Thus far in this early season of presidential politics we’ve written little about Ben Carson, but now seems as good a time as any to start paying attention to his candidacy. The retired pediatric neurosurgeon, political neophyte, and former long shot is now leading the Republican field in one national poll, quickly catching up to real estate mogul and fellow political neophyte Donald Trump in all the rest, and suddenly looks like a serious contender if not the outright frontrunner.
Which is fine by us. Our most preferred candidates, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and former Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, both of whom had impressive records while in office, have already dropped out of the race, the Republican party presently seems intent on nominating someone who has never held public office at all, and among those boasting that odd qualification Carson strikes us as clearly superior to Trump. Former high-tech executive Carly Fiorina also fares well by that admittedly low standard, too, and we’re liking her better with every mainstream media interviewer she slays, and we note that she’s a solid third and rising in all the polls, but today we’re writing about Carson.
So far as we can tell from his rather vague policy pronouncements we are generally in agreement with Carson about the major issues of the day, and on the also important matters of personality and character and electability we are even more impressed. Carson’s campaign vagueness is probably appropriate, given that at this point nobody knows all the minutiae about what the major issues for the first days of a Carson presidency will be, and he’s at least been specific enough to articulate a political philosophy that promises whatever mistakes he might make won’t be the result of a pro-government or anti-American bias. These days we’ll settle for such small favors, and gratefully note that the rest of Carson’s campaign is least as appealing. We suspect it will also appeal to those uninformed folks who comprise the decisive vote in every election, which is arguably the most important argument of them all.
Carson is a cerebral and soft-spoken sort of fellow, which we find a comforting contrast to the emotional and bombastic style of Trump, and it’s proving effective. The pundits have criticized Carson’s performances in the two televised debates, where his meek and mild persona was seemingly lost amid all the blustering back-and-forth between the rest of the candidates, but on both occasions his poll numbers rose afterwards. The great Ray Charles discovered that when they turned down the lights and he lowered his voice to a smoldering rendition of an old Harold Arlen tune the audience listened more intently than it did to even his most rollicking rhythm and blues, and every movie director worth a lick knows that people’s ears are most attuned not to the explosive actions scenes but to the whispered denouements, and Carson seems to have figured out the same time-honored principle. You wouldn’t know it from the Nielsen ratings or the Hollywood box office take or the top 40 on the Billboard charts, but there’s surely still an audience for that.
There’s obviously also an audience for defiantly and unapologetically frank talk, too, but Carson has lately provided plenty of that in his soft-spoken way. He was widely criticized for saying he would not support a Muslim presidential candidate, which those critics disingenuously took to mean that he would impose an unconstitutional religious test on nominees, but given his subsequent poll numbers it would seem that the 95 percent or so of the country that would also not support a Muslim presidential candidate at this particular moment were unconcerned. Those impressive poll numbers have since prompted some of the media to seize on his statement that citizens should respond aggressively to any mass shooting incidents they find themselves in, twisting it into a criticism of the victims of the latest mass shooting, but we don’t expect this will be reflected in the next round of polls. Trump’s fans like to boast that he has triumphantly challenged the media’s politically correct rule that you just can’t say certain correct things about certain politically incorrect issues, and we reluctantly acknowledge that he has, and thereby made some compensating contribution to our political discourse, but we hope they’ll concede that Carson has more quietly done the very same thing.
The press attacks will continue, of course, but they will be complicated. The usual press narrative about any candidate leading the Republican field is that he is either a dithering idiot or diabolical genius, but Carson’s remarkable career and made-for-TV life story render both stories implausible. He was head of pediatric neurosurgery at the prestigious Johns Hopkins University medical center, so the Democrats can’t say it wasn’t brain surgery, because it was, and unless they nominate a pretty darned good rocket scientist they’ll be hard-pressed to say that Carson’s a relative idiot. The evil genius slur will be even harder to pull off, given the heroic and well-verified tales of growing up in poverty with a single mother in poverty and learning to separate joined-at-the-head Siamese twins and without getting rich by the standards of recent Democratic nominees, and the fact that he’s just so darned cerebral and soft-spoken, and if they have to debate him on the issues they’ll be forced to seize the pro-government and anti-American ground.
Carson is black, too, and although it is a testament to his sincerely post-racial candidacy that we’ve neglected to mention that fact until the seventh paragraph it does merit noting. He’s not only black, but has that all-important slave blood and single mother that even the First African-American President (TM) didn’t have. Although Carson admirably does not put this out as a qualification for the presidency, we’ll be so defiantly and unapologetically frank as to say that it will at least further complicate any of the politically correct media efforts to portray him as a dithering idiot or evil genius. If the Democrats don’t nominate The First Female-American President (TM), which is looking increasingly possible, and if the Republicans don’t seize the opportunity instead, which they might, given Fiorina’s strong performance on the campaign trail, the geriatric old white man that does wind up representing the Democratic Party would be the one constrained by political correctness for a change. As much as we detest race- or gender-based calculations, they seem a safer path to the presidency than an emotional and bombastic white guy such as Trump. Throw in the fact that Carson might even draw a few more than usual votes from the Democrats’ essential monolith of black voters, and he’s looking more electable than Trump or any of the others.
Which is not say we’re endorsing Carson. He’s still a bit vague for our policy wonk preferences, Fiorina is still looking better every time she shows up in the news, something in our cautiously conservative temperament likes that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has actually held office, and something in our disgruntled Republican soul likes that he’s been enraging the establishment ever since. There’s still plenty of politics left before the first votes are cast, too, but for now we don’t mind that Carson is doing well.
— Bud Norman