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Following the killing of 9 people at a Bible study group in Charleston, South Carolina President Barack Obama attended the funeral of the pastor of the church and South Carolina state senator, the Reverend Clementa C. Pinckney.
President Barack Obama:
Giving all praise and honor to God.
(APPLAUSE) The Bible calls us to hope, to persevere and have faith in things not seen. They were still living by faith when they died, the scripture tells us.
They did not receive the things promised. They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.
We are here today to remember a man of God who lived by faith, a man who believed in things not seen, a man who believed there were better days ahead off in the distance, a man of service, who persevered knowing full-well he would not receive all those things he was promised, because he believed his efforts would deliver a better life for those who followed, to Jennifer, his beloved wife, Eliana and Malana, his beautiful, wonderful daughters, to the Mother Emanuel family and the people of Charleston, the people of South Carolina.
I cannot claim to have had the good fortune to know Reverend Pinckney well, but I did have the pleasure of knowing him and meeting him here in South Carolina back when we were both a little bit younger…
… back when I didn’t have visible gray hair.
The first thing I noticed was his graciousness, his smile, his reassuring baritone, his deceptive sense of humor, all qualities that helped him wear so effortlessly a heavy burden of expectation.
Friends of his remarked this week that when Clementa Pinckney entered a room, it was like the future arrived, that even from a young age, folks knew he was special, anointed. He was the progeny of a long line of the faithful, a family of preachers who spread God’s words, a family of protesters who so changed to expand voting rights and desegregate the South.
Clem heard their instruction, and he did not forsake their teaching. He was in the pulpit by 13, pastor by 18, public servant by 23. He did not exhibit any of the cockiness of youth nor youth’s insecurities. Instead, he set an example worthy of his position, wise beyond his years in his speech, in his conduct, in his love, faith and purity.
As a senator, he represented a sprawling swathe of low country, a place that has long been one of the most neglected in America, a place still racked by poverty and inadequate schools, a place where children can still go hungry and the sick can go without treatment — a place that needed somebody like Clem.
(APPLAUSE) His position in the minority party meant the odds of winning more resources for his constituents were often long. His calls for greater equity were too-often unheeded. The votes he cast were sometimes lonely.
But he never gave up. He stayed true to his convictions. He would not grow discouraged. After a full day at the Capitol, he’d climb into his car and head to the church to draw sustenance from his family, from his ministry, from the community that loved and needed him. There, he would fortify his faith and imagine what might be.
Reverend Pinckney embodied a politics that was neither mean nor small. He conducted himself quietly and kindly and diligently. He encouraged progress not by pushing his ideas alone but by seeking out your ideas, partnering with you to make things happen. He was full of empathy and fellow feeling, able to walk in somebody else’s shoes and see through their eyes.
No wonder one of his Senate colleagues remembered Senator Pinckney as “the most gentle of the 46 of us, the best of the 46 of us.”
Clem was often asked why he chose to be a pastor and a public servant. But the person who asked probably didn’t know the history of AME Church.
As our brothers and sisters in the AME Church, we don’t make those distinctions. “Our calling,” Clem once said, “is not just within the walls of the congregation but the life and community in which our congregation resides.”
He embodied the idea that our Christian faith demands deeds and not just words, that the sweet hour of prayer actually lasts the whole week long, that to put our faith in action is more than just individual salvation, it’s about our collective salvation, that to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and house the homeless is not just a call for isolated charity but the imperative of a just society.
What a good man. Sometimes I think that’s the best thing to hope for when you’re eulogized, after all the words and recitations and resumes are read, to just say somebody was a good man.
You don’t have to be of high distinction to be a good man.
Preacher by 13, pastor by 18, public servant by 23. What a life Clementa Pinckney lived. What an example he set. What a model for his faith.
And then to lose him at 41, slain in his sanctuary with eight wonderful members of his flock, each at different stages in life but bound together by a common commitment to God — Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, DePayne Middleton Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel L. Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson.
Good people. Decent people. God-fearing people.
People so full of life and so full of kindness, people who ran the race, who persevered, people of great faith.
To the families of the fallen, the nation shares in your grief. Our pain cuts that much deeper because it happened in a church.
The church is and always has been the center of African American life…
… a place to call our own in a too-often hostile world, a sanctuary from so many hardships.
Over the course of centuries, black churches served as hush harbors, where slaves could worship in safety, praise houses, where their free descendants could gather and shout “Hallelujah…”
… rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad, bunkers for the foot soldiers of the civil-rights movement.
They have been and continue to community centers, where we organize for jobs and justice, places of scholarship and network, places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harms way and told that they are beautiful and smart and taught that they matter.
That’s what happens in church. That’s what the black church means — our beating heart, the place where our dignity as a people in inviolate.
