his specific HSA proposal in this POLITICO Magazine interview.) Where does that leave health insurance companies, whose profit-driven business model that can lead to care denial Carson calls "fundamentally wrong?"He says they should be turned into some form of utility:
"Insurance companies have to look at it very much like utilities. We control utilities. If we didn't control utilities, you probably couldn't afford your electricity or your water. So by the same token I don't have any objection to allowing insurance companies a certain profit. But you have to work within that. Give them specific guidelines."
While Carson is very clear that he sees too much regulation under the current administration, he has no qualms pointing to the deregulation of the banking system in the 1990s as a primary catalyst for the financial system's near collapse in 2008:
"Somehow in the Nineties, we decided those kind of regulations, yeah, we don’t need them anymore, we can deregulate. Well, it took about 20 years to catch up to us but of course it's going to catch up because people are greedy. I hate to see it, but it's part of human nature."
He's a free market advocate, but Carson still has strong views on Wall Street's behavior in the lead-up to the financial crisis:
"As far as Wall Street and what's going on there, I personally was pretty disgusted with some of the things that preceded the near crash of 2008. The greed – I was shocked that this was unpursued by the attorney general. I don't have any problem with people having lots of money, but I think it needs to be made legitimately and not off the backs of good people. When you have situations where you have some guys making two or three hundred million dollars and you've got all the workers struggling, there is something wrong there. I think you need to look at that carefully. Again, I have no problem with people making lots of money, but let's make it fairly and let's make sure that people are adequately compensated who are creating the wealth. People would just sit around pushing papers around while the masses are struggling to put food on the table involved in the same organization, I just think that that's wrong."
Carson is a conservative favorite, but he has taken to preaching for acceptance within the party. He was one of the few speakers who called on the crowd at the March Conservative Political Action Conference to accept, and vote for RINOs (Republicans In Name Only), in the general election. He did the same at the pro-life dinner I attended with him last Friday. Both there, and in our interview, Carson taps the Bible (and, believe it or not, Saul Alinsky) to explain why:
"I sometimes use the example of Esther in the Bible. She was Hebrew and they were subjugated to the other group and she hid her identity as a Jew. As a result of that, she was able to marry the king. Then from a position of power she said liberate her people. I'm sure a lot of people were saying 'I hate that Esther, she's embarrassed she's a Jew and she's forsaken us, what a horrible person.' But they had no idea what she was doing. My point being that sometimes you have to take what appears to be a very important issue to you and subjugate it to a much bigger picture. And that's the only way you win. I don't know if you've ever read Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky, but he was a smart strategist. He would say you can't get the whole ball of wax. But if you can get 10 percent, 40 percent, 30 percent, you add it all up and pretty soon you've got it. I think conservative people have to understand that, too. If you just say anytime somebody doesn't agree with me 100 percent of the time I'm taking my marbles and I'm going home, God, you're just making the other side so happy. You gotta think long-term interests."
Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, is a firm defender of the expertise inside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of course, that doesn't mean he agrees with the Obama administration's response so far. For the most part he believes the administration hasn't done enough to attack the outbreak. And when it comes to bringing Ebola-infected U.S. citizens back to the country, Carson is firmly on the opposite side of the president:
"If this thing spreads across the continent of Africa and gets into Europe and gets into other places, that's not going to help us. We can't think that we can be isolated and protect ourselves. It can't happen. I appreciate the fact that at these 5 airports we're going to be really screening everybody very carefully, that's all well and good, but it's a little naive to think that everybody flying out of those regions is going to come into those five airports. How do you know that some of them aren't going to come into South America or Central America with some infected people who decide, 'I'm going to die unless I get to the United States?' Really, unless you hammer it, I mean hard and fast and urgently, we're gonna regret it. I just don't think that they're treating this with the respect it needs."