I am not among the many who are shocked that Ben Carson, the brilliant and widely admired neurosurgeon based at Johns Hopkins Hospital, would emerge as a hero of the political right and Sean Hannity's new best friend.
That Carson would stoop to making (and later sort of apologizing for) homophobic remarks on Hannity's national television show — associating gays with pedophiles and people who have sex with animals — didn't surprise me, either.
I know: Here's a man who separated conjoined twins, improved and saved the lives of countless children, established a scholars program that has benefited hundreds of young people, wrote inspirational books and gave countless motivational speeches. Cuba Gooding Jr. portrayed him in a movie.
So why would such a respected and accomplished doctor go Limbaugh? Why this dance with Republican politics?
I wondered the same thing five years ago, as I interviewed Carson for my radio program. What I had expected to be a conversation about his favorite subjects — brain surgery and the need to better educate children — veered into the benefits of spanking 2-year-olds and giving tax breaks to the rich, with both points supported by Carson's religious beliefs.
His endorsement of spanking was so unexpected and strange that another physician, who happened to hear the broadcast on WYPR, called later to say he was appalled by the prominent pediatric neurosurgeon's statements.
The interview took place in July 2008, a few weeks after Carson had accepted the Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush.
Barack Obama, of course, was running for the White House and had just preached some tough love at the NAACP convention, urging its members to take their responsibility as parents seriously, to turn off TVs and video games and help their kids with homework.
Carson agreed with that message; he said he appreciated the "solid principles and values" Obama espoused.
"But when you go out there and try to put solid principles and values into action, this whole crowd of people descends on you, the PC police," Carson said.
It wasn't clear what Carson meant by political correctness in parenting. But he then brought up the late Benjamin Spock, the famous pediatrician whose studies of children led him to advise parents to be more flexible, to see and treat their kids as individuals.
"The Spock generation missed out on how to be good parents," Carson declared. "They bought into the whole concept of 'Let the kids express themselves, don't put too many constraints on them.' And what they forgot is, there is a reason there's a parent and a child. They're not equal. … There's way too much interference."
"Do-gooders trying to tell people how they should raise their children," Carson said. "Consequently, now we've gotten so many people believing, 'No, you certainly can't do any corporal punishment.' You've got this 2-year-old who's being defiant, but don't dare spank him because that's child abuse. You gotta sit there and try to reason with him. Yeah, reason with a 2-year-old."
I was surprised to hear a doctor, especially one whose gifted hands had helped so many children, endorse physical punishment.
Spanking, Carson said, "quickly communicates who's in authority." And the Bible says it's allowed: The Book of Proverbs "advocates very strongly for corporal punishment." Carson said spanking was appropriate "when a child is too small to reason with."
So, if you're going to hit a kid, hit the little ones.
Finding this discussion perfectly weird and disturbing, I moved on, only to land a few minutes later in class warfare.
"One of the problems in the society today [is] a lot of people envy the rich, they want to sock it to the rich," Carson said.
"There is this aberrant philosophy that if you take from the rich the same proportion as you take from the poor, it doesn't hurt the rich person as much," he said. "Again I have to go back to the Bible. God said, 'I want a tithe.' He didn't say, 'If you have a bumper crop, I want triple tithe.' He didn't say, 'If your crops fail, don't give me anything.'"
"And some people say, 'Well, the guy who made $10 billion — it doesn't hurt him as much to put a billion in the pot as it does the guy who makes $10,000 and puts in $1,000. Where does it say you have to hurt the [rich] guy?"
Until that day, I had never heard the biblical basis for a flat tax.
Through the rest of the interview, Carson talked about what he knows best: brain surgery.
I don't know why he wants to retire from that noble mission, at 61, and maybe get into politics. (He evidently didn't get the memo about doctors being revered, politicians reviled.) But it was clear five years ago that Ben Carson had firmly developed, antiquated beliefs that he wants a wide audience to hear.
What a shame that is.