For Republicans, Dr. Ben Carson, the pediatric neurosurgeon, could be just what the doctor ordered. He’s accomplished, he’s articulate, he’s respected by his peers … and he’s a black conservative whose political fortunes are rising faster than a shooting star.
Dr. Carson, 61, is a big-hearted Christian who favors smaller, more responsible government. He stirred up the faithful at CPAC two weeks ago when he said he would retire from his medical practice at Johns Hopkins in the near future and might be open – might be – to playing some political role in Washington.
“I want to quit while I’m at the top of my game, and there are so many more things that could be done,” Carson said. Then he added, “Let’s say you magically put me in the White House.” That earned him a standing ovation.
Carson, a registered independent, has since reiterated his point while dancing around an actual declaration. He told CNN last Thursday he might “seriously consider” a run for the White House if a top Republican candidate doesn’t emerge in the next year and a half.
“Ben Carson is an important and rising voice on the political right,” Mark Meckler, president of Citizens for Self-Governance and a Tea Party activist, told The Fiscal Times. “He’s a bright, accomplished human being who’s spent his life working to help those that most believe have been beyond help – so he’s very difficult to attack the way political opponents normally would.”
It is “impossible to vilify or dehumanize him,” Meckler added. “He speaks his mind with confidence. He’s rational, well-reasoned and calm.”
Craig Shirley, a historian and conservative Republican who has written several books about Ronald Reagan, also notes that part of the appeal is that Carson is a “media celebrity who has taken on Obama directly.”
Here’s why, specifically, Dr. Carson, a devout Seventh-Day Adventist Christian, has those on the right happily hopeful at the moment.
‘WE HAVE TO DEAL WITH THE DEBT’
Carson believes the national deficit and debt must be reined in. “Our deficit is a big problem,” he said at the National Prayer Breakfast in February, as President Obama looked on from ten feet away. “Our national debt [is] $16-and-a-half trillion dollars. You think that’s not a lot of money? Tell you what: Count one number per second … You know how long it would take you to count to 16 trillion? 507,000 years. More than half a million years to get there. We have to deal with this.”
To Carson, the fiscal crisis “threatens to rip our country and destroy our way of life, yet many concern themselves only with the governmental benefits they might lose,” he says in America the Beautiful, his new bestseller. “It is easy to see how our growing debt, excessive spending, and elected leaders ignoring the will of the people closely resembles the circumstances that precipitated the American Revolution.”
Carson believes self-determination, fueled by education, offers the path to success. “We were very poor,” he says of his inner-city childhood spent in Detroit and Boston, where he was raised by a single mother whose own education stopped at the third grade. “But between the covers of those books [I read], I could go anywhere. I could be anybody. I could do anything… I had control of my own destiny.”
The country needs to recall its founding principles, he advises. “The Constitution is quite clear that government has the right to tax in order to support its programs, but there is nothing in the Constitution to support redistribution of wealth… The wealthy in this nation provide many opportunities for those who are not rich by creating jobs and paying taxes.”
While it may be “laudable” to “take care of everyone from cradle to grave,” Carson pushes pragmatism: “One can only take care of everyone until there’s no more money, at which time one can take care of no one – or one can reduce the amount of financial aid and encourage people to live responsibly, to save, and to plan for the future. Obviously the latter option makes more sense in the long run.”
An African American, Carson also takes potshots at political correctness and says it muzzles real dialogue. “When did we reach a point where you have to have a certain philosophy because of the color of your skin?” he said at the National Prayer Breakfast. “When did that happen?”
All of this and more is why many believe Ben Carson could rejuvenate the GOP as it works to widen its appeal and prepare for the next round of election battles.
The question remains, though: Can this doctor fix not only what ails the GOP, but the country at large?EDUCATION ABOVE ALL ELSE
Because he so personally benefited from the rigors of education after years of being called a “dummy” by other kids at school, Carson is passionate about a strong educational underpinning. To help those less fortunate, 17 years ago Carson and his wife, Candy, started a nonprofit called the Carson Scholars Fund for deserving students in grades four through eleven. The fund has helped American kids in every state and to date has awarded more than 5,600 scholarships.
“It’s a part of him that’s not very well known,” says Stan Gundry, editor-in-chief of Zondervan, Carson’s book publisher for the past 23 years. Wherever Dr. Carson travels, Gundry told The Fiscal Times, “He always says, ‘I have to have time to speak to the kids.’ When he was in Grand Rapids some years ago for a corporate event, he made a point of going into the inner city schools and speaking to the kids. I followed him around Detroit, going from one school and classroom to the next, and watched him. It was quite extraordinary.”
As a successful neurosurgeon, Carson has for years performed difficult surgeries to separate conjoined twins, an expertise requiring patience, skill and resilience. Many of his surgeries are detailed in his 1990 bestselling book Gifted Hands, which was also a popular movie. The book has sold over 1.5 million copies in its various formats and continues to “sell and sell and sell,” says Gundry. He says that Carson, while confident in his own abilities, couples the confidence with self-deprecation.
“He is very confident in what he knows, but with a proper sense of humility,” Gundry said. “He’s not cocky. I think that’s a lot of his appeal when he speaks.” Gundry says the sales of America the Beautiful, which have surged since the February Prayer Breakfast in Washington, may rival those of Gifted Hands.
One thing is also clear. The doctor, even in this fraught political environment, has a sense of humor and knows how to share it.
On March 10 of this year, he tweeted to his growing band of followers, “I’m just learning how to tweet. It’s cool.” And then he added: “But it’s not brain surgery.”