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“Carson Thrives Because Of, Not In Spite Of, Bizarre Rhetoric”: Comments About Muslims, Hitler And Slavery Attractive To Likely Republican Caucusgoers

For much of the summer, Donald Trump dominated Republican presidential polls everywhere, and Iowa was no different. The New York developer may not seem like a natural fit for Hawkeye State conservatives, but statewide surveys consistently showed Trump leading the GOP field.

This week, however, he’s been replaced. A Quinnipiac poll in Iowa, released yesterday, showed retired right-wing neurosurgeon Ben Carson leading Trump, 28% to 20%, a big swing from early September, when Quinnipiac showed Trump ahead in Iowa by six points.

Today, a Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll offers very similar results, with Carson leading Trump in the Hawkeye State, 28% to 19%. In August, the same poll showed Trump up by five.

But this line in the DMR’s report on the poll results stood out for me:

Even Carson’s most controversial comments – about Muslims, Hitler and slavery – are attractive to likely Republican caucusgoers.

This isn’t a conclusion drawn through inference; the poll actually asked Iowa Republicans for their thoughts on some of Carson’s … shall we say … eccentricities.

The poll told GOP respondents, “I’m going to mention some things people have said about Ben Carson. Regardless of whether you support him for president, please tell me for each if this is something that you find very attractive about him, mostly attractive, mostly unattractive, or very unattractive.”

If we combine “very attractive” and “mostly attractive” responses, these are Iowa Republicans’ positive feelings about Ben Carson:

1.“He is not a career politician”: 85%

2.“He has no experience in foreign policy”: 42%

3.“He was highly successful as a neurosurgeon”: 88%

4.“He has said the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is the worst thing since slavery”: 81%

 5.”He has an inspirational personal story”: 85%

 6.“He has raised questions about whether a Muslim should ever be president of the United States”: 73%

 7.“He has said he would be guided by his faith in God”: 89%

 8.“He has said that Hitler might not have been as successful if the people had been armed”: 77%

 9.“He approaches issues with common sense”: 96%

 10.“He has conducted research on tissue from aborted fetuses”: 31%

In case it’s not obvious, pay particular attention to numbers 4, 6, and 8.

For many political observers, one of the questions surrounding Carson’s candidacy for months has been how he intends to overcome some of the ridiculous rhetoric about his off-the-wall beliefs. But this badly misses the point – Iowa Republicans like and agree with Carson’s ridiculous rhetoric about his off-the-wall beliefs.


By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, October 23, 2015

October 26, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Iowa Caucuses | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Republicans Find Their Next Anti-Choice Innovation”: Coming Up With New Ways To Restrict Abortion Rights; The Government Decides

If you’re looking for true Republican policy innovations, don’t bother with tax policy or national security; the place where the GOP is really exercising its creativity is in coming up with new ways to restrict abortion rights. In the latest inspired move, Republican state legislators in Ohio have introduced a bill to make it illegal for a woman to terminate her pregnancy because she has discovered that the baby would have Down syndrome. The bill is expected to pass, and though he hasn’t yet taken a position on it, it would be a shock if Governor John Kasich—who is both an opponent of abortion rights and currently in search of votes in the Republican presidential primary—didn’t sign it.

After it passes in Ohio (and even if by some strange turn of events it doesn’t), look for identical bills to come up in state after Republican-controlled state. Anyone who objects will of course be accused of wanting to kill children with disabilities.

As the New York Times article about the Ohio bill notes, this isn’t entirely unprecedented; there are a few states that have outlawed abortion for sex selection, and North Dakota has a similar law passed in 2013 forbidding abortions because of fetal genetic anomaly, though “advocates are not aware of enforcement of any such laws in the states that have them.” But this one lands not only in during a presidential primary, but also amid Republicans’ latest offensive against Planned Parenthood, driven by secretly recorded videos in which Planned Parenthood officials discuss the transfer of fetal tissue for research.

That effort may not accomplish all that much; while many conservatives (and a few presidential candidates) would like to shut down the government in order to “defund” the group, that probably won’t happen, and efforts by states to discover that Planned Parenthood is doing something illegal have come up empty. But it still creates a context in which Republicans are aggressive on the issue of abortion—particularly when it may be the only “culture war” issue on which they aren’t in full retreat.

