It is time to become concerned with the personal diligence of Ben Carson, with respect to the preparation he has put into running for President. In what is becoming a sadly familiar refrain, Carson was once again today unable to answer a very basic question about United States policy, or to even be prepared to discuss the subject knowledgeably (or even conversantly).
In this instance, Carson was on the radio with Kai Ryssdal, and was asked whether Congress should authorize raising the debt ceiling before November 5th. This is not a "gotcha" question about an esoteric area of fiscal policy; this is a live debate about a controversy that has risen to prominence numerous times within very recent history. Almost every person who even casually watches cable news knows what is being asked here.
Yet, Ben Carson apparently does not know the difference between the "debt ceiling" and the budget. Watch this exchange here, in which Ryssdal (who wasn't even trying to score points), actually explains the difference to Carson, and Carson still isn't able to put together a cogent answer:
Ryssdal: As you know, Treasury Secretary Lew has come out in the last couple days and said, "We're gonna run out of money, we're gonna run out of borrowing authority on November 5th." Should the Congress, then, and the President, not raise the debt limit? Should we default on our debt?
Carson: Let me put it this way, if I were the President, I would not sign an increased budget. Absolutely not do it. They would have to find a place to cut.
Ryssdal: To be clear, it's increasing the debt limit, not the budget. But I want to make sure I understand you. You would let the United States default rather than raise the debt limit.
Carson: No, I would provide the kind of leadership that says, "Get on the stick, guys, and stop messing around, and cut where you need to cut, because we're not raising any spending limits, period."
Ryssdal: I'm gonna try one more time, sir. This is debt that's already been obligated. Would you not favor increasing the debt limit to pay the debts already incurred?
Carson: What I'm saying is we have to restructure the way we create debt. I mean, if we continue along this, where does it stop?
I defy anyone to watch that video and tell me with a straight face that Ben Carson understands what the debt limit is. There's no way to tell me that he does.
And here's the thing: Ben Carson is clearly smart enough to understand the distinction between the budget and the debt limit. And he's clearly got the brain power that a small bit of study on politics over the last two or three years, when Republicans have brinked numerous showdowns with Obama over the debt limit, would have made him perfectly capable of answering this question without embarrassing himself.
And yet, for whatever reason, Carson hasn't seen fit to do even this minimal amount of research. It was the same story at the debate, when he answered question after question with, essentially, "I don't know." When he was asked about the broad outlines of his tax policy, he answered basically that he didn't know and he'd have to talk with various people (the Fair Taxers and others) to figure out what he wanted to propose. When he was asked whether he wanted to raise the minimum wage, he said essentially he didn't know, he would have to study it.
Carson has basically been running for President since the prayer that catapulted him to fame in 2013. I am distressed that he has spent apparently no time in study educating himself on the basic issues he would face during the course of the run for his Presidency. It's not that I don't think Carson isn't smart enough to understand these things; quite the opposite. I am 100% confident Carson could understand them very easily, which is precisely the reason I'm so bothered that he doesn't. It goes to the seriousness with which he takes the job of running for President, and his personal work ethic at that job (his work ethic as a surgeon was, by all accounts, exemplary).
An interesting contrast can be drawn here between Carson and Fiorina. Whatever else you want to say about Fiorina, there can be no doubt that she spent a ton of time between her 2010 Senate run and her current Presidential run making herself into a better, more knowledgeable, and more formidable candidate. I'm at a loss as to what Ben Carson has been doing at all, and I'm disappointed that he apparently doesn't take running for President seriously.
Coda: just now I was passed this clip of Carson on Wolf Blitzer. Watch this clip and tell me Ben Carson knows anything about any of the men he mentions, if you can: