Get a job. Weed a garden, wash cars, pick vegetables – whatever you have to do to make a living and avoid being on the dole. It can help save the U.S.A.
That’s one of the messages in conservative activist Ben Carson’s new book, One Nation: What We Can Do to Save America’s Future. “It may not make you a millionaire, but certainly can pay the bills and put food on the table,” says Carson, not caring a whit about political correctness, something he’s well known for disdaining.
The former pediatric neurosurgeon argues that individual actions and responsibility can help right a nation badly off the rudder of fiscal and economic responsibility. The message – however much it grates against blue-state sensibilities – is resonating. His book debuted at number one on The New York Times hardcover nonfiction bestseller list several weeks ago and is still hovering near the top – a notch below Hillary Clinton’s new memoir, Hard Choices, as of this week.
A registered independent and devout Seventh Day Adventist Christian, Carson pole-vaulted to national prominence after he spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., in February 2013. With President Obama sitting just a few feet away, Carson took swipes at a liberal government that he said contributed to the growing national debt – threatening the country’s economic future.
“We have to deal with this,” he said then, something he repeats in his new book: “We are killing the next generation. We have to think about that.”
With his fiery rhetoric and conservative bona fides, Carson’s political star has been on the rise. At last year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Carson said he might potentially be open to a bigger political role in Washington: “Let’s say you magically put me in the White House” – which brought attendants to their feet. At this year’s CPAC, he said, “The majority of people in this country have common sense – the problem is they have been beaten into submission.”
Still, many people take Carson to task for, among other things, his opposition to gay marriage. “He’s a paid contributor to Fox News who is publicly eyeing the 2016 presidential race with encouragement from the ‘National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee,’” wrote Matt Finkelstein in The Daily Beast last month.
Carson defended himself: “I believe gay people should have all the rights anyone else has. I was trying to say that as far as marriage was concerned, it has traditionally been between a man and a woman and no one should be able to change that.” Some believe, however, that Carson is simply too blunt to operate anywhere other than the political fringes as a writer and speaker.
Carson says he’ll speak up no matter what and that America must grow a backbone again. Too many in this country have been “rendered complacent by an overly generous system that cultivates their votes rather than their talents.” People need people, he says – citing churches, community groups and others that can help “achieve a growing and vital economy” and give people “a hand up rather than a handout.”
“There’s no question our government needs to cut wasteful spending,” says Carson in the book. “The cutting should occur in areas of duplication of services, extravagant entertainment for government officials, fraud, unnecessary programs, and so on.” But more vital, he says, is “expanding the economy with significant income to the government.” Corporate tax rates should be reduced to create a friendlier environment for business and entrepreneurship.
Here’s Carson on the dangers of being on the dole for years on end, from his book:
“I don’t wish to sound cold, but sitting around collecting welfare checks is unlikely to bolster one’s resume and expose one to job opportunities. When you make yourself valuable by acquiring knowledge and many skills, you make yourself more employable….
“One logical and compassionate solution to the problem of growing welfare rolls is to set a date several years away for the elimination of welfare payments for able-bodied individuals who could work and support themselves. This would give them time to prepare for the job market… Some liberals would say that is mean and heartless, but some conservatives would say that continuing to sustain people in a dependent position with meager welfare payments is what is really cruel… It removes the incentive to engage in self-improvement activities.”
To prove he’s not just preaching, Carson, born poor in inner city Detroit, cites a range of menial jobs he’s held in his own life. He says these jobs contributed to the sum total of his talents. He has worked as a lab assistant, a payroll office clerk, a bank teller, a mailroom clerk, an encyclopedia salesman, and a supervisor for a highway cleanup crew – even an assembly worker in an auto factory, all before becoming a renowned neurosurgeon who successfully separated conjoined twins.
“No knowledge is wasted knowledge,” he says. “It can be used in virtually any career, and opens many doors of opportunity.”
Whether Carson can ever make the leap, though, from bookish intellectual with deeply held conservative convictions to arms-wide-open political candidate who can lead a deeply divided Republican Party – let alone a nation -- that is the large and still very open question.
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