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Carson Hints at Hands-Off Approach as HUD Secretary

In his first address as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson extolled the virtues of self-reliance and pledged to learn from the department’s successes and failures in his first months on the job.

Carson didn’t dive deep into any specific policy initiatives, but amid anecdotes from his time as a Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon and his upbringing as the child of a low-income single mother in Detroit, the new secretary and former presidential hopeful dropped small hints as to how he might lead the department in the future.

“One of the things you will notice in this department, under my leadership, is that there will be a very big emphasis on fairness for everybody,” Carson said. “Everything that we do, every policy: No favorites for anybody, no extras for anybody, but complete fairness for everybody.”

Saying the United States is “not the ‘what can you do for me society?’ but the ‘can-do’ society,” the secretary talked about how his mother instilled a sense of self-reliance in him from an early age. “She always made it clear to us how much of our future was within our own hands, no matter what anyone else said. The person who has the most to do with what happened to you was you,” he said. Carson went on to subtly criticize overregulation, noting that “people don’t feel like they’re being treated unjustly” if they don’t feel as though their lives are being heavily regulated by the government.

He also reiterated his stated desire to go on a “listening tour” with key officials to learn about HUD initiatives that are and are not working, drawing parallels to the trials and errors that help doctors improve.

The address had an informal tone, with Carson taking questions from HUD employees and casually pacing back and forth across the stage with a handheld microphone. In response to one query about public-private partnerships, Carson told a long story about his efforts trying to get a job as a college student before generally advocating for expanding private-sector cooperation in the future.

“That’s how America went from nowhere to the pinnacle of the world in record time,” he said. “We took advantage of the entrepreneurial spirit.”

He also took multiple stabs at humor: Toward the beginning of his speech, Carson told a lengthy joke about why he appreciated operating on children instead of adults and the elderly, cracking that adults tended to not feel better until they received their insurance settlements, while kids were more honest about their feelings.

In addition, he said, treating kids resulted in a greater return on investment, since they would lead long lives — while “old geezers” would “just die in five years.”

“I’m just kidding,” Carson said. “I like old people. I’m one of them now.”

Written by Alex Spanko