There’s no better example of this tradition than Mother Emanuel, a church…
… a church built by blacks seeking liberty, burned to the ground because its founders sought to end slavery only to rise up again, a phoenix from these ashes. (APPLAUSE)
When there were laws banning all-black church gatherers, services happened here anyway in defiance of unjust laws. When there was a righteous movement to dismantle Jim Crow, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached from its pulpit, and marches began from its steps.
A sacred place, this church, not just for blacks, not just for Christians but for every American who cares about the steady expansion…
… of human rights and human dignity in this country, a foundation stone for liberty and justice for all.
That’s what the church meant.
We do not know whether the killer of Reverend Pinckney and eight others knew all of this history, but he surely sensed the meaning of his violent act. It was an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress…
… an act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination, violence and suspicion, an act that he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation’s original sin.
Oh, but God works in mysterious ways.
God has different ideas.
He didn’t know he was being used by God.
Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer would not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group, the light of love that shown as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle.
The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness. He couldn’t imagine that.
The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston under the good and wise leadership of Mayor Riley, how the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond not merely with revulsion at his evil acts, but with (inaudible) generosity. And more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life. Blinded by hatred, he failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood — the power of God’s grace.
This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace.
The grace of the families who lost loved ones; the grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons; the grace described in one of my favorite hymnals, the one we all know — Amazing Grace.
How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.
According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It’s not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God.
As manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. Grace — as a nation out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind.
He’s given us the chance where we’ve been lost to find out best selves. We may not have earned this grace with our rancor and complacency and short-sightedness and fear of each other, but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He’s once more given us grace.
But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.
For too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate Flag stirred into many of our citizens.
It’s true a flag did not cause these murders. But as people from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats, now acknowledge, including Governor Haley, whose recent eloquence on the subject is worthy of praise…
… as we all have to acknowledge, the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride.
For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression…
… and racial subjugation.
We see that now.
Removing the flag from this state’s capital would not be an act of political correctness. It would not an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be acknowledgement that the cause for which they fought, the cause of slavery, was wrong.
The imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong.
It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history, a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds.
It would be an expression of the amazing changes that have transformed this state and this country for the better because of the work of so many people of goodwill, people of all races, striving to form a more perfect union.
By taking down that flag, we express adds grace God’s grace.
But I don’t think God wants us to stop there.
For too long, we’ve been blind to be way past injustices continue to shape the present.
Perhaps we see that now. Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty…
… or attend dilapidated schools or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career.
Perhaps it causes us to examine what we’re doing to cause some of our children to hate.
Perhaps it softens hearts towards those lost young men, tens and tens of thousands caught up in the criminal-justice system and lead us to make sure that that system’s not infected with bias.
… that we embrace changes in how we train and equip our police so that the bonds of trust between law enforcement…
… and the communities they serve make us all safer and more secure.
Maybe we now realize the way a racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal…
… so that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote…
… by recognizing our common humanity, by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin…
… or the station into which they were born and to do what’s necessary to make opportunity real for every American. By doing that, we express God’s grace.
For too long…
For too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation.
Sporadically, our eyes are open when eight of our brothers and sisters are cut down in a church basement, 12 in a movie theater, 26 in an elementary school. But I hope we also see the 30 precious lives cut short by gun violence in this country every single day…
… the countless more whose lives are forever changed, the survivors crippled, the children traumatized and fearful every day as they walk to school, the husband who will never feel his wife’s warm touch, the entire communities whose grief overflows every time they have to watch what happened to them happening to some other place.
The vast majority of Americans, the majority of gun owners want to do something about this. We see that now.
And I’m convinced that by acknowledging the pain and loss of others, even as we respect the traditions, ways of life that make up this beloved country, by making the moral choice to change, we express God’s grace.
We don’t earn grace. We’re all sinners. We don’t deserve it.
But God gives it to us anyway.
And we choose how to receive it. It’s our decision how to honor it.
None of us can or should expect a transformation in race relations overnight. Every time something like this happens, somebody says, “We have to have a conversation about race.” We talk a lot about race.
There’s no shortcut. We don’t need more talk.
None of us should believe that a handful of gun safety measures will prevent every tragedy.
It will not. People of good will will continue to debate the merits of various policies as our democracy requires — the big, raucous place, America is. And there are good people on both sides of these debates.
Whatever solutions we find will necessarily be incomplete. But it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allow ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again.
Once the eulogies have been delivered, once the TV cameras move on, to go back to business as usual. That’s what we so often do to avoid uncomfortable truths about the prejudice that still infects our society.
To settle for symbolic gestures without following up with the hard work of more lasting change, that’s how we lose our way again. It would be a refutation of the forgiveness expressed by those families if we merely slipped into old habits whereby those who disagree with us are not merely wrong, but bad; where we shout instead of listen; where we barricade ourselves behind preconceived notions or well-practiced cynicism.
