President Obama must have been stunned at the "audacity" of Dr. Benjamin Carson in challenging his core assumptions right to his face in front of thousands of people at the National Prayer Breakfast.
Obama is not used to being challenged, especially in public, even if indirectly and without being specifically named. From the look on his face, it was obvious Obama was none too pleased with Carson's message or with his "presumptuousness" in presenting it in that forum, while he had to sit still and -- remain silent.
I think we can best understand Carson's message in light of his opening statements, which laid the foundation for the thematic body of this speech.
He began citing scriptural passages that he said would put his upcoming remarks into context. Three of the passages were wisdom sayings from the book of Proverbs, admonishing that the godless destroy their neighbor with their mouths, that a man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor and that a generous man will prosper.
The final passage was God's promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14 that if his people will humble themselves and pray and seek his face and turn from their wicked ways, he will hear them, forgive their sins and heal their land.
Carson also decried the chilling effect of political correctness that makes people afraid to express certain opinions on important issues, lest they incur the wrath of society's thought and speech police -- those who presume to be the guardians of all moral and acceptable opinions. He then proceeded to boldly articulate a number of ideas that clearly fall in this category of disfavored speech.
Specifically, Carson offered a ringing endorsement of America's founding principles and its unique constitutional liberties. He decried the moral decay in our society and our government's grotesque fiscal irresponsibility.
He took aim on our ever-expanding welfare state, not only by championing hard work, self-reliance and personal responsibility but also in invoking his own personal experience as an example.
He related how his mother worked multiple jobs to provide for him and his brother and imparted critically important values to them. She made them read and improve themselves and absolutely refused to let them make excuses and claim victimhood for their plight.
Carson, I believe, was illustrating that we have a moral problem in this nation and that the instilling of good values begins in the home and is neither the responsibility nor the prerogative of a caretaker government.
He denounced the practice -- refined to an art form by President Obama -- of politicians employing class warfare to deride the wealthy with accusations that they don't contribute enough while treating the less fortunate as helpless and expecting no contribution from them at all. This, I think, is where he was dovetailing the scriptural texts warning against deriding one's neighbor. He was saying, in effect, that political demagogues who pit people against one another on the basis of income and wealth harm society, including the very people they pretend to help.
In a television interview, Carson expanded on some of these thoughts, explaining that the Founding Fathers were afraid of an out-of-control government that would "get to the point where it couldn't subsist without taking everything from the people." Next, he linked, though not expressly, the scriptural passage on generosity in challenging today's conventional wisdom that the wealthy are necessarily greedy. He pointed to the remarkable generosity of some of America's historically wealthiest individuals. America, he said, "has always been a very generous nation. Look at all the foundations that have been created for the purpose of taking care of people."
He also expounded on his comments on political correctness, apparently criticizing the president's selective assault on religious liberty. He said, "If the president would exercise anywhere near the sensitivity about religious freedom in this country as he does about Islam and offending them, we wouldn't even have these kinds of problems."
There is also no question in my mind that in citing the passage from 2 Chronicles, Carson was expressing his view that America has strayed from its godly roots and replaced God's absolute moral standards with those that seem right to a man but are wholly destructive of our moral fabric. We must turn back to God, reject this man-made ethic grounded in covetousness, envy and greed, and recommit ourselves to godly values and right living.
In his speech, Carson did not criticize President Obama by name, but he roundly condemned his philosophy of and approach to governance. He did so with abundant forcefulness but equally strong respectfulness.
It was an admirable display of forthrightness and courage and a virtual seminar in how President Obama's political opponents should boldly, directly and publicly dispute his wrongheaded message and block his destructive agenda.