Phil Mattingly has an excellent profile of retired surgeon Ben Carson on Bloomberg Politics today. Carson’s overt forays into Republican presidential politics are compelling for several reasons, not least that he’s another in a string of utterly implausible candidates who generate great enthusiasm among the Republican base. Carson leads Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul in the Bloomberg/Des Moines Register Iowa poll.
What exactly does the right find so appealing about Carson?
The familiar tropes are evident, including reluctant patriotism (running for high political office is “about the last thing I ever wanted to do,” Carson told Mattingly) and a double-barreled shot of crazy (“People hate each other and I am not 100% sure that it’s not planned,” he explained).
“One Nation” is the title of Carson’s autobiography. In case that’s too subtle a signal of political ambition, the subhead forges ahead: “What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future.”
No doubt, some Americans can best save the future by running for president. Carson casts himself not only as a brave truth teller but as a wise man above the partisan fray. “I refuse to engage in the grade-school-yard tactics of name-calling and mean-spirited comments when we have so many important issues to solve,” he wrote.
Of course, it can be tough to maintain such high-minded equanimity in the face of “secular progressives” who have no regard for fundamental principles such as freedom of speech and “distort words and meanings, and then cling to the created lies in an attempt to destroy enemies.” (Not that anybody is calling anybody names.)
Should Carson run for president, his candidacy promises to be a (traditional) marriage of Michele Bachmann’s personal loopiness and Herman Cain’s professional ignorance of public policy. In his book, Carson called the Affordable Care Act “the biggest governmental program in the history of the United States.” (So much for Social Security, Medicare, the Pentagon.) And if he can’t be bothered to learn much about government, he has an all-purpose rationale: “I would choose common sense over knowledge in almost every circumstance,” he wrote. It’s just too much to ask for both.
Carson, who is poised to be 2016’s premier novelty act, is already following the script from Cain’s 2012 Republican presidential run. He is a successful black man who tells conservative white audiences that there are no meaningful structural impediments to success: There are only character failings. That should be enough to keep him on the stage, at least until the Iowa caucuses.
[Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]