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Monday, May 29, 2017

Ben Carson Was Right -‘Poverty Is A State Of Mind’

While the progressive Left considers wealth a handicap to moral judgment, commiseration, and a commitment to economic justice and equality; the evidence is to the contrary.  While FDR, George H.W. and George W. Bush, and John F. Kennedy were from families of fortune, prestige, and influence, this background of privilege did not insulate them from broader and more universal public concerns.

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Great wealth did not prejudice Roosevelt against the poor.  On the contrary, he was the political and inspirational leader of the poor during the Great Depression. 

The first George Bush was a perfect example of American noblesse oblige. There was a responsibility and a duty that accompanied great wealth.  Giving back to the community and the nation for having enabled his privilege was taken for granted.

In a career of selfless service, he served in any capacity asked of him – World War II combat aviator, Congressman,  Director of the CIA, Ambassador, Vice-President, and finally President.  Never did anyone question his integrity, personal rectitude, and honest commitment.

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By comparison the Kennedy wealth was tainted.  JFK’s father had been a bootlegger and a street fighter – nothing patrician about him, a brawler, as far from the Cabots and the Lodges, the premier patrician families of Boston as one can get – but nevertheless he amassed a fortune and used it for political influence and to promote the political careers of his sons.

Yet wealth it was, and JFK was as well-off and privileged of any President with a longer and more American pedigree.

While Kennedy was not as progressive as Roosevelt, he was elected at least in part for his liberalism.  The Eisenhower conservative Fifties had ended, and Kennedy understood that the mood of the nation was changing.  Although his family upbringing might have influenced his political decisions in favor of the business and social elites, he was a moderate who espoused social causes.

The Civil Rights Address was a speech on civil rights, delivered on radio and television by U.S. President John F. Kennedy from the Oval Office on June 11, 1963 in which he proposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The address transformed civil rights from a legal issue to a moral one.

Winston Churchill was from an aristocratic family of considerable wealth; and yet he too was instilled with a sense of noblesse oblige and gave selflessly to his country.  There was no doubt that Churchill was a man of great appetite and ambition, and his rise to power had as much to do with personal drive and self-interest as it did to paternalism.

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In all four cases, men of great wealth and privilege who could have easily rested on the laurels of family reputation and their treasuries they did not.  Wealth did not disqualify them from moral judgment, nor insulate them from the concerns of community and country.

The list of course is endless.  From Greeks and Roman Emperors, Mauryan kings, Japanese shoguns, Persian princes, and Chinese Mandarins – all men of incalculable wealth and privilege – came great leaders.

By the same token poverty does not necessarily consign everyone without means to penury and a life of frustrated desperation. 

Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, and Bill Clinton were all raised in families of modest means and middle class aspirations.  Their fathers were shopkeepers, salesmen, and small ranchers.  What distinguished them was high intelligence, ambition, and concerned family members who encouraged them.

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Martin Luther King came from a sharecropper’s family, but thanks in part to the spiritual mission of his father and his early profound religious belief, he quickly rose to prominence within the church, the community, and later the nation.

Ben Carson himself was from similarly modest means and a dysfunctional family.  Yet thanks to his sense of discipline, optimism, work, and opportunity – all of which he credits to his mother – he was able to become a doctor and later a public figure.

When Carson recently said that ‘Poverty is a state of mind’ he was referring to his own past.  There was no reason why lack of family finances, a disrupted home, a persistently racist society, and limited local opportunities should necessarily consign and condemn anyone to a life of penury, intellectual marginalization, and little influence.

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In other words, individuals who have intelligence, ambition, a sense of social and/or moral and religious commitment – whether they come from privileged or underprivileged backgrounds – can overcome the limitations of their upbringing.

There are many descendants of wealthy families who are living on private incomes – legacies, inheritances, annuities, and trust funds.  They are content to live without any particular ambition, cause, or commitment.  While they do no harm, they do not good.  In their contentedness and ease, they never realize their potential or the contribution to society that their wealth facilitates.