This is one of those issues where there’s an emotionally freighted case for one side, a case that can seem compelling as long as you don’t think about it too deeply. Conservatives will argue that the law is necessary because so often when women learn that a fetus they’re carrying has the genetic anomaly that causes Down’s, she winds up having an abortion. And they’ll note that people with Down’s can have happy, fulfilling lives, which they can. They’ll no doubt tell stories of wonderful individuals they know who have the condition.

But if the question is only, “If this woman carried her pregnancy to term, would it be possible for the baby that would ultimately result to have a happy, fulfilling life?” then no abortion would be allowed. Some women have abortions because they got pregnant accidentally and are too young to raise a child. Is it possible for a child born to a young woman to grow up to have a happy, fulfilling life? Of course. Some women have abortions because they don’t want to raise a child with the biological father. Is it possible for a child raised by a single mother to grow up to have a happy, fulfilling life? Of course. Some women have abortions because they already have all the children they want. Is it possible for a child born to a family that already has plenty of children to grow up to have a happy, fulfilling life? Of course.

But if we’re going to say that a woman who wants to end her pregnancy because of Down syndrome will be legally barred from doing so, we’re saying that it will now be the government’s job to evaluate whether her reasons are good enough, and if the government thinks they aren’t, then she will be forced against her will to carry the pregnancy to term. For all the restrictions Republicans have successfully placed on abortion rights throughout the country, it isn’t yet the case that women have to explain to the government why they want the abortion and prove that they’re doing it for what the government considers the right reason.

Perhaps to expedite things, every women’s health clinic could come equipped with a special hotline to the state legislature, where any woman who wants to end her pregnancy would have to justify it to a Republican state representative, who would have the final say. Maybe that will be the next bright policy idea from the party that says it’s committed to getting government off your back.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, August 23, 2015

August 25, 2015 Posted by | Abortion, Reproductive Choice, Republicans, Women's Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Abortion Opponents Show Little Concern For Poor Kids”: Those For Whom They Claim So Much Concern

Another year, another controversy over Planned Parenthood. Selectively edited videos filmed by an anti-abortion activist have given partisans another excuse to attack women’s reproductive services, starting with those provided by a well-established non-profit dedicated to women’s health care. Never mind that abortions represent a tiny percentage of Planned Parenthood’s work.

Some Republicans have gone so far as to threaten to shut down the government unless all federal funding for Planned Parenthood is eliminated. (By law, none of that money supports abortion services.) Even as prominent Republicans such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell try to tamp down that impulse, others — firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) among them — continue to insist that the entire government should be brought to its knees when Congress returns to work after Labor Day.

This is really just another opportunity to try to limit women’s reproductive choices, another chance to grandstand and exaggerate. If this outrage reflected genuine concern about lives ended while still in the womb, wouldn’t more conservatives be worried about what happens to poor babies once they are born?

For decades now, I’ve listened to anti-abortion activists rail against a “culture of death,” a callous disregard for the unborn, the “murder” of babies still in the womb. I’ve witnessed protests outside abortion clinics, listened to “pro-life” state legislators mischaracterize rape, and covered misleading campaigns that suggest abortions lead to breast cancer and mental illness. I’ve watched as hostility toward Roe v. Wade has become a litmus test inside the Republican Party.

But here’s the disconnect: Over those years, I’ve also seen anti-abortion crusaders become increasingly hostile to programs and policies that would aid poor kids once they’ve come into the world. Conservative lawmakers have disparaged welfare, criticized federal housing subsidies and even campaigned against food assistance. How does that affect those children for whom they claim so much concern?

In Alabama, where anti-abortion sentiment is as commonplace as summer heat waves, the state legislature is contemplating cutting millions from Medicaid, the program that provides health care for the poorest citizens, including children. Meanwhile, the state’s two U.S. senators, Republicans Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby, are among those demanding that Planned Parenthood receive no more federal funds because of the controversy over the sale of fetal tissue.

To be fair, there are those among abortion critics who show a principled concern for poor children, whose opposition to abortion is paired with a passion for social justice. Take Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is among the rare GOP governors to support the Medicaid expansion offered by the Affordable Care Act. “Now, when you die and get to the meeting with Saint Peter, he’s probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small. But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor. You’d better have a good answer,” he said in June.

Then there are the Catholic Health Association and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, led by nuns. They’ve also adopted assistance to the poor as a core mission.

Their compassion stands in contrast to the U.S. Conference of Bishops, which is largely known for its conservative stances on abortion and same-sex marriage. (That may change with Pope Francis, who has made social justice his hallmark.) Last year, I attended a Catholic high school commencement where the headmaster, a priest, bragged about the number of his students who had attended anti-abortion protests. He said nothing about protests over cuts in assistance to the poor.

