Doctor Strange

Does Dr. Ben Carson even remember Samuel Pierce?

The late attorney held the job Carson has been nominated for–Secretary of Housing and Urban Development–during the Reagan administration. He was the sole African-American member of the Reagan cabinet–as Carson will almost assuredly be during the Trump administration–and, well, let’s just say it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing:

Although Mr. Pierce was never charged with a crime, several former aides at the Department of Housing and Urban Development were sent to prison as a result of a special prosecutor’s investigation of wrongdoing and rampant mismanagement at the agency during Mr. Pierce’s eight years as secretary.

A five-year criminal investigation of Mr. Pierce ended in 1995 when he issued a statement to prosecutors acknowledging that ”my own conduct failed to set the proper standard” at the housing department.

Prosecutors and Congressional investigators uncovered extensive evidence to show how Mr. Pierce’s aides, who said they had been acting on his orders, distributed millions of dollars in housing subsidies to prominent Republican consultants at a time when the Reagan administration was sharply reducing the agency’s budget. Under President Ronald Reagan, annual spending on subsidized housing programs dropped to $8 billion from $26 billion, cuts that Mr. Pierce defended.

Pierce was regarded as a token even by fellow Republicans:

Mr. Pierce, the only cabinet secretary to serve all eight years of the Reagan administration, was widely derided within the administration and on Capitol Hill as Silent Sam because of his low profile.

He did not develop a close relationship with President Reagan, who mistook Mr. Pierce for a mayor at a White House reception in June 1981. (”Hello, Mr. Mayor,” the president said.) The widely reported anecdote clearly embarrassed Mr. Pierce and dogged him for the rest of his cabinet tenure.

Aides to Mr. Pierce said he never developed an interest in housing policy and delegated most important decisions to his staff. In the afternoon, they said, he could often be found watching television in his office.

How does it feel, Dr. Carson, knowing that Donald Trump views you as scornfully as President Reagan obviously viewed Samuel Pierce? He clearly didn’t think you were good enough to be Secretary of Health and Human Services, for example.

Did Carson even really want this particular gig? Pierce certainly didn’t:

Friends said Friday that Pierce never wanted to be secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and told those who were circulating his name after Reagan’s 1980 election that he would decline such an appointment. But he reluctantly accepted the post in hopes of someday realizing his highest ambition, appointment to the Supreme Court, associates said…

Theodore W. Kheel, a prominent New York labor negotiator and former law partner of Pierce, called him “an exceptional man with unusually impressive credentials. I was terribly unhappy with what happened to him in Washington.”

One wonders if they will say the same thing about Dr. Carson.

It’s sad, isn’t it? When Samuel Pierce passed away in 2000, his accomplishments as an attorney–of which there were many–were long forgotten: all that remained of his legacy was scandal and scorn, his name associated with faux-diversity and real dishonor. Will this be Ben Carson’s fate? When he passes away, will he be remembered not as an accomplished surgeon, but as the dude Donald Trump kept dragging out to “prove” he wasn’t a racist?

Why on Earth would Ben Carson want to run the risk of ending up just like Samuel Pierce? Does the man have any self-respect at all? Or does this prove, once again, that the words “Republican” and “dignity” don’t belong in the same sentence, unless it’s this one?

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.