Republican presidential candidate Benjamin “Ben” Carson was director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland from 1984 until he retired in 2013. As recently as 2013, he was not affiliated with any political party, even though in a book of his published the same year, he wrote that he believed “it is a very good idea for physicians, scientists, engineers, and others trained to make decisions based on facts and empirical data to get involved in the political arena.” In 2014, he joined the Republican Party and said he was considering running for president in 2016. He officially announced his candidacy in May 2015.
Carson’s recent comments on Medicare and Medicaid reveal the true nature of conservatism.
Medicare is government-funded health care for those 65 years old and older and for those who are permanently disabled, have end-stage renal disease, or ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). It is funded by a combination of a payroll tax of 2.9 percent (split between employer and employee) and taxpayer subsidies. Covering more than 55 million Americans, it is the second-largest federal domestic program. Medicaid is government-funded health care for the poor and disabled of any age. It is jointly financed by the federal government and the states. Covering about 70 million Americans, it is the third-largest federal domestic program. Both Medicare and Medicaid recently observed their fiftieth anniversary.
Americans are generally more inclined to listen when a physician talks about problems with Medicare and Medicaid. But at a time when candidates for president — from both parties — universally declare their support for saving, preserving, reforming, or fixing Medicare and Medicaid for seniors and society’s most vulnerable, Dr. Carson did the unthinkable: he said he wanted to abolish those programs.
Then he said he changed his mind.
But it turns out that Carson never really wanted to abolish the programs at all. Sure, he wanted to eliminate the names of the programs and change the way they operate. However, the essence of the programs would still be the same: government-funded health care. And since the government has no money of its own (other than what the Federal Reserve creates out of thin air for it), it must first take money out of the paychecks, pockets, and purses of Americans before it can fund health care or anything else. Government-funded health care simply means that the government forces some Americans to pay for the health care of other Americans.
Carson just wanted to replace one government program with another government program. Before he changed his mind, he favored “a system of cradle-to-grave savings accounts which would be funded with $2,000 a year in government contributions.” The government would “contribute $2,000 to each individual’s tax-free account every year, with a third of the funding earmarked for insurance to cover severe medical incidents.” These health-savings accounts would be paid for “with the same dollars that we pay for traditional health care with.” Individuals and employers “could contribute additional funds to the accounts, and the unspent funds could be shared among family members.” Carson claimed that this would make “every family their own insurance company.” He has touted how much more “freedom” and “flexibility” Americans would have, and how his program would be cheaper for the government to administer.
Carson has also maintained that “the 5 percent of patients with complex pre-existing or acquired maladies would need to be taken care of through a different system, similar to Medicare and Medicaid.”
But then Carson responded to a question about Medicare on his Facebook page: “The next question is about Medicare. Annette from Ohio wants to know if I really want to abolish Medicare as was reported in a Washington politician tabloid. The answer is of course NO. I am interested in how we can both save money and deliver better service to our nation’s seniors.”
And then, a few days later, Carson told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, “I’m not a politician. So don’t say that because I thought this a while ago before I had an opportunity to talk to a lot of economists and various people and cost it out, that I can’t change my mind.”
Carson now expresses support on his website under the issue of “Health Care” for “Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) which empower families to make their own decisions about their medical treatment.” No specifics or further details are mentioned. Just like when Carson concludes with the generic statement that “more freedom and less government in our health-care system will mean lower costs, more access, and continued innovation.”
But Carson is not alone.
This is conservatism: lies, half-truths, flip-flops, contradiction, obtuseness, obfuscation.
Even when conservatives say they support abolishing some program or agency in the government, they don’t really mean it. Right now it is fashionable for Republican presidential candidates to talk about abolishing the IRS. Does that mean that they think no Americans should have to pay any federal taxes? Of course not. Does it mean that they want to cut the federal budget by 95 percent? Of course not. Does it mean that they want to eliminate funding for art and culture, foreign wars, the empire of troops and bases that encircles the globe, food stamps, WIC, SCHIP, TANF, HUD, foreign aid, Pell grants, scientific and medical research, and the drug war? Of course not. Does it mean that they expect the federal government to operate just on the revenue it receives from gifts, bequests, land sales, tariffs, and user fees? Of course not. In other words, some conservatives want to abolish the IRS, but still have the government collect taxes.
And, of course, everything conservatives say on the surface sounds good, but there are always exceptions:
- Conservatives want to balance the budget, but over a ten-year period, and with exceptions for war, emergencies, recessions, and a supermajority vote by Congress.
- Conservatives want to cut the budget, but not the Defense Department’s budget.
- Conservatives want to cut welfare, but not the biggest welfare program, Social Security.
- Conservatives want to follow the Constitution, but still have the government fund education and welfare.
- Conservatives want Americans to have more freedom, but not to use drugs.
- Conservatives want a limited government, but preferably a government limited to control by conservatives.
- Conservatives want free trade, but think they need thousand-page trade agreements to institute it.
- Conservatives want a free society, but not with the freedom to discriminate in employment and housing.
- Conservatives want free enterprise, but not without government regulations.
Contrast libertarianism with the conservatism of Ben Carson:
- Medicare and Medicaid should be abolished and replaced with nothing.
- Health savings accounts should be entirely voluntary.
- The federal government shouldn’t subsidize any American’s health savings account, health insurance, or health care.
- The federal government should have absolutely nothing to do with health care.
- It is always wrong to force some Americans to pay for the health care of other Americans.
A free society is a libertarian society.