Reverend Pinckney once said, “Across the south, we have a deep appreciation of history. We haven’t always had a deep appreciation of each other’s history.”
What is true in the south is true for America. Clem understood that justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other; that my liberty depends on you being free, too.
That — that history can’t be a sword to justify injustice or a shield against progress. It must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, how to break the cycle, a roadway toward a better world. He knew that the path of grace involves an open mind. But more importantly, an open heart.
That’s what I felt this week — an open heart. That more than any particular policy or analysis is what’s called upon right now, I think. It’s what a friend of mine, the writer Marilyn Robinson, calls “that reservoir of goodness beyond and of another kind, that we are able to do each other in the ordinary cause of things.”
That reservoir of goodness. If we can find that grace, anything is possible.
If we can tap that grace, everything can change. Amazing grace, amazing grace.
… how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now, I see.
Clementa Pinckney found that grace…
… Cynthia Hurd found that grace…
… Susie Jackson found that grace…
… Ethel Lance found that grace…
… DePayne Middleton Doctor found that grace…
… Tywanza Sanders found that grace…
… Daniel L. Simmons, Sr. found that grace…
(APPLAUSE) … Sharonda Coleman-Singleton found that grace…
… Myra Thompson found that grace…
… through the example of their lives. They’ve now passed it onto us. May we find ourselves worthy of that precious and extraordinary gift as long as our lives endure.
May grace now lead them home. May God continue to shed His Grace on the United States of America.
Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Enda Kenny apologizes on behalf of the Irish government to the women who were forced to work in the Magdalene laundries, institutions run by religious groups, where women were forcibly detained, unpaid or mistreated, sometimes for years.
The video is from the Journal.ie website. The transcript is from the Dáil Debates (the official record of speeeches in the Irish parliament). (The Dáil record uses the spelling Magdalen.)
At the end of the speech, the members of parliament give a standing ovation to some of the remaining Magdalen laundry women, attending in the public gallery. Miriam Lord in an Irish Times article describes the atmosphere.
I begin by thanking Dr. Martin McAleese and his team for their excellent work on this report. I thank, equally, the women who met with them to assist in its compilation. I also thank the religious orders who co-operated fully with Dr. McAleese. Together, they have helped provide Ireland with a document of truth.
The Magdalen laundries have cast a long shadow over Irish life and over our sense of who we are. It is just two weeks since we received this report, the first ever detailed report into the State’s involvement in the Magdalen laundries. It shines a bright and necessary light on a dark chapter of Ireland’s history.
On coming to office the Government was determined to investigate the facts of the State’s involvement. The Government was adamant that these ageing and elderly women would get the compassion and the recognition for which they have fought for so long, deserved so deeply and had, until now, been so abjectly denied. For 90 years Ireland subjected these women and their experience to a profound and studied indifference. I was determined because of this that the Government, and this Dáil, would take the necessary time not just to commission the report but to study it and, having done so, to reflect on its findings. I believe that was the best way to formulate a plan and strategy that would help us make amends for the State’s role in the hurt of these extraordinary women.
I am glad that so many of the women themselves agreed with that approach, and I am glad this time of reflection gave me the chance to do the most important thing of all, which was too meet personally with the Magdalen women and to sit down with them face to face to listen to their stories. It was a humbling and inspiring experience.
Today, as their Taoiseach, I am privileged to welcome some of these women to this House, many of whom have travelled long distances to be here. I welcome every one of them to their national Parliament, to Dáil Éireann. What we discuss today is their story. What we address today is how they took this country’s terrible secret and made it their own, burying it and carrying it in their hearts here at home or with them to England, Canada, America and Australia on behalf of Ireland and the Irish people. From this moment on they need carry it no more, because today we take it back. Today, we acknowledge the role of the State in their ordeal.
We now know that the State itself was directly involved in over a quarter of all admissions to the Magdalen laundries, be it through the social services, reformatories, psychiatric institutions, county homes, the prison and probation service and industrial schools. We have, in fact, decided to include all the Magdalen women in our response, regardless of how they were admitted.
Dr. McAleese set out to investigate five areas in particular: the routes by which the women entered the laundries; regulations of the workplace and State inspections; State funding of and financial assistance to the laundries; the routes by which the girls and women left the laundries; and death registrations, burials and exhumations. In all five areas there was found to be direct State involvement.
As I read this report and as I listened to these women, it struck me that for generations Ireland had created a particular portrait of itself as a good living and God fearing nation. Through this and other reports we know this flattering self-portrait is fictitious.
