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“Whispering ‘Sweet Nothings’ In Conservatives Ears”: How Ben Carson’s Snoozy Demeanor Masks His Bonkers Views

Ben Carson is calm — calm like a cool spring breeze, or a long nap on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The Republican presidential hopeful speaks softly and slowly. He doesn’t wave his arms about. He shows barely any emotion at all. But Ben Carson is also the possessor of ideas that are positively bonkers, not just about policy questions, but about the world and how it works.

This odd combination of a gentle manner and extremist ideas seems to be just what a healthy chunk of the Republican electorate is looking for. Carson is running a close second to Donald Trump nationally, and leading in Iowa. As The New York Times recently reported, Iowa voters in particular are enraptured with Carson’s manner. “That smile and his soft voice makes people very comforted,” said one farmer. “I believe someone as mild-mannered and gentlemanly as Ben Carson is just about the only kind of person that could” get things done in Washington, said another Iowan.

You’d think they were talking about someone with moderate views who’d be able to get along and work with anyone, not someone who wants to outlaw abortion even in cases of rape and incest, thinks we should ditch Medicare, and holds to all manner of weird conspiracy theories. And that’s not to mention all the stuff the retired neurosurgeon says about slavery and Nazis, his belief that Muslims should be barred from the presidency unless they offer a public disavowal of their religion, or his latest proposal to turn the Department of Education into something that sounds like it comes out of China’s Cultural Revolution, in which he would have students report professors who displayed political bias to the government so universities’ funding could be cut.

Most of the time, we expect that when politicians take radical stands, they do it with raised voices and fists pounding on lecterns. “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” Barry Goldwater thundered in his 1964 convention speech, and “moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” We assume that ideologues will be the angry ones, while moderates will come across as sensible and ordinary.

In primaries, though, it’s often the loud candidates who burn brightly, at least for awhile. Deliver a stem-winding denunciation of the other party, and you can get at least some of your partisans to rally to your war banner. The mild-mannered don’t tend to have as much success, which is part of what makes Carson’s candidacy so unusual. But maybe his supporters are on to something. Mike Huckabee used to say that he was a conservative, he just wasn’t angry about it — an acknowledgement that to lots of voters in the middle, conservatism is associated with disgruntlement and contempt, as though the GOP were a party built on the fundamental principle that you damn kids better get off my lawn or else.

For the last eight years, conservatives have been angrier than ever before — mostly at Barack Obama, but also at a world that continues to change and evolve in ways they don’t like. Of late their anger has turned most particularly on their own party, which many of them view as feckless and cowardly.

In that context it shouldn’t have been a surprise that Donald Trump has done as well as he has. If nothing else, he’s untainted by any association with GOP leaders. Carson can say the same, but instead of grand pronouncements about how super-luxurious America will be once he’s in charge, he whispers sweet nothings into conservatives’ ears, at a volume so low they have to strain to hear.

But there’s no question which one is the more ideologically radical. It’s hard to tell how many primary voters understand that, particularly since most Americans don’t have a fine-grained understanding of where everyone in politics stands ideologically. Many don’t even have a particularly good grasp on what the ideological differences that distinguish the two parties are.

One thing we do know is that Ben Carson’s string of offensive and bizarre statements hasn’t hurt him at all with primary voters; if anything, they’ve helped. So it’s unlikely that too many people are being fooled by his calm into thinking he’s some kind of moderate; perhaps they think other people might be fooled. But if any of them actually think that he could change the way business is done because he’s gentle and genteel, they haven’t been paying much attention to politics in America lately.

Of course, Carson’s chances of becoming the GOP nominee are still less than great, even if he is doing surprisingly well now. Whoever that nominee is, when the general election begins he’ll claim to represent the soul of mainstream thinking, while his opponent is a dangerous extremist whose beliefs and proposals are strange and frightening. That opponent will say the same about him. And one of them might be right.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, October 27, 2015

October 28, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Conservatives, GOP Presidential Candidates, Iowa Caucuses | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“A Lot Of Homework To Do”: Rand Paul’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

It’s probably safe to say Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has had better weeks. Just over the last few days he started to lose his cool on NPR when asked about a neo-confederate he co-authored a book with; he was caught making ridiculous boasts about his record on minority rights; and he repeated a bizarre conspiracy theory about George Stephanopoulos that’s already been debunked.

