Borg: Ben Carson's poll approval numbers are surprising many political traditionalists. Pediatric neurosurgeon, first elective office campaign, and it's for President of the United States. Dr. Carson's life is one of contrasts and non-traditions, as a child in Detroit's inner-city neighborhoods, moving from the bottom of elementary school classrooms to graduate Yale and then the University of Michigan School of Medicine, gaining worldwide notoriety by separating conjoined twins. But, in recent years, authoring books on conservative political philosophy and delivering campaign speeches about 50 decibels lowers than many traditional candidates. Dr. Carson, welcome to Iowa Press.

Carson: Thank you, delighted to be here.

Borg: I'm curious though, is there a similarity between the operating suite and politics?

Carson: Well, we can probably find similarities with anything. But one of the things I learned as a physician is you know a tremendous amount about your area. But if I have a patient with a complex brain tumor who also has a complex kidney problems, even though I know a lot about the kidney, I'm going to get a renal specialist involved. And being able to pull various people together under the same umbrella, trying to achieve the same goal, yes, in that sense absolutely.

Borg: But I bet in the operating suite there probably aren't questions. And we want to get through those. At least not questioning the master surgeon in that suite. And across the table, Des Moines Register Political Columnist Kathie Obradovich and Radio Iowa's News Director Kay Henderson.

Henderson: Dr. Carson, sadly this past week another mass shooting, this one in Oregon. In the aftermath of that you suggested that the mentality of people should be taken into consideration in regards to gun rights. How would that work?

Carson: Well basically every time we have one of these kinds of incidents we need to learn from it. One of the things that we do in medicine, and particularly in research, because an experiment fails doesn't mean that there's something you can't glean from it. And we obviously have failed in the situations where these mass murders occur, but what can we learn from it? What can we learn about the shooter? What can we learn about signs that were available beforehand? And as we put all that together maybe that can help us to be able to identify and avoid these situations in the future.

Henderson: So who would make that determination? Law enforcement when granting a gun permit? The person who sells a gun to an individual? Government? Who would make that mentality of gun ownership decision?

Carson: Well, when it comes to doing background checks, in some of the cases where we've had shooters there would have been an indication that this was a person that we really didn't want in possession of a gun. So the actual data was there but we didn't act on it appropriately. So some of this goes to a training issue, to train people to be able to identify what we already have available to us. So it's a multi-factorial thing. I wouldn't place it all on the shoulders of one group.

Obradovich: Do you think the background checks that we have in laws now are actually capable of getting to that level of scrutiny that you just talked about? It seems like we have sort of a push-pull here. Some people just want to eliminate guns. Some people say okay, let's look closer at the shooters but we also don't want intrusive background checks for law-abiding gun owners. Where is that balance?

Carson: Well I think what we have to do is use a little bit of common sense. When you have somebody who has a mental history and you have a psychologist or a psychiatrist who has indicated concern, like in the Aurora shooting, I don’t know that it requires a panel of Ph.D.’s to decide yes, that's a dangerous person, yes they shouldn't have a gun. So what we need is a mechanism for pulling the trigger, so to speak, so that we do something about it, so that we don’t just say yeah, he's dangerous, okay, what's the score of the game?

Obradovich: Well, one other issue dealing with criminal justice that has been in the news this week is our prison population. At the federal level, our Senator here in Iowa, Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and a group of bipartisan senators rolled out a sentencing reform and criminal justice reform package this week, including dealing with some mandatory minimum sentences that have become a problem for non-violent offenders, drug offenders, etcetera. I don't know if you've had a chance to review the whole package, it's very new. But do you have a general feeling about how that direction is going and with reform?

Carson: The prison industry is a big growth industry in America. We have 5% of the population and 25% of the prisoners. Something wrong with that system. And we take people who have non-violent offenses and we stick them in prisons with hardened criminals and it becomes a university for them. And then we reintroduce them into the population and we haven't accomplished anything.

Borg: What would you do as president to change that?

Carson: Well, I think already the discussion has started about these mandatory sentences. What we have to do is come up with the appropriate types of rehabilitation situations, the appropriate types of reparations. Like if somebody has stolen your vehicle and ruined it and that is a first-time offense, I don't know that we necessarily need to put them in prison, but we need to institute a program where they restore to you what they have done.