It would be easy to explain away all that happened and all we did with those great moral and social salves of “the culture back then”, “the order of the day” and “the terrible times that were in it”. By any standards it was a cruel, pitiless Ireland distinctly lacking in a quality of mercy. That much is clear, both from the pages of the report, and from the stories of the women I met. As I sat with these women as they told their stories it was clear that while every woman’s story was different each of them shared a particular experience of a particular Ireland that was judgmental, intolerant, petty and prim.
In the laundries themselves some women spent week, others months, more of them years, but the thread that ran through their many stories was a palpable sense of suffocation, not just physical in that they were incarcerated but psychological, spiritual and social. Their stories were enriched by an astonishing vividness of recall of situation and circumstance.
Here are some of the things I read in the report and they said directly to me:
The work was so hard, the regime was cruel. I felt all alone, nobody wanted me. They sent me because they thought I was going to a good school. I seen these older people beside me, I used cry myself to sleep. I was bold, I wasn’t going to school. I was locked up … I thought I would never get out. We had to sew at night … even when we were sick. I heard a radio sometimes in the distance. We were not allowed to talk to each other. Your letters were checked. I was so short I needed a stool to put washing in. The noise was desperate. I thought I would go mad from the silence. The heat was unbelievable. I broke a cup once and had to wear it hanging around my neck for three days. I felt always tired, always wet, always humiliated. My father came for me after three months but I was too ashamed to go home. I never saw my Mam again; she died while I was in there.
The Magdalen women might have been told that they were washing away a wrong or a sin, but we know now and to our shame they were only ever scrubbing away our nation’s shadow. Today, just as the State accepts its direct involvement in the Magdalen laundries, society, too, has its responsibility. I believe I speak for millions of Irish people all over the world when I say we put away these women because for too many years we put away our conscience. We swapped our personal scruples for a solid public apparatus that kept us in tune and in step with a sense of what was “proper behaviour” or the “appropriate view” according to a sort of moral code that was fostered at the time, particularly in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. We lived with the damaging idea that what was desirable and acceptable in the eyes of the church and the State was the same and interchangeable.
Is it this mindset then, this moral subservience, that gave us the social mores, the required and exclusive “values” of the time that welcomed the compliant, obedient and lucky “us” and banished the more problematic, spirited or unlucky “them”? To our nation’s shame it must be said that if these women had managed to scale the high walls of the laundries, they would have had their work cut out for them to negotiate the height and the depth of the barricades around society’s “proper” heart. For we saw difference as something to be feared and hidden rather than embraced and celebrated. Were these our values? We can ask ourselves for a State, least of all for a republic, what is the “value” of the tacit and unchallenged decree that saw society humiliate and degrade these girls and women? What is the “value” of the ignorance and arrogance that saw us publicly call them “penitents” for their “crime” of being poor or abused or just plain unlucky enough to be already the inmate of a reformatory, or an industrial school or a psychiatric institution? We can ask ourselves as the families we were then what was worthy, what was good about that great euphemism of “putting away” our daughters, our sisters, our aunties?
Those “values”, those failures, those wrongs characterised Magdalen Ireland. Today we live in a very different Ireland with a very a different consciousness and awareness. We live in an Ireland where we have more compassion, empathy, insight and heart. We do, because at last we are learning those terrible lessons. We do, because at last we are giving up our secrets. We do, because in naming and addressing the wrong, as is happening here today, we are trying to make sure we quarantine such abject behaviour in our past and eradicate it from Ireland’s present and Ireland’s future.
In a society guided by the principles of compassion and social justice there never would have been any need for institutions such as the Magdalen laundries. The report shows that the perception that the Magdalen laundries were reserved for those who were offensively and judgmentally called “fallen women” is not based upon fact at all but upon prejudice. The women are and always were wholly blameless. Therefore, I, as Taoiseach, on behalf of the State, the Government and our citizens, deeply regret and apologise unreservedly to all those women for the hurt that was done to them and for any stigma they suffered as a result of the time they spent in a Magdalen laundry. I hope that the publication of the McAleese report and this apology makes some contribution to the healing process.
In reflecting on this report, I have come to the view that these women deserve more than this formal apology, important though it is. I also want to put in place a process by which we can determine how best to help and support the women in their remaining years. One of the many things I have learned during my recent meetings with the Magdalen women is that their circumstances and current needs vary greatly from person to person. That is why the Government has today asked the President of the Law Reform Commission, Mr. Justice John Quirke, to undertake a three month review and to make recommendations as to the criteria that should be applied in assessing the help that the Government can provide in the areas of payments and other supports, including medical cards, psychological and counselling services and other welfare needs. The terms of reference for Mr. Justice Quirke will be published later today and I will also arrange for the representatives of the women to be fully briefed on this process. When Mr. Justice Quirke has reported, the Government will establish a fund to assist the women, based on his recommendations. I am confident that this process will enable us to provide speedy, fair and meaningful help to the women in a compassionate and non-adversarial way. I am determined that the fund will be primarily used to help the women, as is their stated and strong desire, and not for legal or administrative costs.