It’s easy enough to inflame with the Planned Parenthood videos; without context (again, selective editing), leaders of the organization are heard discussing money for the donation of fetal tissue. That’s not a conversation that’s easy to hear.

But Planned Parenthood is doing nothing illegal, and fetal tissue research has been vital to improving the quality of life for an aging America. Many of those who are angered by the videos would be surprised to know that they may have benefited from fetal tissue research.

Still, I’d take their criticism more seriously if they’d spend as much time trying to help poor children once they are born. Since they don’t, they’re just engaging in a war on women — especially women who don’t have any money.


By: Cynthia Tucker,  Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; Featured Post, The National Memo, August 15, 2015. 

August 18, 2015 Posted by | Planned Parenthood, Reproductive Choice, Women's Health | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Racism And Classism”: Ben Carson Makes The Leap That Far Too Many People Do To Avoid The Topic Of Racism

It’s clear that the reason Ben Carson got a jump in the polls after the first Republican debate is because he said this:

You know, we have the purveyors of hatred who take every single incident between people of two races and try to make a race war out of it, and drive wedges into people. And this does not need to be done.

What we need to think about instead — you know, I was asked by an NPR reporter once, why don’t I talk about race that often. I said it’s because I’m a neurosurgeon. And she thought that was a strange response. And you say — I said, you see, when I take someone to the operating room, I’m actually operating on the thing that makes them who they are. The skin doesn’t make them who they are. The hair doesn’t make them who they are. And it’s time for us to move beyond that.

But then his whole campaign got derailed when it was made public that he had participated in research using fetal tissue from abortions. After attempting to make excuses for his blatant hypocrisy in condemning Planned Parenthood, Carson tried to get things back on track by writing an op-ed for The Hill.

Cason begins by relaying some of his own story and then suggests that he is going to use his own experience to talk about racism.

But the major factor in how my life has turned out was — and is — my attitude and ability to choose the object of my concentration.

My views on race in this country start from that perspective. While I advocate for a colorblind society, I am by no means blind to the reality of racism. But again it comes down to a matter of focus. I believe that if we focus on what divides us rather than what unites us, we impede our ability to transcend differences and work together constructively toward a better future for all Americans.

What follows is actually NOT a discussion of racism in this country – but a discussion about poverty, and what we should/shouldn’t do about it (hint: same old Republican line about the failure of the war on poverty).

The reason this is so interesting is that within the scope of a few sentences, Carson makes the leap that far too many people do to avoid the topic of racism. By switching to a discussion of poverty, his prescriptions are all about what poor (i.e., black) people need to do to stop being poor. If you think that has anything to do with racism, you just put the whole onus of stopping it on poor black people. Here’s how Carson does that:

The assumption that people are “poor” grounds them in a mentality that reduces agency and creates more dependency. And more tragically, it obscures the reality that there is an abundance of opportunity that is ready for people who want to avail themselves of it.

This is why it is so important for white progressives to get this right. The impetus for the Black Lives Matter movement is the killing of black people – often by police officers. I can’t think of one of those deaths that was related to poverty. Many of the victims were actually middle class. It is the “mentality” of those who pulled the trigger (usually white men) that is the problem.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 15, 2015

August 17, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, GOP Primary Debates, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How Dr. Ben Carson Ruined His Legacy”: Taking A Blowtorch To His Own Credibility

As a doctor, it’s hard to imagine a career more accomplished and admirable than that of Dr. Ben Carson. His achievements as a physician so vastly exceed my own as to render any comparison laughable, a fact that I will happily concede.

In fact, so great are his successes as a pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins that they comprise the sole basis for his run for president of the United States. Which is why it is astonishing to me as a fellow medical professional to watch as he takes a blowtorch to his own credibility in service to his political ambitions.

The most recent example of Dr. Carson the candidate saying something Dr. Carson the medical scientist knows to be incorrect was his response to the ongoing controversy about Planned Parenthood and the use of fetal tissue obtained from abortions performed there. According to Dr. Carson, “there’s nothing that can’t be done without fetal tissue” when it comes to medical research.

As it turns out, Dr. Carson has himself participated in research on fetal tissue obtained through abortion. First reported by obstetrician (and The Daily Beast contributor) Dr. Jennifer Gunter, Dr. Carson was an author on a 1992 paper that studied tissue from two different fetuses, one aborted at 17 weeks.

