Op-ed: Open mouth, talk stupid

  • By Bob Franken
  • Saturday, March 11, 2017 9:37pm
  • Opinion

I’ve hesitated in doing this, but the time has come to catalog the truly dumb comments uttered by our great leaders. There is so much material, it’s an embarrassment of embarrassments.

We have to acknowledge Ben Carson, who’s now our housing secretary because, well, Donald Trump had to put him somewhere. Secretary Carson was seeking to rally his department’s troops, to inspire them with a speech about the country as a “land of dreams and opportunity.” Even if we ignore how dicey it is for any member of this administration to speak at all about immigration, Carson caused an uproar when he referred to slaves as immigrants, specifically “other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships … they, too, had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”

Carson’s supporters point out that Barack Obama had expressed something similar in December 2015: “So life in America wasn’t always easy. It wasn’t always easy for new immigrants. Certainly it wasn’t easy for those of African heritage who had not come here voluntarily, and yet in their own way, were immigrants themselves.” So let’s be bipartisan about this: It was as stupid when Barack Obama said it as it was when Ben Carson did it a year and a half later.

But, that was then and this is now, when Donald Trump is the main man, the supreme leader, the apprentice president himself. Unfortunately, he can’t help himself; he’s a compulsive tweeter, a paranoid twitt-so-phrenic who communicates really crazy stuff every time he gets near a smartphone. Rambling on about President Obama wiretapping him might strike some as being little different from those who hear voices or radio waves. So let’s be compassionate and give him a break. Like he would do if he had all his marbles.

Besides, there are so many others who could enter these creepstakes. That brings us to Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who abuses power as chairman of the House Oversight Committee. While on CNN defending the new GOP health-care legislation — which might be better described as the Take Away Health Care proposal — Chaffetz had a solution for those too poor and strapped to afford insurance: “rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and want to spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care.” If his remarks seemed to have a “let them eat cake” air about them, Chaffetz might be forgiven. His president had already weighed in, with the Trumpster exclaiming that “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” Who could imagine that it even might be too difficult to explain in a tweet?

Meanwhile, new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos — a billionaire who never saw a public school she liked, because she never saw a public school — was expressing her views of historically black colleges and universities, like Howard University, which was founded in Washington in 1867. Being an outspoken advocate of school choice (another way of saying the choice for whites to racially discriminate), DeVos called these black academic institutions “real pioneers when it comes to school choice.”

In reality, they are monuments to a lack of choice, because blacks couldn’t get a higher education in the days of lily white-black segregation. DeVos heads the department that provides three-quarters of the federal money the remaining traditionally black universities get.

These are just highlights of what passes for brilliance these days — or perhaps it’s lowlights. And it’s nothing new, which explains why the country is in such horrible shape, and under Trump, heading even further downward.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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