And then, after all of this, the Kentucky Republican sat down for a chat with Businessweek‘s Josh Green.

Green: A recent article in the New Republic said your budget would eviscerate the departments of Energy, State, Commerce, EPA, FDA, Education, and many others. Would Americans support that?

Paul: My budget is similar to the Penny Plan, which cuts 1 percent a year for five or six years and balances the budget. Many Americans who have suffered during a recession have had to cut their spending 1 percent, and they didn’t like doing it, but they were able to do it to get their family’s finances back in order. I see no reason why government can’t cut 1 percent of its spending.

Except, whether the senator realizes it or not, his description of his plan is extremely deceptive. As Ezra Klein explained, Paul’s response wasn’t actually an answer: “Paul’s budget eliminates the Department of Commerce. It also eliminates the Department of Education. And the Department for Housing and Urban Development. And the Department of Energy. The State Department gets cut by more than 50 percent. Meanwhile, it increases spending on defense by $126 billion. Perhaps these are good ideas! But Paul doesn’t defend them. He obscures them. He tries to make his cuts sound small even though, in the areas Green asked about, they’re huge.”

In theory, Paul could at least try to explain why he thinks cutting the State Department budget in half would be good for the United States. But he either can’t or won’t do that, so he repeats vague talking points that obscure the facts.

Wait, it gets worse.

Green: Any political consultant who saw that list [of cabinet agencies Paul intends to eliminate] would tear out his hair and say the American people would never accept it. You disagree with that conventional wisdom?

Paul: You know, the thing is, people want to say it’s extreme. But what I would say is extreme is a trillion-dollar deficit every year. I mean, that’s an extremely bad situation.

Except, we’re not running trillion-dollar deficits every year. If the senator takes this issue so seriously, shouldn’t he keep up with the basics of current events?

Green: Who would your ideal Fed chairman be?

Paul: Hayek would be good, but he’s deceased.

Green: Nondead Fed chairman.

Paul: Friedman would probably be pretty good, too, and he’s not an Austrian, but he would be better than what we have.

Again, Paul doesn’t seem to know what he’s saying. As Jon Chait explained, the senator’s answer “makes no sense” because, “Paul is a hard-money fanatic who wants to abolish the Federal Reserve’s role in using money policy to stabilize the economy. That’s the joke. Milton Friedman, though, had the complete opposite view of monetary policy. His central academic insight was support for very active monetary policy.”

My principal concern with Rand Paul is not his ideology. On plenty of subjective questions, he and I would recommend very different courses of action, which is what spirited political debate is all about.

Rather, what troubles me about the senator is that he doesn’t seem to have the foggiest idea what he’s talking about. Worse, it’s not like he’s ignorant of obscure policy details on issues he deems irrelevant — Paul is strikingly confused about the issues he claims to care about most.

This Businessweek interview was a mess for the senator on economic matters, but let’s not forget that Paul also doesn’t seem to understand his own views on the use of drones, which is another issue he says he cares deeply about.

If this guy intends to seek national office and ask the American mainstream to consider him credible, he has a lot of homework to do — homework he probably should have done before making the transition from self-accredited ophthalmologist to U.S. senator.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 9, 2013

August 10, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Severely Pandering Flip”: The Romney Pivot Is Underway

Today, during an exchange with reporters, Mitt Romney had some nice things to say about Paris. That’s commanding a lot of attention already on Twitter and elsewhere.

But this quote from Romney, in which he offered his support for the push to extend low interest rates on student loans — something Obama has been championing — is far more important:

I fully support the effort to extend the low interest rate on student loans. There was some concern that would expire halfway through the year. I support extending the temporarily relief on interest rates…in part because of the extraordinarily poor conditions in the job market.

And so the pivot is underway. At his press availability today, Romney had not even been asked about the student loan push — yet he deliberately went out of his way to clarify his support for the extension, anyway.

