Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson poses for a photograph before speaking with The Associated Press in his home in Upperco, Md., Dec. 23, 2015.
Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP

Ben Carson has some unfortunate ideas about immigration, slavery

Updated
Ben Carson, who was inexplicably chosen to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, addressed his cabinet agency’s employees yesterday for the first time. It did not go well.

One might have expected the HUD secretary to share his thoughts on the department’s work and goals, because that’s generally how these kinds of remarks go, but Carson seemed eager to share a broader perspective. He tried, for example, to make some kind of point about human potential, telling his team, “I could take the oldest person here, make a little hole right here on the side of the head, and put some depth electrodes into their hippocampus and stimulate and they would be able to recite back to you verbatim a book they read 60 years ago. It’s all there, it doesn’t go away,”

Neither, apparently, does Ben Carson.

But the former Republican presidential candidate wasn’t done there. He also thought it’d be wise to reflect on slaves and immigration.
Newly appointed Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson offered few policy specifics during his first address to employees on Monday, a meandering speech marked by a startling comparison between slaves brought to the U.S. and immigrants.

Carson’s remarks on immigration recalled a Texas textbook referring to slaves as workers.

“There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships,” he said. “They too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great grandsons, great granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”
Not surprisingly, these bizarre comments drew attention, because there’s no sensible comparison between those who move seeking a better life and people who are enslaved, shipped, and sold as property. On Facebook last night, Carson issued a statement that seemed to walk back his remarks, which initially seemed like a step in the right direction.

But around the same time, Carson appeared on a radio show, where he defended the idea that slaves are immigrants. When a caller to the show insisted “you can’t be an immigrant if you’re brought over here in chains,” the HUD secretary replied, “Yes you can, you can be an involuntary immigrant.”

For Ben Carson, “Obamacare” is like slavery, abortion is like slavery, and slavery is like immigration.

But my point is not to simply marvel at the bizarre lens through which Carson sees the world. After all, “Ben Carson says bizarre thing” is one of easiest dog-bites-man stories in modern American life.

The more important takeaway is that we’ve lowered the bar to an alarming degree on the qualifications for powerful government posts.

Looking back at our previous coverage, we’re looking at an amazing case study. Carson has literally no background in housing policy, urban development, or running a large organization. In fact, Carson said he didn’t even want to try.

He was nominated anyway, and Senate Republicans confirmed him with relative ease.

Yesterday was a reminder that this probably wasn’t a good idea. During his ill-fated campaign for the White House, we got to know Carson a bit, and we learned the Republican has bizarre policy recommendations, and ridiculous theories about history and science. Carson also exaggerated many elements of his personal background, and during his party’s national convention, thought it’d be a good idea to tie the Democratic ticket to “Lucifer.”

He will, without a doubt, continue to make ridiculous comments, because that’s apparently what Carson does. And when the HUD secretary makes his next misstep, we’ll again wonder why in the world Republicans put an unqualified person with strange ideas in charge of a cabinet agency.

GOP senators probably assumed they were doing Donald Trump a favor: if this is who the president wants, this is the person the president should have. But making Carson the HUD secretary isn’t going to be helpful to anyone, including Carson.

Ben Carson, Benjamin Carson, Cabinet and Housing

Ben Carson has some unfortunate ideas about immigration, slavery

Updated