Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Does Ben Carson belong on Prez16?

Looking very ER, it's Dr. Ben Carson

Ever since Dr. Ben Carson's buzzy prayer breakfast speech, I've been getting emails, asking whether he should be included in the Prez16 hunt.

And I'm embarrassed to say that, until yesterday, I hadn't even watched the prayer breakfast speech, partly because I knew it might mean that I'd have to add him to the 2016 roster, and there are already 30 sort-of viable candidates on it.

But popular demand is popular demand, and I'm not about to go the way of Kodak.

So here's the Carson post.

Since he's a medical doctor, the first gimmick I thought of for this post was to take a look at him by body part, beginning with the brain (duh, he's a neurosurgeon), and since I usually go with my first thought, that's what we'll do.


Having children is like having a bowling alley installed in your brain -- Martin Mull

Ben Carson's brain was born in Detroit in 1951 -- more commonly known as "seven years after World War 2 ended."

His dad was a bigamist and Carson had twenty-three brothers and sisters, although they didn't all live together. There's been very little research on what the 14th kid turns out like -- let alone the 15th or 16th. Domineering or irrepressibly fun-loving?  These things are unknowable.

Carson spent his early years, failing at school, while his mother worked job-after-job to care for the kids. Famously, she never took welfare, and Carson reflected:

"I had a mother who would never allow herself to be a victim no matter what happened."

She was utterly indefatigable, according to Biography:

There were occasions when her boys wouldn't see her for days at a time, because she would go to work at 5:00 AM and come home around 11:00 PM, going from one job to the next. She was frugal with the family's finances, cleaning and patching clothes from the Goodwill in order to dress the boys. The family would also go to local farmers and offer to pick corn or other vegetables in exchange for a portion of the yield. She would then can the produce for the kids' meals.

Carson dealt with considerable rage in his early years (he once tried to hit his mom with a hammer), but after nearly stabbing a friend to death (a belt buckle broke the knife's blade), he came home and asked for God's help in corralling his anger, and thus began a career marked by soft-spoken humility.

In fact, when he talks, you can hardly imagine Carson stabbing someone to death like an Ogre with a bloodlust spell (Warcraft 2 drop there).

He's got a smooth, perpetually even voice, and a gentle demeanor that helps temper some of his tougher attacks.

Academically, things turned around for Carson after his mom demanded he turn off the TV, read two books every week, and write book reviews that his mom could barely read (she had a third grade education).

Carson excelled, and he went from Yell to Yale University, where he graduated with a degree in psychology. After that, he moved to the horribleness of Michigan again and picked up a medical degree from The University of Michigan.

From there, he moved to Baltimore, where he went to work for Johns Hopkins University and, at 33 years-old, became the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery.

One of his most famous achievements? He was the first in history to successfully separate twins who were joined at the back of the head -- a 22 hour surgery.

It's perhaps because of that that he landed a role in the Farrelly Brothers movie, Stuck On You, in which Matt Damon famously says, "We're not Siamese. We're American."

Since then, Carson has gone on to earn accolade after accolade for both professional and charitable achievements, and in 2008, George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which makes Matt Damon look very small by comparison.


The reason I talk to myself is that I'm the only one whose answers I accept -- George Carlin

Ben Carson's mouth was responsible for the 27 minute Youtube video that's been hailed as "the longest 27 minutes of his [Obama's] presidency."

To hear some talk about it, Obama was so deflated by it that it's a wonder he didn't turn in his keys to The White House and just go live with Trent Reznor.

So when I finally got around to watching the prayer breakfast speech, I was genuinely shocked to hear how gentle it was.

Yes, he talked about a flat tax, but hasn't Obama used a prayer breakfast to call for higher taxes? Yes, Carson talked about Health Savings Accounts, but he never used the word "ObamaCare" or yelled. Yes, he talked about political correctness, but he didn't pull out a headdress and tomahawk to push boundaries.

In fact, if you're to take one thing from the speech it was this -- Education matters, and this country is too focused on being politically correct at the expense of education.

Carson's passion -- more so than any flat tax (or as he calls it "proportional tax") -- is education, because, to him, an ignorant populace is only steps away from a totalitarian regime.

The Baltimore Sun thought the politics of it were overhyped, as well: "There wasn't much in the way for fireworks. Would that every right-wing talk radio host presented his point of view as respectfully."