This would seem to put Romney at odds with Congressional Republicans. Obama has launched an all-out push to get Congress to extend a provision of a 2007 law that is set to expire on July 1st — doubling the interest rate for nearly eight million students each year. Congressional Republicans are expected to oppose it along party lines, arguing that the extension represents a fiscally irresponsible effort to buy the youth vote. But now Romney appears to have come out for it.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for John Boehner, denied that Romney’s position is necessarily at odds with that of House Republicans, telling me that Congressional GOPers are still committeed to finding a way to extend low interest rates. But asked if Republicans supported Obama’s push to extend the law immediately, Steel wouldn’t say.

And Romney’s stance does seem at odds with that of Republicans like Rep. John Kline, the chair of the House education committee, who said recently: “We must now choose between allowing interest rates to rise or piling billions of dollars on the backs of taxpayers.”

Romney laid down a harder line against government help with student loans during the primary. In March, a high school senior from Ohio asked Romney at a town hall meeting what he would do to help students pay for college. Romney replied: “It would be popular for me to stand up and say I’m going to give you government money to pay for your college, but I’m not going to promise that…don’t expect the government to forgive the debt that you take on.”

But the student loan fight is one that seems tailor made for Obama to use against Romney. The GOP candidate claims that instead of favoring government activism to combat inequality, we should simply unshackle the private sector and allow it to create opportunity for everyone. The student loan fight gives Obama and Dems a good way to call the GOP’s “opportunity” bluff,” by asking why Republicans who claim expanding opportunity is the real way to combat inequality refuse to support government action that will facilitate it.

At any rate, at a time when Romney is making an aggressive bid for the youth vote, arguing that Obama is responsible for the unemployment travails of recent college grads, it appears Romney has decided he can’t afford to oppose extending the low interest rates Obama is pushing for right now.

UPDATE: Obama campaign spokesperson Lis Smith responds:

Mitt Romney continues to make promises that he can’t keep. While he previously endorsed the Ryan budget, which would make deep cuts to Pell Grants and allow student loan rates to double, and last week said that he would gut the Department of Education to pay for his tax plan, today we heard yet another—and contradictory — position from Romney on student loans. As the list of promises Mitt Romney has made to the American people gets longer — from giving $5 trillion in tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans to claiming that he would balance the budget — the numbers just don’t add up.

The real question is whether Mitt Romney is being honest about his agenda and if so, whether he will come clean about the necessarily painful cuts he would have to make to meet all of his promises.


By: Greg Sargent, The Washington Post Plum Line, April 23, 2012

April 24, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Romney’s Bad Math: What Specifics, “I’m Running For President For Pete’s Sake”

Speaking at a closed-press fundraiser in Palm Beach, Florida, on Sunday night, Mitt Romney offered more details than he ever has to date on what he might do about federal spending and taxes. Luckily, some reporters standing outside overheard him. NBC reports:

“I’m going to take a lot of departments in Washington, and agencies, and combine them. Some eliminate, but I’m probably not going to lay out just exactly which ones are going to go,” Romney said. “Things like Housing and Urban Development, which my dad was head of, that might not be around later. But I’m not going to actually go through these one by one. What I can tell you is, we’ve got far too many bureaucrats. I will send a lot of what happens in Washington back to the states.”
Asked about the fate of the Department of Education in a potential Romney administration, the former governor suggested it would also face a dramatic restructuring.
“The Department of Education: I will either consolidate with another agency, or perhaps make it a heck of a lot smaller. I’m not going to get rid of it entirely,” Romney said, explaining that part of his reasoning behind preserving the agency was to maintain a federal role in pushing back against teachers’ unions. Romney added that he learned in his 1994 campaign for Senate that proposing to eliminate the agency was politically volatile.

