Ben Carson watches as Donald Trump takes the stage during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado, Oct. 28, 2015, in Boulder, Colo.
Photo by Mark J. Terrill/AP

Why Ben Carson’s bizarre perspective on poverty matters

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson’s propensity for saying ridiculous things has become the stuff of legend. It was, after all, just two months ago that Carson, the retired brain surgeon who was put in charge of a cabinet agency he knew nothing about, insisted that slaves should be seen as “involuntary immigrants.”

The Rachel Maddow Show, 11/23/16, 9:18 PM ET

Trump cabinet distinguished by inexperience

Rachel Maddow reminds viewers of the terrible things Donald Trump said about Ben Carson as a candidate even though he now seems poised for a cabinet post. Michael Beschloss joins for analysis.
Yesterday on SiriusXM Radio, Carson added to his greatest-hits collection, which is notable in its own right, but which is even more important when considered in a broader policy context.
“If everybody had a mother like mine, nobody would be in poverty,” Carson started. “She was a person who absolutely would not accept status of victim.”

Carson said it’s mind over matter. “I think poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind,” said Carson. “You take somebody who has the right mindset, you can take everything from them and put them on the street and I guarantee you in a little while they’ll be right back up there. And you take somebody with the wrong mindset, you can give them everything in the world, they’ll work their way right back down to the bottom.”
This is not an argument that anyone should take seriously. The causes of chronic, generational poverty are complex, but “the wrong mindset” isn’t among them.

But Carson’s comments nevertheless offered a peek into an important perspective. Just this week, Donald Trump’s official White House budget was unveiled, and it laid a brutal blueprint, with needlessly cruel cuts to programs that benefit the nation’s most vulnerable communities.

And why, pray tell, would the Republican administration recommend such a callous course? In part because GOP officials are desperate to find funds that can be directed to tax cuts for the wealthy, but also because they see the world the same way Ben Carson does: they’re convinced that those struggling in poverty have themselves to blame. If these folks simply had a better attitude, they wouldn’t need assistance such as food stamps.

If Americans in poverty heard more about this perspective and turned out in larger numbers, it’d be a while before Republicans won an another election.

Ben Carson and poverty

Why Ben Carson's bizarre perspective on poverty matters