Why does Ben Carson have a job?
Dr. Benjamin Solomon Carson is many things: a pioneering neurosurgeon, the author of numerous bestselling memoirs and ludicrous pop primers to the Constitution, an earnest advocate of things like prayer in public schools, and an amateur Egyptologist and committed vegetarian.
He is also a spectacularly incompetent head of a Cabinet agency who has no business holding any public office, elected or appointed.
This isn't just my spiteful verdict on Carson's first year as the secretary of housing and urban development. It's the opinion of the man himself, who in late 2016 refused to be considered for any position in the Trump administration. "Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience, he's never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency," a spokesman said on Carson's behalf.
Some of us might ask ourselves why he ever felt qualified to be commander in chief in the last election if the prospect of being ambassador to Lichtenstein or the deputy assistant secretary of commerce for Asia struck him a few months later as not only a bad fit but a threat to the country. His own campaign was one of the better jokes the GOP has sprung upon the American electorate in the last 30 years. Among other things, Carson advocated cutting taxes to 14.9 percent for earners at all levels of income, a position he seemed to think compatible with balancing the federal budget. He also suggested that we abolish Medicare and Medicaid.
Never mind all that. The question is why a man in his 60s with no interest in housing policy or infrastructure, someone who doesn't even accept the reality of the racial discrimination the department was founded by President Lyndon Johnson to counter, ended up taking his current position. I can think of no answer except that he thinks he is being useful to his country. He should know better.
There is only one word for what Carson is and that word is "stooge." One feels pretty confident assuming that President Trump himself barely knows that HUD exists and has no strong feelings about it. He probably offered Carson the job because someone told him it was suitably insignificant. But Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, and various other Oval Office cronies are more than aware of HUD and find its continued existence painful. Abolishing the department is not in the cards (yet), but if you were in their position surely you would recognize that the next best thing is to have someone in charge of it who is totally unqualified while you seize upon every available opportunity to cut funding for it.
This is why Carson's entire tenure has been a long string of petty scandals, like the one currently playing out over his use of department funds to purchase $31,000 of furniture for his office, and embarrassing oopses, like last year when he found himself in Detroit extolling the virtues of Motor City Match, a program that helps businesses open up in the former industrial capital of the world, right after the Trump administration released a budget eliminating all funding for it. When the White House announces that they're reducing your department's budget by $6.2 billion and your response is a dashed-off statement about "fiscal responsibility" and "IT modernization," you are not only not doing your job; you're showing us you don't even know what that job is.
I wish I could think that Secretary Carson was hilarious, like I did during the 2016 election. You never knew what you were going to get from the doctor. In between passionate arguments for raising the Social Security retirement age he would liken evolution to Satanism, dismiss the Big Bang as a "fairy tale," and calmly explain how the pyramids were actually used for storing grain rather than as tombs. He had an answer for everything, and it was almost always either absurd or beautiful. But it's not a joke anymore — or if it is, it isn't very funny.
Which is why I think Carson should quit HUD tomorrow and enter the more wholesome field of children's television. For decades now American kiddos have been reeling from the loss of Fred Rogers, perhaps the only great conservative intellectual this country has produced. Carson should film a pilot for Maryland Public Television in which he explains the rudiments of anatomy and medicine to a trio of orange puppets with names like Hachmoni and Peninnah on a hospital set before exchanging his scrubs for a cardigan and loafers and telling children how special and beautiful they are. I would definitely buy an HBO Go subscription just to let my daughters watch Dr. Carson's Magic Clinic.