Romney expounded on that lesson—that he shouldn’t publicly admit to his plans to leave society’s most vulnerable citizens without any federal support—in a March interview with told The Weekly Standard. “One of the things I found in a short campaign against Ted Kennedy was that when I said, for instance, that I wanted to eliminate the Department of Education, that was used to suggest I don’t care about education,” said Romney. “So will there be some that get eliminated or combined? The answer is yes, but I’m not going to give you a list right now.” In other words, Romney believes that if he tells the public what he might actually do in office they will dislike his plans and reject them. This is just as revealing as Romney’s infamous recollection that he told his gardener not to use illegal immigrants on his property because “I’m running for office for Pete’s sake.” Romney doesn’t want to wage an honest contest between his ideas and his opponent’s. His self-described preference is to try to win by telling the American they can have tax cuts without painful sacrifices on spending.

Publicly, Romney has proposed to make the Bush tax cuts permanent and to then cut taxes further. He also wants to increase defense spending. In total he would reduce federal tax revenues by $5 billion over the next ten years. The Committee for a Responsible Budget estimated that Romney would add $2.6 trillion to the deficit. He has promised to cut spending as well, but he has avoided mentioning credible specifics.

That’s bad enough. But what is even worse is that what he offers in private doesn’t add up either. It would be one thing if Romney had a secret plan to balance the budget with drastic spending cuts to major federal programs. While it would be dishonorable of him to refuse to discuss that plan while running for president, at least you would know he has a plausible—if totally heartless—plan for governing once elected.

But he doesn’t. Instead the new details he offered were that he might eliminate the mortgage interest deduction on second homes and abolish the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The former idea is a good one, although I’ll believe that President Romney and Congress have the will to stand up to powerful lobbies such as the real estate and construction industries when I see it happen. It would not, however, generate nearly enough revenue to make up for Romney’s massive tax cuts. Perhaps because Romney himself owns three homes he thinks owning a second home is a fairly common middle class practice. In fact, only 6 percent of Americans have a second home. Eliminating the entire mortgage tax deduction would save about $215 billion by 2021, according to the Congressional Budget Office, so eliminating it only on second homes would save just a fraction of that. If you want to be generous and assume that a lot of the owners of second homes also have third and fourth homes, and that they take out mortgages to buy those homes, you could guess that Romney’s proposal might save something like 10 percent of that total, or a whopping $21.5 billion in total between now and 2021. By contrast, letting the Bush tax cuts expire only on families making more than $250,000 per year would have saved $40 billion in 2011 alone.

While HUD makes for an appealing target for destruction among rich Republicans because it is the only cabinet department dedicated to addressing poverty, it is not actually a very large agency compared to, say, the Pentagon. Its entire budget for fiscal year 2012 is $47.2 billion dollars. (The Department of Defense budget this year is $645.7 billion.) The vast majority of HUD spending falls into one of two appropriation streams: construction of public housing ($19.2 billion) and Section 8 housing vouchers ($17.2 billion). Romney did not specify whether he would eliminate those programs, or just abolish the department that houses them and redistribute their responsibilities. Assuming Romney doesn’t, or can’t, actually get rid of the federal government’s two main programs to prevent homelessness, he won’t get very much savings by closing HUD and its important, but smaller, programs such as Community Development Block Grants. As I report in a forthcoming feature for Next American City, under President Obama HUD has been dramatically helpful to cities with very small amounts of money through programs such as the Sustainable Communities Initiative. I’ve asked the Romney campaign to clarify whether Romney wants to eliminate all federal housing subsidies and, if so, whether he has any plan to combat the dramatic rise in homelessness and severe poverty that would surely result. Having not received a response, my guess is that his honest answer would be that he has no idea what exactly he proposes to cut. And he certainly hasn’t bothered to come up with an alternative affordable housing agenda.

Republicans are not terribly interested in making serious domestic policy proposals or even dealing with social issues at all. For example, House Republicans have decided that their zeal to keep taxes low on millionaires and even billionaires must be paid for by squeezing food stamp recipients. As Politico’s David Rogers reports, “An average family of four faces an 11 percent cut in monthly benefits after Sept. 1, and even more important is the tighter enforcement of rules demanding that households exhaust most of their savings before qualifying for help.” If they succeed, it will save $3 billion per year.