And, specifically to Carson’s point, there are tens of thousands of Americans who see poverty as an imposition – a matter of circumstance caused by an unequal, unfair, indifferent, and racist society.  Their demands are consistent with their understanding of poverty.  Since it has been imposed, those who are responsible for the imposition should pay recompense.  Entitlement, patriarchy, abnegation of personal responsibility, and persistent consignment to a perpetual cycle of want and reward are the result.

Critics of Carson contend that while he has succeeded in rising through the socio-economic ranks of American society, his is a particular, unique, and special case.  Not every poor American has had his advantages, opportunities, and chances.  His assumptions are arrogant, misplaced, elitist, and ignorant.

Of course he is a special case, and that is exactly the point. His family, although suffering from much of the dysfunction characterizing inner city families, refused to give in to the culture of entitlement, deferred responsibility, and cultural fatalism.  He, like many other American leaders born without privilege, have succeeded because of parental concern and attitude, the absolute importance of education, and the conviction that individual will, ambition, and discipline are the essential, fundamental, universal components of success.

It is no surprise that Carson wants to rethink, restructure, and reconfigure America’s welfare infrastructure.  What is wrong, he says, in changing the eligibility for food assistance?  Why should a single, able-bodied adult without children receive any?  Why should single women get increasing benefits the more illegitimate children she has? Why shouldn’t there be a statute of limitations on welfare payments for all but the most seriously disabled and mentally incompetent?

He is not the draconian anti-social warlord as he been depicted by the liberal Left.  He has expressed concern and compassion for those who are truly needy and wants to redefine and redesign the safety net to be sure that they are protected by it.  He is not against social welfare per se; only against the unnecessary and counterproductive use of federal funds in poorly-designed programs which promote dependency not independence.

Conservatives  have been accused of gross social indifference.  They use enterprise, individualism, and personal responsibility as covers for their fundamental mistrust and disdain for the poor.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Conservatism is a philosophy of fundamentalism – a respect for the principles and beliefs which have provided the basis for American society since 1776.  In the early days of the Republic there was no government to speak of.  The economic development of the ex-colonies and later the Old Southwest, the West, and the prairies had nothing to do with government investment, but only private initiative and investment.  Government only came later when titling, contracts, and the rule of law was necessary to adjudicate competing claims. 

Social welfare was ensured by the church and the community; but little was needed within the ethos of individualism, religion, and enterprise.  A lack of initiative and ambition were considered anti-social and anti-Christian faults.

Not only is Carson on the right track concerning social welfare; but he has a philosophical partner in Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education.  She has no patience for an educational system which offers no choice to ambitious families who wish to escape the dysfunction of inner city schools; and even less for one which displaces priorities for academic performance in favor of ‘self-esteem’ and ‘multiple intelligences’.

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What is most bedeviling to her is current assumption that slower learners all have cognitive disabilities which prevent them from performing at high levels of achievement.  Of course many children have problems which no amount of educational care and handing can overcome; but to assume that emphasizing hard work, persistence, and excellence discriminated against those few is, in her opinion, misguided.

Just like Carson, DeVos prefers to identify, isolate, and assist those few individuals who cannot do without external, government assistance; but not to use ‘disability’ a cover for all children. 

The goal of education is to drive children to the very edge of their intellectual performance and grade them on their effort and achievement.  This level of performance will follow the predictions of the Bell Curve; but every point on that curve should represent maximum achievement.

Like Carson, DeVos has been vilified by the Left for ignoring the needs of the less fortunate and for relying on a classic Republican work ethic rather than a more inclusive, tolerant, and realistic program.

Like the case against Carson, nothing could be farther from the truth.  DeVos’ intention is to restore academic discipline, personal accountability, and achievement for all while considering the needs of the special few.

The new Secretaries of Health and Human Services and Education are in complete synch when it comes to social philosophy, and together represent the best and most promising government ethical policies in the Trump Administration.

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