Ben Carson set off a media firestorm when he sat down with SiriusXM radio host Armstrong Williams and claimed that poverty was simply “a state of mind,” and that it’s up to parents to give their children “the mindset of a winner.”
But buried in the controversy over the Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary’s remarks was another interesting nugget: Carson wants to change the name of the department entirely — and, in the process, give it an unpronounceable nickname.
According to the Associated Press, Carson told Williams that he’d want to see the agency rechristened as the Department of Housing and Community Development, or HCD, which would signal that the secretary and his employees are focused on the suburbs and rural areas as well as cities.
Of course, Carson couldn’t simply change the name of the department he runs by fiat; any moniker flip would require the approval of Congress. The department gets its name from the Department of Housing and Urban Development Act of 1965, which provided for HUD’s creation and elevated the department to cabinet-level status. The Federal Housing Administration, which had existed since the passage of the Federal Housing Act in 1934, also came under HUD’s purview at that time.
Carson’s comments on poverty kept HUD in the headlines in a week when the Trump administration faced criticism over its proposed cuts to a variety of federal housing programs, including the Community Development Block Grant and the HOME Investment Partnerships Program.
“I think poverty, to a large extent, is also a state of mind,” Carson told Williams, a conservative commentator who also hosts the nationally syndicated television program “The Right Side.”
“You take somebody who has the right mindset, you can take everything from them and put them on the street, and I guarantee you, in a little while, they’ll be right back up there,” Carson continued. “And you take somebody with the wrong mindset — you can give them everything in the world, they’ll work their way down to the bottom.”
Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who unsuccessfully sought the 2016 Republican nomination for president, called on parents to foster an environment of success for their children.
“You have to instill into that child the mindset of a winner if they’re likely to become a winner,” Carson said.
The comments drew quick condemnation from the administration’s critics on the left, with Democratic New York Rep. Nita Lowey quipping on Twitter that “happy,” “sad,” and “New York” were acceptable states of mind — but not poverty — and former Clinton and Obama-era HUD official Fred Karnas telling the Guardian that he was “appalled.”
“Every time he says something like this, it suggests to me that the mindset of the secretary is just completely out of line with the mission of the department that he’s been selected to run,” Karnas told the Guardian.
Williams, who had worked for Carson as the secretary’s business manager and served as a top aide to his failed 2016 campaign, took to his personal website to defend the comments. Claiming that Carson’s statements on poverty were taken out of context, Williams highlighted the secretary’s discussion of key factors that can statistically reduce the risk of entering poverty, such as delaying childbirth and receiving a high school diploma. He also notes that Carson himself grew up in poverty, but eventually forged a successful career as a prominent brain surgeon and now public official.
“This isn’t brain surgery,” Williams wrote. “Dr. Carson is not some elitist rich guy born with a spoon in his mouth who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
Written by Alex Spanko