Republicans, including Romney, are fond of saying that they idolize Ronald Reagan and wish to govern as he did. And they would, with lower taxes, higher deficits, greater inequality and less help for the most needy.


By: Ben Adler, The Nation, April16, 2012

April 17, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

U.S. Is Urged to Raise Teachers’ Status

To improve its public schools, the United States should raise the status of the teaching profession by recruiting more qualified candidates, training them better and paying them more, according to a new report on comparative educational systems.

Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the international achievement test known by its acronym Pisa, says in his report that top-scoring countries like Korea, Singapore and Finland recruit only high-performing college graduates for teaching positions, support them with mentoring and other help in the classroom, and take steps to raise respect for the profession.

“Teaching in the U.S. is unfortunately no longer a high-status occupation,” Mr. Schleicher says in the report, prepared in advance of an educational conference that opens in New York on Wednesday. “Despite the characterization of some that teaching is an easy job, with short hours and summers off, the fact is that successful, dedicated teachers in the U.S. work long hours for little pay and, in many cases, insufficient support from their leadership.”

The conference, convened by the federal Department of Education, was expected to bring together education ministers and leaders of teachers’ unions from 16 countries as well as state superintendents from nine American states. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that he hoped educational leaders would use the conference to share strategies for raising student achievement.

“We’re all facing similar challenges,” Mr. Duncan said in an interview.

The meeting occurs at a time when teachers’ rights, roles and responsibilities are being widely debated in the United States.

Republicans in Wisconsin and several other states have been pushing legislation to limit teachers’ collective bargaining rights and reduce taxpayer contributions to their pensions.

President Obama has been trying to promote a different view.

“In South Korea, teachers are known as ‘nation builders,’ and I think it’s time we treated our teachers with the same level of respect,” Mr. Obama said in a speech on education on Monday.

Mr. Schleicher is a senior official at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or O.E.C.D., a Paris group that includes the world’s major industrial powers. He wrote the new report, “What the U.S. Can Learn from the World’s Most Successful Education Reform Efforts,” with Steven L. Paine, a CTB/McGraw-Hill vice president who is a former West Virginia schools superintendent, for the McGraw-Hill Research Foundation.

It draws on data from the Program for International Student Assessment, which periodically tests 15-year-old students in more than 50 countries in math, reading or science.

On the most recent Pisa, the top-scoring countries were Finland and Singapore in science, Korea and Finland in reading and Singapore and Korea in math. On average, American teenagers came in 15th in reading and 19th in science. American students placed 27th in math. Only 2 percent of American students scored at the highest proficiency level, compared with 8 percent in Korea and 5 percent in Finland.

The “five things U.S. education reformers could learn” from the high-performing countries, the report says, include adopting common academic standards — an effort well under way here, led by state governors — developing better tests for use by teachers in diagnosing students’ day-to-day learning needs and training more effective school leaders.

“Make a concerted effort to raise the status of the teaching profession” was the top recommendation.

University teaching programs in the high-scoring countries admit only the best students, and “teaching education programs in the U.S. must become more selective and more rigorous,” the report says.

Raising teachers’ status is not mainly about raising salaries, the report says, but pay is a factor.

According to O.E.C.D. data, the average salary of a veteran elementary teacher here was $44,172 in 2008, higher than the average of $39,426 across all O.E.C.D countries (the figures were converted to compare the purchasing power of each currency).

But that salary level was 40 percent below the average salary of other American college graduates. In Finland, by comparison, the veteran teacher’s salary was 13 percent less than that of the average college graduate’s.

In an interview, Mr. Schleicher said the point was not that the United States spends too little on public education — only Luxembourg among the O.E.C.D. countries spends more per elementary student — but rather that American schools spend disproportionately on other areas, like bus transportation and sports facilities.

“You can spend a lot of money on education, but if you don’t spend it wisely, on improving the quality of instruction, you won’t get higher student outcomes,” Mr. Schleicher said.

By: Sam Dillon, The New York Times, March 16, 2011

March 16, 2011 Posted by | Education, Employment Descrimination, Equal Rights, Professionals, Teachers, Unions | , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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