Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

February 12, 2013

National Prayer Breakfast speaker attracts attention and criticism

The National Prayer Breakfast is held each year in Washington, D.C., on the first Thursday of February, and is attended by some 3,500 guests. The event is hosted by members of the United States Congress, and this year was co-chaired by Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. It is organized by The Fellowship Foundation, a conservative Christian organization, and is designed to be a forum for the political, social and business elite to assemble and build relationships.

Among the speakers this year was President Barack Obama, who told the audience, “We are united in the knowledge of a redeeming savior whose grace is sufficient.” However, he said that even though America’s leaders come together in prayer over national policy and the right direction to lead the country, such talk is often forgotten after the event. “I’d go back to the Oval Office and turn on the cable news networks — and it’s like we didn’t pray!” he said.

Dr. Benjamin Carson, director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, delivered the keynote message, which has drawn criticism from the left as being inappropriately political in a decidedly non-political setting.

However, Dr. Carson’s comments were fundamentally about empowering the individual rather than the government, and were non-partisan and delivered respectfully. In fact, he claims political independence, being neither a Republican nor a Democrat. “If there were a party called the Logic Party, I would be a member of that,” he told Fox News on Sunday.

That said, Dr. Carson is not the first to inject political messages at the prayer breakfast. President Obama himself did so last year, discussing public policy issues such as barring health insurance companies from rejecting people with pre-existing conditions and reducing tax breaks for the wealthy, and tying them in with popular Bible verses. “[S]o when I talk about our financial institutions playing by the same rules as folks on Main Street ... or making sure that unscrupulous lenders aren’t taking advantage of the most vulnerable among us, I do so because I genuinely believe it will make the economy strong for everybody,” Mr. Obama said on Feb. 2, 2012.

Benjamin Carson’s story is one that inspires us all. He grew up in poverty in urban Detroit, but his home was one built on values typical of the 1950s, raised by a single mother with only a third-grade education who worked long hours to support her family, but who understood American values of hard work and determination. He overcame dire poverty, poor grades, a horrible temper and low self-esteem, all of which worked against his dream of becoming a physician someday. But his mother would not allow him to give up and challenged her two sons to strive for excellence and stressed the importance of education. His mother refused to become a victim, and did not accept excuses for failure.

Today Dr. Carson is a devout Christian, a full professor of neurosurgery, oncology, plastic surgery and pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and he has directed pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center for over a quarter of a century. His brother is an aeronautical and mechanical engineer. “I became the brain surgeon and he became the rocket scientist,” he said.

He told radio host Armstrong Williams last Friday that his comments were “directed at the situation that is going on in our nation and how we can solve it. ... It’s not an attack on anybody, but it’s saying there are logical solutions for our problems and there are things that we can all get behind — be we right wing, be we left wing.”

His condemned political correctness, which he described as dangerous because it interferes with freedom of thought and expression. Americans must stop fearing over-sensitive reactions when they express their thoughts and speak their minds freely, he said, but at the same time respect those with whom they disagree.

“We’ve reached a point where people are actually afraid to talk about what they want to say, because somebody might be offended,” he said, citing the example of people refraining from saying “Merry Christmas.” “We’ve got to get over this sensitivity; it keeps people from saying what they really believe.”

Comparing what is happening in America to history, he said: “I think particularly about ancient Rome. Very powerful — nobody could even challenge them militarily ... they destroyed themselves from within,” he said. “Moral decay. Fiscal irresponsibility.”

And he offered suggestions for taxation and health care that require far less government involvement than current systems. Citing religious tithing, he suggested a flat tax where everyone pays the same rate, with no loopholes. And he suggested replacing the Affordable Care Act with health savings accounts opened at birth that could be passed on to surviving family members and could receive contributions other than from the owner of the plan to assist the financially disadvantaged.

These are sensible ideas, but they will not gain the support of the control freaks that run our government because they disenfranchise the special interests that Dr. Carson referred to as the fourth branch of government.

James H. “Smokey” Shott, a resident of Bluefield, Va., is a Daily Telegraph columnist.

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