Obradovich: Part of the reason behind this, and one of the reasons why there is pressure, is the racial disparity of prisoners. We have a big problem with that here in Iowa as well where a far bigger percentage of African-Americans are incarcerated here. And so is there something else beyond just looking at the whole system of mandatory minimums, etcetera, is there something else that needs to be done to deal with the racial disparity, and including on the ground with the police situation?

Carson: Clearly there are a larger number of African-Americans who are born out of wedlock, who grow up in a situation without a father in the home or without authority figures in the home, who have influence by people on the streets rather than influence in their home, and don't develop the proper types of attitudes that are going to lead them in an upward path in our society. How do we deal with things like that? Well I think this is where the private sector has to begin to think of our problems together. See, we have 330 million people in our country and we're competing against China, India, they have over a billion. We need to get the bang for the buck out of all of our people and we need to recognize for every single person we can keep from going down that path of destruction, that is one less person that we have to protect ourselves and our families from, pay for in a penal or welfare system, one more taxpaying productive member of society --

Obradovich: You talk about the roots of -- I'm sorry to interrupt -- but also do you believe that there's a situation here where racial disparity leads to people being prosecuted and jailed without necessarily having a greater incidence of committing the crime? You look at, for example, drug crimes or marijuana, black use, smoke marijuana at the same rate as white use, but they're much more likely to end up in prison. So is that part of what you're talking about here?

Carson: When it comes to meeting the punishment obviously we need to make sure that there's purity there and that we look at the data, that's where data comes in. one of the things that you'll find out about doctors and scientists is we tend to make decisions based on evidence and not on ideology. So yes, if the evidence reveals that people doing the same things but of different racial backgrounds are getting differential treatment --

 

Henderson: New evidence on the foreign policy front, the situation in Afghanistan has worsened. The Afghan National Security Forces were pushed out of a key city by the Taliban. As president, would you authorize the use of ground forces there to push back the Taliban or is it time to completely disengage from Afghanistan?

Carson: You have to understand Afghanistan. They don't have a real strong central government. They have 300 tribal leaders and it has been that way for a long time, which is why no one has ever been able to come in and sort of tame Afghanistan. There's no reason for us to expect to be able to do that either. However, the terrorist training camps, I think we have mechanisms for dealing with those without putting a bunch of our troops in harm's way. You have the northern alliance, when we have worked with them we have had great success, get the northern alliance of leaders, support them in the same way that we could have been supporting the Kurds, at least a good portion of them. We have to be smart enough to use our special forces and our equipment without necessarily putting our troops in harm's way.

Borg: You're saying that's not happening now? That's not happening now?

Carson: No, we have not taken advantage of our alliance in the past that we have had with the north --

Borg: What about Syria then? Do you support our current actions in Syria? Now, Russian bombers are coming in, the Pentagon says, they're not bombing the appropriate targets. Are we doing the right thing in Syria? Do you support what the Obama administration is doing in Syria?

Carson: I think I would step it up a little bit.

Borg: Step what up?

Carson: Our resistance. I would call, if I were Obama I would call Putin and I would say, we need to sit down and talk immediately and I would let him know that we're not backing off, we're not restricting the flight of our jets, we're not respecting any new boundaries in the water. We have to maintain the barrier. I think we need to make sure that we have a no-fly zone along the Turkish border because we need to keep the two forces apart. If the two forces are together there's a much more, there's a greater incidence of an international incident that could escalate. We need to be talking about these things but we definitely can't back down. But this is part of the problem. We have been very weak and Putin has very great aspirations, not just in Syria, but globally. And we need to put a strong front against him everywhere, throughout the Baltic Basin, we need to have more than one armored brigade roaming around in there. We need to re-establish a missile defense system. We need to push back in a major way.

Obradovich: Let me ask about the missile defense system because I think that's an interesting issue. This is something obviously that Ronald Reagan talked about during the Cold War. The technology wasn’t there to make it happen and we spent a lot of money looking at various things, including lasers in space. So when you say a missile defense system, what do you have in mind? And to what extent do you think that the technology now has made it possible?

Carson: Well, look at what we were able to design in conjunction with Israel. Israel wouldn't exist, quite frankly, if we hadn't come up with the defense system that they have. There's a lot of advanced technology that has occurred since that, that I have been made aware of, that is not necessarily ready to be publicized. But we really are pretty advanced and that is the reason that Putin was so insistent that we get rid of that system for Eastern Europe. He wanted them to be vulnerable to him.