In response to Dr. Gunter’s blog post, Dr. Carson has said, “My primary responsibility in that research was when I operated on people and obtained the tissue. This has everything to do with how it’s acquired. If you’re killing babies and taking the tissue, that’s a very different thing than taking a dead specimen and keeping a record of it.”

This equivocating non-answer adds to the pernicious narrative surrounding abortions and Planned Parenthood that suggests some kind of ghoulishly nefarious end to use of fetal tissue following abortions, or that babies are being aborted specifically for the purposes of harvesting that tissue. Of course this is not the case, and the decisions women make when they seek abortions are not informed by the research that may be done afterward. Those conducting that research are no more implicated in the process by which the samples were obtained than Dr. Carson was.

Furthermore, as Dr. Gunter’s post goes on to discuss, there is a great deal of very meaningful research that does rely on fetal tissue. Which leads to the problem inherent in Dr. Carson’s initial response to the controversy, even if it turned out he’d never worked with such tissue himself—no matter how accomplished a researcher and surgeon he may be, it doesn’t mean he has plenary knowledge about all medical research everywhere. Any appropriately humble scientist will concede the limits of his or her expertise when it comes to fields that do not overlap their own.

Simply put, there’s really no way Dr. Carson can speak with authority when it comes to the use of fetal tissue in research for immunology, hematology, or any of a host of other areas that do not intersect with neurosurgery or neurology.

This leads to the salient question of whether being a neurosurgeon is in any way a relevant qualification to seek the highest elected office in the nation. As a pediatrician, I will gladly talk to you with confidence about the safety, mechanism of action, and efficacy of vaccines, but would rather flee the room than pretend to understand the nuances of monetary policy. Is there a plausible basis to expect that the skills that make one a master in the operating room will transfer in any way to working with a recalcitrant Congress or shepherding multilateral arms negotiations? After all, in the OR everyone is bent toward the single purpose of the patient’s well-being under the guidance of a sole authority, which can’t be said when you’re dealing with China or the Senate majority leader of the opposing political party.

Unfortunately, Dr. Carson’s latest comments are not the first time he’s spoken in a manner out of keeping with a scientific mind. On the topic of homosexuality, earlier this year he stated “[A] lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight—and when they come out, they’re gay.”

He later walked that statement back, while gesturing toward his own credentials: “I’m a doctor trained in multiple fields of medicine, who was blessed to work at perhaps the finest institution of medical knowledge in the world. Some of our brightest minds have looked at this debate, and up until this point there have been no definitive studies that people are born into a specific sexuality.”

A doctor trained in multiple fields of medicine who chooses to pontificate on the lack of “definitive studies” should know full well that vague anecdotes about gay ex-felons are the weakest kind of evidence. Even if one accepts that a significant number of formerly heterosexual men emerge from prison embracing a new gay identity (which I do not), observational data like that are among the worst, least reliable kind for drawing broad conclusions. Dr. Carson the scientist would laugh someone off the stage at a conference if they presented such sloppy thinking for review.

However, most egregious to me were his comments during the first GOP debate about the use of torture on terrorism suspects. When asked about whether as president he would allow waterboarding, he refused to condemn it and blithely dismissed fighting “politically correct wars.” Coming from a man who has presumably taken the Hippocratic oath, I found this jaw dropping. It made me wonder what other parts of that oath he’d be willing to elide in service to political expediency.

Dr. Carson is hardly the first accomplished physician to leverage his prestige for fame and fortune, and I’m sure he won’t be the last. But if he has no record to justify his claim to the Oval Office beyond his career as a neurosurgeon, shooting his scientific credibility to hell undermines any reason to consider voting for him. He’s all but swift boating himself when he flagrantly jettisons the sound judgment he’s touting as a reason to pick him instead of the other candidates.

The sad reality is that the party that gave America Todd Akin and has a bloviating vaccine truther as its front-runner sorely needs the voice Dr. Carson could be lending to its dialogue. A willingness to speak in an honest and informed manner about health-care issues, including but not limited to women’s reproductive health, would be a welcome addition to the conversation up on the GOP debate stage. But it seems like Dr. Carson lacks that willingness, and prefers to peddle the same claptrap as his far less educated and expert rivals. It’s a woeful diminution for a man who clearly has so much more he could be offering.


By: Russell Saunders, The Daily Beast, August 14, 2015

August 15, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, GOP Primary Debates, Science | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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