The McAleese report also refers to women who recounted similar experiences in other residential laundries, such as the laundry offering services to the public that operated in the training centre at Stanhope Street, Dublin. The Government has decided that these women should be included in both the apology I have extended today and in the fund.
I am also conscious that many of the women I met last week want to see a permanent memorial established to remind us all of this dark part of our history. I agree this should be done and intend to engage directly with the representative groups and as many of the women as possible to agree on the creation of an appropriate memorial to be financed by the Government separately from the funds that are being set aside for the direct assistance for the women.
Let me conclude by again speaking directly to the women whose experiences in Magdalen laundries have negatively affected their subsequent lives. As a society, for many years we failed you. We forgot you or, if we thought of you at all, we did so in untrue and offensive stereotypes. This is a national shame for which I again say, I am deeply sorry and offer my full and heartfelt apologies.
At the conclusion of my discussions with one group of the Magdalen women one of those present sang “Whispering Hope”. A line from that song stays in my mind: “When the dark midnight is over, Watch for the breaking of day. Let me hope that this day and this debate heralds a new dawn for all those who feared that the dark midnight might never end.
Benjamin Carson, neurosurgeon and founder of CarsonScholars.org and an advocate for education and action speaks at a National Prayer Breakfast in February 2013 about education, poverty, political correctness, parenting, and the responsibility of the rich in society. President Obama is in the audience.
Benjamin Solomon “Ben” Carson, Sr:
Thank you so much. Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Obama, distinguished guests – which included everybody. Thank you so much for this wonderful honor to be at this stage again. I was here 16 years ago, and the fact that they invited me back means that I didn’t offend too many people, so that was great.
I want to start by reading four texts which will put into I want to start by reading four texts which will put into context what I’m going to say.
Proverbs 11:9 With his mouth the Godless destroys his neighbor, but through knowledge the righteous escapes.
Proverbs 11:12 A man who lacks judgement derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue
Proverbs 11:25 A generous man will prosper. He who refreshes others will himself, be refreshed.
2nd Chronicles 7:14 If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and heal their land.
You know, I have an opportunity to speak in a lot of venues. This is my fourth speech this week. and I have an opportunity to talk to a lot of people. And I’ve been asking people what concerns you? What are you most concerned about in terms of the spirituality and the direction of our nation and our world? And I’ve talked to very prominent democrats, very prominent republicans. And I was surprised by the uniformity of their answers. And those have informed my comments this morning. now, it’s not my intention to offend anyone. I have discovered, however, in recent years that it’s very difficult to speak to a large group of people these days and not offend someone. [laughter]
And people walk away with their feelings on their shoulders waiting for you to say something, ah, did you hear that? The pc police are out in force at all times. I remember once I was talking about the difference between a human brain and a dog’s grain, and a man — and a dog’s brain, and a man got offended. You can’t talk about dogs like that. [laughter] People focus in on that, completely miss the point of what you’re saying. [laughter] And we’ve reached reach the point where people are afraid to actually talk about what they want to say because somebody might be offended. People are afraid to say Merry Christmas at Christmas time. Doesn’t matter whether the person you’re talking to is Jewish or, you know, whether they’re any religion. That’s a salutation, a greeting of goodwill. We’ve got to get over this sensitivity. You know, and it keeps people from saying what they really believe.
You know, I’m reminded of a very successful young businessman, and he loved to buy his mother these exotic gifts for mother’s day. And he ran out of ideas, and then he ran across these birds. These birds were cool, you know? They cost $5,000 apiece. They could dance, they could sing, they could talk. He was so excited, he bought two of of them. Sent them to his mother, couldn’t wait to call her up on mother’s day, mother, mother, what’d you think of those birds? And she said, they was good. [laughter] He said, no, no, no! Mother, you didn’t eat those birds? Those birds cost $5,000 apiece! They could dance, they could sing, they could talk! And she said, well, they should have said something. [laughter] And, you know, that’s where we end up, too, if we don’t speak up for what we believe. [laughter] And, you know, what we need to do — [applause] what we need to do in this PC world is forget about unanimity of speech and unanimity of thought, and we need to concentrate on being respectful to those people with whom we disagree.
And that’s when I believe we begin to make progress. and one last thing about political correctness, which I think is a horrible thing, by the way. I’m very, very come — compassionate, and I’m not never out to offend anyone. But PC is dangerous. Because, you see, this country one of the founding principles was freedom of thought and freedom of expression. and it muffles people. It puts a muzzle on them. And at the same time, keeps people from discussing important issues while the fabric of this society is being changed. And we cannot fall for that trick. And what we need to do is start talking about things, talking about things that are important.