The Sun also noted that Carson's push for a flat tax and health savings accounts wasn't a "particularly shocking recommendation", yet "one would think from the reaction of conservatives, however, he had denounced Mr. Obama on the spo. and perhaps challenged him to a duel afterward."

For his part, Carson sort of agreed and told ABC that he didn't think his speech was "particularly political", and pushed back against the idea that he's a Republican or Democrat, claiming that if he belonged to any party, at all, it would be "The Logic Party."

That's a bit disingenuous, though, considering he's appearing at CPAC and will be headlining a GOP dinner in Alabama this summer. There are plenty of people who vote Republican straight down the ballot, but don't call themselves Republicans.

And it's not like Carson has shied away from the political buzz surrounding his speech. Instead, he's embraced it (watch his 40 minute appearance on Hannity here), and I can't find one issue where he's liberal (he's anti-affirmative action, pro-tax cuts, pro-life etc).

That being said, Carson's comment about "The Logic Party" shows exactly what type of presidential candidate he'd be -- one whose ideas would be more prescriptive than descriptive, and one who'd also use a lot of colloquialisms that simplify issues somewhat.

He would obviously draw comparisons to Herman Cain -- another spectacularly successful black conservative who ran for president (can we say it was a good run or a bad run? It seems you could make a case for both), but beyond their apparent penchant for catchy maxims, the Cain/Carson comparison falls flat.

Carson is far more contemplative, well-versed, well-educated, and well-respected.


Photo, or whatever that is by Tvanbr

The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing. -- Blaise Pascal

You can't question his heart.

Besides his historic work for children, he's awarded over 5,000 scholarships via his non-profit, still performs about 300 operations per year (although he's planning on retiring soon), and has criss-crossed the country to urge young people to pursue education.

As I noted earlier, the emphasis on education is central to both his life and his message.


Note: This is a diagram of an insect's leg. Wikipedia, shockingly, does not have a diagram of a human leg  

Now it's time to address the question of whether Carson belongs on Prez16.

Ever since his prayer breakfast speech, he's been asked about a presidential bid a lot.

In fact, he told Hannity: "If I got a nickel from everyone who sent me an email asking me to run, I would be able to finance my campaign."

And evidently, this isn't a completely new phenomenon. He told Cavuto that people have been saying he should run for president "for many years now."

For his part, Hannity is ready for the yard sign, telling him, "I would vote for you in a heart beat."

Count the Wall Street Journal as a backer, as well.

In an op-ed subtly titled, "Ben Carson for president," the paper wrote that Carson "may not be politically correct, but he's closer to correct than we've heard in years."

So what does Carson say about all of it?

Well, he told ABC news that "I'll leave that up to God", then told Hannity that "if the Lord grabbed me by the collar and made me do it, I would", and to make things even more intriguing, told John Fund that his imminent retirement "does open a lot of possibilities for me."

And it seems like the presidential door is a much more likely puerta for him to open than a congressional one.

On Monday, he told NPR:

"Why would I want to run for Congress and continue to get tainted with all the things that people get tainted with as they come along the system. I think perhaps a much better role would be to use my voice and to use my influence to help change the tone of this nation."

If you remember, Rick Perry railed against all things Washington but then ran for president, so there's precedent for Washington haters to try to move into the city's most famous house.

Further, as chatter about a 2016 run heats up, he's also stepping up his public appearances.

He actually hit up another prayer breakfast last week when he warned Maryland lawmakers "we are moving further and further away from God," at the Legislature's annual prayer breakfast.

He also hammered the idea that the effects of slavery and segregation are terribly formative anymore.

"There is no one alive today who is a slave and no one alive today who is a slave owner..... at some point, you need to get over it and move on."

Meanwhile, he checks a multitude of other conservative boxes. He thinks affirmative action was once necessary but should be replaced by "compassionate action", which is based on financial need and hardship, he doesn't believe in evolution, is a devout Seventh Day Adventist, and if you watch this long clip with Hannity, you can see that he's a supply sider, as well.

Carson also seems to recognize the political moment, telling NPR this week that he's gotten emails from elderly people, reading like so: "I had given up on America, and I was just waiting to die." (who doesn't get emails like that?).

But really, the big question in all of this is this: Should he be included in the Prez16 pack, and will I write about him, going forward?


That doesn't mean I think he'll run, but it means that he'll continue to be asked about it, continue to leave it open, and continue to play a fairly vocal role in the party's conversation going forward.

That's certainly enough to make the list.

Google, consider yourself alerted that I have now added a Google Alert for one Benjamin Carson.