Politics

Ben Carson’s New Book Contains Some Surprisingly Progressive Ideas

CREDIT: AP Photo/Alan Diaz

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks during a news conference before attending a Black Republican Caucus of South Florida event benefiting the group's scholarship fund Friday, Nov. 6, 2015, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

Dr. Ben Carson’s ostensibly non-campaign-related book tour across multiple states may have been the peak of his campaign, as he briefly enjoyed front-runner status before wilting somewhat under the glare of policy questions and scrutiny into his past.

Hundreds and sometimes thousands of people flocked to each of Carson’s book signing on his multi-week, multi-state tour — mainly staunch conservatives drawn to his views on religion, national security, and gun rights. Yet in his new book A More Perfect Union, even as he compares taxes to corporal punishment and gay couples to conjoined twins (yes, really), he puts forward several points that are far more progressive than most of his opponents for the nomination as well as the GOP at large.

1. Affordable child care

In discussing his thoughts on the Constitution’s goal to “promote the general welfare” of its citizens, Carson notes that while he is critical of much of the social safety net, he does see serious needs that government and private businesses should help address.

“One helpful program would be to establish dependable day-care centers, particularly in inner cities,” he writes. “Generally with the arrival of the first baby, the mother’s education ceases and the child and subsequent children are plunged into a life of dependency. Dependable day-care centers would allow that mother to get her GED, associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree or perhaps higher degree and go on to become a self-sustaining, independent member of society who can teach her children to be independent, thus helping to break the cycle of dependency and poverty.”

The cost of child care in America has reached crisis levels, often more than what a family spends on rent or food. And many impoverished areas have become “service deserts” with no day care options at all.

Carson does not address, however, the poverty wages child care workers earn, which is tied to the fact that nearly all of them are women. The people entrusted with the children of working parents across the country make less on average than janitors and dog walkers, and most lack health insurance or other benefits.

2. Renewable energy

In a section of his book dedicated to energy, Carson defends the current use of fossil fuels, but adds, “Over the course of time, the renewable resources will probably supplant the petroleum-based ones, which is as it should be when progress is made.”

During one of his Florida book signings, Carson told ThinkProgress that if elected he would prioritize “protecting the earth for future generations.” A follow up question as to what actual policies he would implement to accomplish this — with renewable energy or limiting emissions — was not answered. Yet the presidential candidate has previously rejected climate science, saying during a visit to drought-stricken California: “There is no overwhelming science that the things that are going on are man-caused and not naturally caused. Gimme a break.”

3. Privacy

At multiple points in A More Perfect Union, Carson offers a passionate defense of the right to privacy, blasting the National Security Agency for conducting mass surveillance on American citizens.

“Everyone is entitled to their private thoughts and musings without fear of exposure. Creative thinking is much more likely to occur in a setting where private documents cannot be seized arbitrarily based on the suspicions of some authoritarian figure. In this cyber age, the right to privacy is more important than ever.”

“Surreptitiously tracking phone calls, purchasing activity, web site visitation history, and a host of other activities is tantamount to the illegal search and seizure forbidden by the Fourth Amendment,” he continues. “The government consistently denied its involvement in such activities until it was exposed by an informant.”

Carson argues that the choice between privacy and security is a false one, noting that government intelligence agencies are more than capable of obtaining a warrant to search someone’s online records “when legitimate concerns are present.” This stance puts him at odds with some of his more hawkish opponents, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who support the NSA’s domestic data collection programs even though federal courts have found them to be illegal.

Carson told ThinkProgress that while he is glad NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the existence of these government programs, he would not give him a presidential pardon, saying it would “set a bad precedent.”

4. Voting rights

While Carson offers few concrete promises for advancing voting rights, he goes farther than any of his Republican opponents in acknowledging the problem of modern day voter suppression and its disproportionate impact on people of color.

In A More Perfect Union he notes that there are some conservatives, “though few in number, who try to disenfranchise minority voters by putting obstacles in their way. As a society we must always do all that we can to ensure the voting rights of every citizen.”

He later writes, “Any trickery depriving American citizens of their constitutional right to vote should be exposed and vigorously opposed.”

This statement stands in stark contrast to many other Republican candidates for president. Bush, whose gubernatorial record included a controversial purge of Florida voters, has criticized his own brother for signing legislation designed to protect voting rights. This week, Christie vetoed a bill that would have automatically registered at least 1.6 million voters. Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) has implemented cuts to early and absentee voting. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has opposed efforts to pass a new Voting Rights Act in Congress.

The Republican National Committee has also shown little interest in the issue of voting rights, and the topic has gotten zero airtime during the party’s debates.

5. Representation for D.C. and Puerto Rico

Carson received a wave of media attention this past weekend for declaring his support for Puerto Rico to become the 51st state.

Yet his cautious support for more representation for Washington, D.C., even openness to the idea of statehood, has largely gone under the radar.

In A More Perfect Union, after explaining that D.C. residents pay local and federal taxes but have no vote on Capitol Hill, Carson notes that “many D.C. residents are not happy with this arrangement, because they have little or no influence on members of Congress.” While acknowledging that D.C. statehood faces nearly impossible political odds, he says, “We should diligently search for a way to make sure they are empowered like everyone else.”

Again, this is more progressive than most in his party, who span from ignoring the issue to opposing D.C. statehood outright. When asked for his stance earlier this year, Christie told a crowd in New Hampshire that he hadn’t thought about it much, but “I don’t think adding another person to Congress is going to help.” Donald Trump has declared he can’t voice any opinion on statehood because it would somehow be a conflict of interest with the massive hotel he is currently building on Pennsylvania Avenue. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-FL) and Kasich have all voted against bills for D.C. statehood during their time in Congress.