Things that were important in the development of our nation. one of those things was education. I’m very passionate about education because it’s made such a big difference in my life. But here we are at a time in the world, the information age, the age of technology, and yet 30% of people who enter high school in this country do not graduate. 44% of people who start a four-year college program do not finish it in four years. What is that about? Think back to a darker time in this our history. Two hundred years ago when slavery was going on it was illegal to educate a slave, particularly to teach them to read. Why do you think that was? Because when you educate a man, you liberate a man. And there I was as a youngster placing myself in the same situation that a horrible institution did because I wasn’t taking advantage of the education. I was a horrible student. Most of my classmates thought I was the stupidest person in the world. They called me dummy. I was the butt of all the jokes. Now, admittedly, it was a bad environment. single-parent home, you know, my mother and father had gotten divorced early on.
My mother got married when she was 13. She was one of 24 children. Had a horrible life. Discovered that her husband was a bigamist, had another family. And she only had a third grade education. She had to take care of us. Dire poverty. I had a horrible temper, poor self-esteem. All the things that you think would preclude success. But I had something very important, I had a mother who believed in me, and I had a mother who would never allow herself to be a victim no matter what happened. Never made excuses, and she never accepted an excuse from us. And if we ever came up with an excuse, she always said do you have a brain? And if the answer was, yes, then she said then you could have thought your way out of it. It doesn’t matter what John or Susan or Mary or anybody else did or said. And it was the most important thing she did for my brother and myself. Because if you don’t accept excuse, pretty soon people stop giving them, and they start looking for solutions. And that is a critical issue when it comes to success.
Well, you know, we did live in dire poverty, and one of the things that I hated was poverty. you know, some people hate spiders, some people hate snakes, I hated poverty. I couldn’t stand it. [laughter] But, you know, my mother couldn’t stand the fact that we were doing poorly in school, and she prayed and asked god to give her wisdom, what could she do to to to make her sons understand the importance of wisdom? God gave her wisdom. At least in her opinion. It was to turn off the tv, let us watch only two or three programs during the week, and read two books apiece and submit to her written book reports which she couldn’t read, but we didn’t know that. [laughter] She put check marks and highlights and stuff — [laughter] But, you know, I just hated this. And my friends were out having a good time. her friends would criticize her. they would say you can’t make boys stay in the house reading books, they’ll grow up and hate you. and i would overhear them and say, you know, mother, they’re right. but she didn’t care.
You know. [laughter] after a while, I actually began to enjoy reading those books because we were very poor, but between the covers of those books I could go anywhere, I could be anybody, i could do anything. I began to read about people of great accomplishment, and as I read those stories, I began to see a connecting thread. I began to see that the person who has the most to do with you and what happens to you in life is you. You make decisions. You decide how much energy you want to put behind that decision. And I came to understand that I had control of my own destiny. And at that point I didn’t hate poverty anymore, because I knew it was only temporary. I knew I could change that. it was incredibly liberating for me, made all the difference.
To continue on that theme of education, in 1831 Alexis de Toqueville came to study America. The Europeans were fascinated. How could a fledgling Nation, barely 50 years old already be competing with them on virtually every level. This was impossible. De Toqueville was going to sort it out and he looked at our government and he was duly impressed by the three branches of government – four now because now we have special interest groups, but it was only three back in those days. He said, WOW, this is really something, but then he said, but let me look at their educational system and he was blown away. See, anybody who had finished the second grade was completely literate. He could find a mountain man on the outskirts of society who could read the newspaper and have a political discussion, could tell him how the government worked.
If you really want to be impressed, take a look at the chapter on education in my latest book, America the Beautiful, which I wrote with my wife – it came out last year, and in that education chapter you will see questions extracted from a sixth grade exit exam from the 1800’s – a test you had to pass to get your sixth grade certificate. I doubt most college graduates today could pass that test. We have dumbed things down to that level and the reason that is so dangerous is because the people who founded this Nation said that our system of government was designed for a well-informed and educated populace, and when they become less informed, they become vulnerable. Think about that. That is why education is so vitally important.
Now some people say, ahhh, you’re over blowing it, things aren’t that bad, and you’re a doctor, a neurosurgeon. Why are you concerned about these things? Got news for you. FIVE doctors signed the Declaration of Independence. Doctors were involved in the framing of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, in a whole bunch of things. It’s only been since recent decades that we’ve extracted ourselves, which I think is a big mistake.
We need doctors, we needs scientists, engineers. We need all those people involved in government, not just lawyers…I don’t have anything against lawyers, but you know, here’s the thing about lawyers…I’m sorry, but I got to be truthful…got to be truthful – what do lawyers learn in law school? To win, by hook or by crook. You gotta win, so you got all these Democrat lawyers, and you got all these Republican lawyers and their sides want to win. We need to get rid of that. What we need to start thinking about is, how do we solve problems?
