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October 19th, 2017

Insight

For Ben Carson's Mom, a Presidential Medal of Freedom

Bob Tyrrell

By Bob Tyrrell

Published Nov. 5, 2015

Ben Carson is an American hero. He is also a front-runner in the Republican race for the White House. What is more, he is black, God-fearing, law-abiding and a distinguished neurosurgeon. Weighing the most important things in life, he is everything you would want in an American man.

Yet his road in life has not been without challenges. As a young boy growing up in Detroit he now says he had temper management difficulties — curiously, this admission caused laughter among middle-class liberal pundits. He also had settled into the bottom of his grade school class until in fifth grade a teacher noticed he could hardly read a line on an eye chart — more laughter from the liberals? He needed glasses, which his school provided for him, whereupon he proceeded toward the top of his class. Perhaps the reason he had not been tested for glasses is that his single-parent mother worked from dawn until dusk daily, often at two or three jobs a week to provide for her children. Sometimes a week would go by without Ben seeing his mother. She was that busy.

One of 24 children (yes, 24 children), she only had a third-grade education. Yet she had character. Rather like Clarence Thomas' grandfather — he being the moral force in Justice Thomas' life — she instilled strong values in young Ben and was especially adamantine against dependency and for the work ethic.

Eventually, her son beat the odds (they were roughly 1 in 100) and went to Yale University and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, but in the meantime, something terrible happened to the Carsons' Detroit neighborhood. Once a tidy black neighborhood of well-tended homes, clean and safe streets, where neighbors watched out for each other and each other's children, the neighborhood began to decline in the 1960s. By the 1970s, its functioning churches, accountable schools, clean streets and tidy lawns were no more. Today it looks like a bombed-out neighborhood in the Middle East. Long ago, it became a slum. As Mrs. Carson and her son might have told us, nothing in the old neighborhood works except for the poverty programs, at least those that have not been looted. They function to keep their clients dependent.

As the liberal icon and part-time economist John Kenneth Galbraith told us back in the 1960s, all that was needed to eliminate poverty was money. He believed that if we gave sufficient largesse to the poor, mainly to blacks, they would kick the habit of poverty. According to Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield of the Heritage Foundation, the federal government has given the poor more than $22 trillion in anti-poverty programs over the years, and today we have about the same percentage of people living in poverty as we did before it all began in President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society.

By the late 1960s, the federal government was flooding black neighborhoods with money. It was also turning them into slums. Edward Banfield, the great student of urban blight in the 1960s and 1970s, said that the one great tragedy for 1960s blacks that never afflicted earlier urban immigrants such as the Irish and the Italians was the arrival of the liberals' anti-poverty programs. He also wrote convincingly that Galbraith's solution for poverty was nonsense. The Carsons had it right. The work ethic along with a few other matters — such as neighborhood churches, accountable schools, strong family and social structures — were necessary for black progress to continue.

Banfield, along with two distinguished black scholars, Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams, has written that since the late 1880s, despite Jim Crow legislation and racial bigotry, blacks in both the north and the south had been steadily advancing until the Great Society. Mr. Sowell writes that, "the cold fact is that the poverty rate among blacks fell from 87 percent in 1940 to 47 percent by 1960. This was before any of those [Great Society programs] began." And Mr. Williams writes that liberals "want us to believe that today's black problems are the continuing result of a legacy of slavery, poverty and racial discrimination. The fact is that most of the social pathology seen in the poor black neighborhoods is entirely new to the black experience." Mrs. Carson, you were right on the money.

Whether Ben Carson wins the presidency or not, he is a great American, but what about his mother? I propose a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator, a political and cultural monthly, which has been published since 1967. He's also the author of several books.

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