Henderson: What would you do in regards to the refugees from the Syrian crisis? The President has indicated that the U.S. will accept more of them for resettlement in the U.S. Is that the right move?

Carson: I do not believe that is the right move. I would, in fact, offer some of our expertise in settlement and maybe even some financial aid, not that we have a lot of financial aid to be giving away, to help settle them in their own area. I would be encouraging the nations of the Arabian Peninsula and Turkey to take in those individuals. Why would we take in people who the Jihadists would be just itching to infiltrate with their people?

Borg: Those countries are saying the same thing though in bringing them into their country, the Middle Eastern countries.

Carson: Nevertheless, I believe that that is the culture from which they come, why does it have to become our problem when in fact we have tens of millions of people in this country who are already suffering economically and in many other ways? Why would we then bring in more people putting them on the same level or ahead of those individuals? That doesn't make any sense.

Obradovich: America has a very rich tradition of accepting refugees, including starting during the Vietnam War and Southeast Asia, and they have added a lot to the culture of our state.

Carson: But we don't have a rich tradition of bringing in people successfully when our own people are suffering at the level that they are right now. So -- let me just say this -- when you get on an airplane they say, in case of an emergency oxygen masks will drop down, put yours on first and then administer help to your neighbor. We have to get oxygen to ourselves first.

Obradovich: What about the Christians who are being persecuted, however? Would you have a different feeling about accepting Christian refugees who are fleeing from persecution?

Carson: We have a system in place for bringing in refugees and I think we need to utilize that.

Obradovich: Okay. And you I think took a lot of flak for your comments about whether a Muslim should be elected President of the United States. Maybe just very quickly explain what you mean by that and maybe what you didn't mean by that.

Carson: Well, the question prior to that one was about who would be acceptable. And I said anybody from any religious or other background who accepts American values and is willing to put our Constitution ahead of their belief system would be acceptable to me. As far as I'm concerned that was the end of the argument.

Obradovich: So you don't think Islam is fundamentally incompatible with the Constitution?

Carson: Well, let me finish. Then the next question was, well what about a Muslim? Obviously the implication being, what about somebody whose religion does not fit into that category? And there's no question that if you look at the tenets of Islam they include Sharia and there is no way that that is compatible with our Constitution. So, remember, when our Constitution was put together the requirements for President included you had to be a natural-born American citizen. I don't think the founders were saying that somebody who was born somewhere else and became an American citizen couldn't be very patriotic and couldn't do a good job. They were saying, we don't even want to take the chance.

Obradovich: But do you think that there are things in the Christian Bible that if you take it literally and out of context would run against the Constitution?

Carson: I don't think so.

Obradovich: Nothing at all?

Carson: I don't think there's anything because our founders had Judeo-Christian beliefs and if you read their writings you will see that. A lot of people, revisionists, they say no they didn't, they were deist, but I've gone back and I have looked at their writings, there is no way deists would write things that they wrote.

Obradovich: But in Leviticus --

Carson: That's the Old Testament.

Obradovich: Yeah, but it's part of the Bible.

Carson: The Koran does not divide itself into an Old and New Testament. The New Testament, you have to recognize, is a new covenant that got rid of a lot of those old things.

Borg: I'm going to have to move on because, Kay --

Henderson: You have suggested in regards to tax policy that it should be similar to tithing, which is outlined in the Bible. Does that mean a 10% flat tax or does that mean a 10% flat income tax?

Carson: It means proportionality, that's what it means. So I like to use 10% because it's easy to work with. So if you make $10 billion, you pay $1 billion, you make $10 you pay $1 and you get the same rights and privileges, you get rid of all the deductions and all the loopholes because that creates inequality. And my point being, if that is a system that's good enough for God, it's good enough for me because proportionality is the only thing that is fair. When you get out of proportionality you enter your own bias into the situation.

Henderson: So everyone should pay. You have a competitor, Mr. Trump, who this past week has unveiled a plan that would exclude a portion of the country from paying any taxes. Do you think that is incorrect?

Carson: I don't agree with that because I think everybody needs to have skin in the game because it doesn't make any sense to me to have half of the people not needing to pay but they get a say on how much the other half pays.