Now, before I get shot, let me finish. I don’t like to bring up problems without coming up with solutions. My wife and I started the Carson Scholars Fund 16 years ago after we heard about an international survey looking at the ability of eight graders in 22 countries to solve math and science problems, and we came out No. 21 out of 22. We only barely beat out Number 22 – very concerning.
We went to these schools and we’d see all these trophies: State Basketball, State Wrestling, this, that and the other. The Quarterback was the Big Man on Campus. What about the intellectual Superstar? What did they get? A National Honor Society pin? A pat on the head, there, there little Nerd? Nobody cared about them. And is it any wonder that sometimes the smart kids try to hide? They don’t want anybody to know they are smart? This is not helping us or our Nation, so we started giving out scholarships from all backgrounds for superior academic performance and demonstration of humanitarian qualities. Unless you cared about other people, it didn’t matter how smart you were. We’ve got plenty of people like that. We don’t need smart people who don’t care about other people.
We would give them money. The money would go into a Trust. They would get interest on it. When they would go to college they would get the money, but also the school gets a trophy, every bit as impressive as a sports trophy – right out there with the others. They get a medal. They get to go t a banquet. We try to put them on a pedestal as impressive as we do the All-State athletes. I have nothing against athletics or entertainment. I’m from Baltimore. The Ravens won. This is great – okay. But, but – what will maintain our position in the world? The ability to shoot a 25 foot jump shot or the ability to solve a quadratic equation? We need to put the things into proper perspective.
Many teachers have told us that when we put a Carson Scholar in their classroom, the GPA of the whole classroom goes up over the next year. It’s been very gratifying. We started 16 years ago with 25 scholarships in Maryland, now we’ve given out more than 5,000 and we are in all 50 states, but we’ve also put in Reading Rooms. These are fascinating places that no little kid could possibly pass up. And uh, they get points for the amount of time they spend reading, and the number of books they read. They can trade the points for prizes. In the beginning they do it for the prizes, but it doesn’t take long before their academic performance begins to improve.
And we particularly target Title One schools where the kids come from homes with no books and they go to schools with no libraries. Those are the ones who drop out. We need to truncate that process early on because we can’t afford to waste any of those young people. You know, for every one of those people we keep from going down that path – that path of self-destruction and mediocrity, that’s one less person you have to protect yourself and your family from. One less person you have to pay for in the penal or welfare system. One more taxpaying productive member of society who may invent a new energy source or come up with a cure for cancer. They are all important to us and we need every single one of them it makes a difference. And when you go home tonight read about it, carsonscholars, carsonscholars.org
Why is it so important that we educate our people? Because we don’t want to go down the pathway as so many pinnacle nations that have preceded us. I think particularly about ancient Rome. Very powerful. Nobody could even challenge them militarily, but what happened to them? They destroyed themselves from within. Moral decay, fiscal irresponsibility. They destroyed themselves. If you don’t think that can happen to America, you get out your books and you start reading, but you know, we can fix it.
Why can we fix it because we’re smart. We have some of the most intellectually gifted people leading our Nation. All we need to do is remember what our real responsibilities are so that we can solve the problems. I think about these problems all the time, and my role, you know, model was Jesus. He used parables to help people understand things. And one of our big problems right now, and like I said, I’m not politically correct, so I’m sorry, but you know – our deficit is a big problem. Think about it. And our National Debt – $16.5 Trillion dollars – you think that’s not a lot of money? I’ll tell you what! Count one number per second, which you can’t even do because once you get to a thousand it will take you longer than a second, but…one number per second. You know how long it would take you to count to 16 Trillion? 507,000 years – more than a half a million years to get there. We have to deal with this.
Here’s a parable: A family falls on hard times. Dad loses his job or is demoted to part time work. He has 5 children. He comes to the 5 children, he says we’re going to have to reduce your allowance. Well, they’re not happy about it but – he says, except for John and Susan. They’re, they’re special. They get to keep their allowance. In fact, we’ll give them more. How do you think that’s going to go down? Not too well. Same thing happens. Enough said.
What about our taxation system? So complex there is no one who can possibly comply with every jot and tittle of our tax system. If I wanted to get you, I could get you on a tax issue. That doesn’t make any sense. What we need to do is come up with something that is simple.
When I pick up my Bible, you know what I see? I see the fairest individual in the Universe, God, and he’s given us a system. It’s called tithe. Now we don’t necessarily have to do it 10% but it’s principle. He didn’t say, if your crops fail, don’t give me any tithes. He didn’t say, if you have a bumper crop, give me triple tithes. So there must be something inherently fair about proportionality. You make $10 Billion dollars you put in a Billion. You make $10 you put in $1 – of course, you gotta get rid of the loopholes, but now now some people say, that’s not fair because it doesn’t hurt the guy who made $10 Billion dollars as much as the guy who made $10. Where does it say you have to hurt the guy. He’s just put in a billion in the pot. We don’t need to hurt him.
