Prior to last night, I saw some great reasons to support Ben Carson as a candidate for the most significant public office in the world. As a political outsider, I thought there was a chance he could challenge establishment politics. His grassroots support, evidenced by the sheer number of his campaign donors, also gave me some hope that he would not just be another political puppet of corporate America. Even his calm demeanor did much to combat the stereotype I have of the angry, fear-mongering conservative. I thought, at the very least, the doctor will make it appear as if he acts based on reason rather than emotion. This was all enough to move me, an independent liberal voter, to consider Carson as a suitable second choice (behind Bernie Sanders) for President. And in the event of a Carson versus Clinton matchup in 2016, I was ready to vote for a Republican.
Five minutes into last night’s debate, that all changed.
In case you missed it, Neil Cavuto (debate moderator) led with a question regarding the minimum wage. Donald Trump said he would not raise it; the audience applauded. Carson was then asked about his proposal to have a starter wage for younger workers and a higher minimum wage for adult workers:
CAVUTO: You suggested one minimum wage does not fit all, and that perhaps we should offer a lower or starter wage for young people. Those protesters outside are looking for $15 and nothing less. Where are you?
CARSON: As far as the minimum wage is concerned, people need to be educated on the minimum wage. Every time we raise the minimum wage, the number of jobless people increases.
It’s particularly a problem in the black community. Only 19.8 percent of black teenagers have a job, who are looking for one. You know, that — and that’s because of those high wages. If you lower those wages, that comes down.
You know, I can remember, as a youngster — you know, my first job working in a laboratory as a lab assistant, and multiple other jobs. But I would not have gotten those jobs if someone had to pay me a large amount of money.
But what I did gain from those jobs is a tremendous amount of experience, and how to operate in the world and how to relate to different people, and how to become a responsible individual. And that’s what gave me what I needed to ascend the ladder of opportunity in this country.
That’s what we need to be thinking about. How do we allow people to ascend the ladder of opportunity, rather than how do we give them everything and keep them dependent?
At this point I was a bit frustrated that Dr. Carson failed to address the question, but Cavuto, feeling similar frustration, I assume, sought clarification:
CAVUTO: So, sir, just to be clear, you would not raise it?
CARSON: I would not raise it. I would not raise it, specifically because I’m interested in making sure that people are able to enter the job market and take advantage of opportunities.
More applause from the partisan audience.
And it was at that exact moment we witnessed a transformation. Dr. Carson the rational political outsider became Ben Carson the Washington politician before our very eyes. A supporter of the people became a supporter of the status quo. An independent thinker joined the herd.
One only has to go back a few weeks to see how drastically Carson’s ideology changed on what is perhaps becoming the key economic issue of this election. At the debate in California on September 16th, Carson was asked about the minimum wage:
TAPPER: Dr. Carson, Governor Walker didn’t really answer the question, but I’ll let you respond. He called raising the Federal Minimum Wage lame, what do you think of that?
CARSON: Well, first of all, let me say what I actually said about raising the minimum wage. I was asked should it be raised. I said, probably, or possibly. But, what I added, which I think is the most important thing, so, I said we need to get both sides of this issue to sit down, and talk about it. Negotiate a reasonable minimum wage, and index that so that we never have to have this conversation again in the history of America.
For a few reasons, Carson’s response in September was refreshingly brilliant. For one, his tone indicated a willingness to negotiate. In a two party system, negotiation was, is, and always will be America’s only hope at moving from gridlock to solutions. His answer was also unique. No other Republican candidate has offered anything other than a firm “no” when it comes to raising the minimum wage. Carson may have not have completely calculated the risk he was taking by veering away from conventional Republican thinking, but with a field of twelve (6 legitimate) candidates, it was nice to see one willing to offer at least some level of contrast on the issue. Most importantly, Carson’s response in September offered a logical solution to a relatively simple problem. His suggestion to “index” the minimum wage to inflation would indeed solve the issue at hand: that is the purchasing power of the wage, not the specific dollar figure. Note that while they don’t support an increase, even most of the Republican candidates tacitly support the concept of the minimum wage (save Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina, who would like to see it abolished), so if they support the concept, Carson was correct to propose a compromised and indexed wage that would keep taxpayers from continuing to subsidize the working poor.
What a difference seven weeks makes.
Carson’s answer last night regarding raising the minimum wage came with no acknowledgement of his previous position, which is in itself disturbing. Did he think no one would notice his change? Either way, this flip-flop is especially troubling because it tells us one of two things: either Carson pulled a “Hillary” by shifting dramatically on a critical policy stance because he realized (or was told—à la the Rubio to Bush burn) it was not politically expedient, or Carson himself became “educated” on the minimum wage sometime over the last seven weeks and decided that his original solution would cause joblessness.
If Carson changed his answer to stay in line with the party, he is no longer the political outsider that he and his current supporters might like to think he is. If he changed his answer because he only recently adopted a new position due to new information, then concerns regarding his lack of knowledge regarding policy matters have been clearly validated. Either way, the fling is over for me.