Henderson: So what is better, an income tax or a sales tax?

Carson: I can see merits in both of them. And one of the things that I recognize, I'm putting out proposals that tend to go toward an income tax that is equal across the board. But I have been talking to a lot of people who believe in the fair tax and it has some beneficial proponents too. But the thing you have to recognize is the President does not get to make the tax deal, he can put forth his proposals, he can talk to Congress, but only Congress has the ability to lower the taxes.

Borg: Let me just stay on economics for a minute then. The Federal Reserve is getting set, they're saying, to raise interest rates. Do you agree with the way that the Federal Reserve system controls the money supply, sets interest rates and therefore either suppresses or puts the brakes on the economy?

Carson: Well recognize -- the Federal Reserve is sort of caught between a rock and a hard place right now because we have an $18 plus trillion national debt and the debt service on that is $250 billion a year. If you let the interest rates rise to normal levels you’re going to be looking at something toward $1 trillion a year. We don't have $1 trillion a year to give and this is a real problem because by suppressing those interest rates poor people and middle class people no longer have the ability to make money. They used to be able to put money in a savings account, bond market, none of that is happening. The only people that can make money are people who have risk tolerance to put in the stock market. That is what is driving the income gap.

Borg: So as president, right now if you were, what would you be doing?

Carson: I would be trying to drive down our national debt because the debt to GDP ratio right now is 103. Many economists will tell you as soon as that ratio hits 90 you've got slowdown. And you look from 1850 until 2000 our economy grew at approximately 3.3%. From 2001 to 2014, 1.8%. This is a big difference.

Henderson: Reince Priebus, who is the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, has suggested sort of a fruit basket upset strategy for the next presidential nominating season. If you're elected President, and therefore the head of the Republican Party, would you support changing the calendar so Iowa and New Hampshire no longer go first?

Carson: Honestly I'd have to have a real good reason to support that because the way the system works right now I think is a very good system. Iowa and New Hampshire have broken things up in such a way that people actually get to know the candidates. There's a lot of people in those states who have had face time with these candidates and that is the only way that you really get to know people. If you do it the way it is in most states, they're sort of looking at television, and they don't really get to know these people.

Obradovich: Iowans have gotten to know you a little bit. You haven't been here as much as some of the other candidates. But you have done a good job of raising money here in the past quarter, $20 million for your campaign. So what is your strategy in Iowa? Are you going to be doing more of those face-to-face campaigns or is it going to be more ads?

Carson: Well, in the last year I have spent more time in Iowa than I have at home, I can tell you that. But my strategy going forward is an easy one, and that is to get in front of as many people across this nation, not just in Iowa and New Hampshire, as I can. The more people get a chance to actually see me, talk to me and hear from me personally, the better I do. The more people get to hear from the media, the worse I do, because they have a different agenda. But we're getting out there. Our social media is getting out there. People are talking to their friends and their relatives and it is making a difference.

Obradovich: People sometimes judge the success of campaigns by how much money they can raise. But you have Donald Trump out there saying, anybody who is raising millions of dollars is being beholden to people who are donating those millions of dollars. What do you say to that?

Carson: I say to that I have steadfastly refused to lick the boots of billionaires or associate with special interest groups and have made it clear that the only group I want to be beholden to is the people. And as a result, we're over 600,000 donations from the people.

Henderson: There has been a debate among republicans about the energy of respective candidates. Is this your persona that you would pursue as president or is there sort of another level that you would use in relationships with Congress or in discussions on the international arena?

Carson: I am who I am and I will always be who I am. Do I have energy? Let somebody who doubts that I have energy stand up to the operating room table and operate for 12 straight hours and keep their concentration.

Obradovich: When was the last time you actually yelled about something though? You have a very, very calm demeanor. Is there something that make you yell?

Carson: Not really.

Obradovich: Not even a sports team?

Carson: Even when I'm next to people who are just total jerks, I just look at them and say, that used to be a cute little baby.

Borg: I have to be a total jerk right now because, I'm not going to yell, but we are out of time. Thank you, Dr. Carson.

Carson: That was too quick. Okay.

Borg: Thank you. We'll be back next week with another edition of Iowa Press, same times, 7:30 Friday night, noon on Sunday. I'm Dean Borg. We'll see you next week.