It’s that kind of thinking – it’s that kind of thinking that has resulted in 602 banks in the Cayman Islands. That money needs to be back here, building our infrastructure and creating jobs – and we’re smart enough – we’re smart enough to figure out how to do that.
We’ve already started down the path to solving one of the other big problems, health care. We need to have good health care for everybody. It’s the most important thing that a person can have. Money means nothing, titles mean nothing when you don’t have your health, but we’ve got to figure out efficient ways to do it. We spend a lot of money on health care, twice as much per capita as anybody in else in the world, and yet not very efficient. What can we do?
Here’s my solution. When a person is born, give him a birth certificate, an electronic medical record and a health savings account [HSA], to which money can be contributed, pre-tax from the time you are born, to the time you die. When you die, you can pass it on to your family members so that when you’re 85 years old and you’ve got 6 diseases, you’re not trying to spend up everything. You’re happy to pass it on and nobody is talking about death panels. That’s number one. Also –
For the people who are indigent, who don’t have any money, we can make contributions to their HSA each month because we already have this huge pot of money instead of sending it to bureaucracy – let’s put it into HSAs. Now they have some control over their own health care and what do you think they’re going to do? They’re going to learn very quickly how to be responsible. When Mr. Jones gets that diabetic foot ulcer, he’s not going to the Emergency Room and blowing a big chunk of it. He’s going to go to the Clinic. He learns that very quickly – gets the same treatment. In the Emergency Room they send him out. In the Clinic they say, now let’s get your diabetes under control so that you’re not back here in three weeks with another problem. That’s how we begin to solve these kinds of problems. It’s much more complex than that, and I don’t have time to go into it all, but we can do all these things because we are smart people.
And let me begin to close here – another parable: Sea Captain, and he’s out on the sea near the area where the Titanic went down. And they look ahead and there’s a bright light right there – another ship he figures. He tells his signaler to signal that ship: deviate 10 degrees to the South. Back comes the message, no you deviate 10 degrees to the North. Well, he’s a little bit incensed you know. He says, send a message, this is Captain Johnson, deviate 10 degrees to the South. Back comes the message, this is Ensign 4th Class Reilly. Deviate 10 degrees to the North. Now Captain Johnson is really upset. He says send him a message, this is a Naval Destroyer. Back comes the message, this is a Lighthouse. Enough said.
Now, what about the symbol of our Nation? The Eagle. The Bald Eagle. It’s an interesting story how we chose that but a lot of people think we call it the bald eagle because it looks like it has a bald head. That’s not the reason It comes from the Old English word Piebald, which means crowned with white. And we just shortened it to bald. Now, use that the next time you see somebody who thinks they know everything. You’ll get ’em on that one.
But, why is that eagle able to fly, high, forward? Because it has two wings: a left wing and a right wing. Enough said.
And I wanna close with this story: two hundred years ago this Nation was involved in a war, the war of 1812. The British, who are now our good friends thought that we were young whippersnappers. It was time for us to become a colony again. They were winning that war and marching up the Eastern Seaboard, destroying city after city, destroying Washington D.C., burned down the White House. Next stop Baltimore. As they came into the Chesapeake Bay, there were armadas of war ships as far as the eye could see. It was looking grim. Fort. McHenry standing right there. General Armisted, who was in charge of Fort. McHenry, had a large American flag commissioned to fly in front of the Fort. The Admiral in charge of the British Fleet was offended, said take that flag down. You have until dusk to take that Flag down. If you don’t take it down, we will reduce you to ashes.
There was a young amateur poet on board by the name of Francis Scott Key, sent by President Madison to try to obtain the release of an American physician who was being held captive. He overheard the British plans. They were not going to let him off the ship. He mourned. As dusk approached he mourned for his fledgling young Nation, and as the sun fell, the bombardment started. Bombs bursting in air. Missiles, so much debris He strained, trying to see, was the flag still there? Couldn’t see a thing. All night long it continued. At the crack of dawn he ran out to the banister He looked straining his eyes all he could only see dust and debris.
Then there was a clearing and he beheld the most beautiful sight he had ever seen – the torn and tattered Stars and Stripes still waving. And many historians say that was the turning point in the war of 1812. We went on to win that war and to retain our freedom and if you had gone onto the grounds of Fort. McHenry that day, you would have seen at the base of that flag, the bodies of soldiers who took turns. Propping up that flag, they would not let that flag go down because they believed in what that flag symbolized. And what did it symbolize? One Nation, under God, [applause] indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Thank you. God Bless.