Choosing the single nuttiest part of Ben Carson’s Republican presidential platform is incredibly challenging – there are just so many options to choose from. Just over the weekend, the competitive GOP candidate talked about scrapping Medicare, compared abortion to slavery, and tried to defend his frequent Nazi references.
But if we’re ranking the most ridiculous recommendations, Carson’s plans to “monitor” political speech on college campuses has to be near the top.
To briefly recap, the retired right-wing neurosurgeon argued last week that he doesn’t want to shut down the federal Department of Education; he’d prefer to turn it into an investigatory body in which it would “monitor our institutions of higher education for extreme political bias.” If a Carson administration decided it disapproved of the “extreme” political speech on a university campus, the school would lose its federal funding.
On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Chuck Todd tried to pin Carson down on this bizarre plan. The GOP candidate – currently, a top tier contender – insisted, “This is not just spouting off; I’ve thought about this.” What a relief.
CARSON: The way that works is you invite students at the universities to send in their complaints, and then you investigate. For instance, there was a university – I’m sure you’ve heard of the situation – where, you know, the professor told everybody, “Take out a piece of paper and write the name ‘Jesus’ on it. Put in on the floor and stomp on it.” And one student refused to do that and was disciplined severely. You know, he subsequently was able to be reinstated–TODD: We’re not violating the First Amendment? How is what you’re advocating not a violation of the First Amendment?CARSON: It’s not a violation of the First Amendment, because all I’m saying is taxpayer funding should not be used for propaganda. It shouldn’t be.
Reminded that Carson’s definition of “propaganda” might look like “free speech” to others, the Republican replied, in a bit of a non-sequitur, “Well, that’s why I said we’re going to have the students send in. And we will investigate.”
In other words, Ben Carson envisions a system in which students report professors to government authorities, who will launch investigations to determine whether the scholars’ lesson plans meet with a Republican administration’s speech standards. Schools that fall short will face punishment.
No, this doesn’t sound like an authoritarian approach to higher-education at all. Why do you ask?
What’s more, as we discussed last week, let’s also not forget that Carson, perhaps more than any other presidential hopeful, is preoccupied with “political correctness” and the “speech police.” That Carson doesn’t even try to reconcile his concerns about the “speech police” with his desire for federal investigations into professors’ lectures should probably surprise no one.
But what about the specific anecdote Carson mentioned? Surely, no one is going to defend the “stomp on Jesus” professor, right?
Before answering, consider the facts that Carson isn’t aware of. Right Wing Watch reported last week, “In reality, the professor, a ‘very religious’ Sunday school teacher, was using a lesson on the importance of symbols included in a textbook written by an instructor at a Christian college and reported a student who physically threatened him after the exercise.”
Oddly enough, the Republican presidential hopeful citing this anecdote doesn’t seem to know what he’s talking about.