What does Ben Carson really stand for?

book review score+4

America the Beautiful
Rediscovering What Made This Nation Great
Ben Carson, M.D.
Zondervan 2012, 205 pages

Neurosurgeon Ben Carson is not a politician, but after that inspiring speech he gave last March 16 at CPAC, where he uttered the now-famous line, “Economics is not brain surgery!”, I suspect he'd make a good one.

That line established Carson as a promising contender for the Republican ticket in 2016, should he decide to run. It's all the more remarkable coming from someone at JHU. But since then, some commentators have expressed concerns that Carson may be in favor of Obamacare and other forms of socialized medicine. So if he runs, Republicans will carefully scrutinize his words to make sure they don't repeat their earlier misplaced enthusiasm for Condie Rice and Colin Powell, both of whom talked tough but turned out to be quite liberal indeed.

Ben Carson has been giving speeches since the age of eight, and is a master of speaking positively and tactfully. But he is way too skilful with words to be a real politician. Here's an example:

“I am still a big fan of our news media. As long as we have ... a courageous and unbiased media, we are likely to be able to correct significant societal problems as they arise ... unfortunately, political correctness threatens the integrity of the media, and we must all be vigilant.”

Liberals and conservatives will draw opposite meanings from this paragraph. It's skilfully phrased to make each person believe Carson is saying what that person wants to hear. Maybe that's what being a unifier is all about: making each side believe they're hearing, and getting, what they want. An upbeat and tactful leader may just be what America needs after five years of some guy who happens to be a dead ringer for Satan.

Carson quotes Jefferson and the other founding fathers extensively, and many independents, conservatives, libertarians, and maybe even liberals will undoubtedly agree with most of what he says. But this book wasn't written for any of them. Carson is a healer. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think Carson really wants to drop brain surgery and start doing surgery on the welfare state. In my opinion, this book is actually Carson's attempt to reach out to his fellow black people and show them there's a world beyond what they see in the movies, on the streets, and in the Democratic news media. This is a world that hates America, and Carson tries to show that these ideas are misguided.

In the event that Carson should decide to enter politics, there are things in this book that might create obstacles for him. His understanding of the role of Wall Street “fat cats” in the economic crash is flawed. Wall Street had its excesses, but the crash was not caused by Wall Street. It was caused by government interference in the housing market. He makes promises that would be difficult to keep in today's polarized climate, like advocating a 10% across-the-board cut in government spending each year until the budget is balanced [p.109]. He also advocates government-subsidized medical school education, government-funded free clinics, and government health care. He advocates government price controls on health insurance companies [p.148]. He also wants blanket amnesty for illegal immigrants [p.102]. “ Is it moral,” he asks, “ to take advantage of cheap labor from illegal immigrants while denying them citizenship?” But these opinions will undoubtedly evolve, and they don't detract from his broad appeal.

Should he decide to run, his criticisms of political correctness will subject him to nasty attacks like this one. Little wonder we have so few great unifiers and humanitarians when potential great leaders have to put up with such intolerance.

So despite his hints to the contrary at CPAC, it seems clear that Ben Carson actually has no intention, at least at the moment, of running for President. This book is Carson's way of explaining to his fellow blacks that America is not as bad as they have been told. Look at where I started, Carson is saying, and how I escaped from poverty by hard work. I succeeded, he says, because the system we have, while it may have been cruel to you in the past, is actually pretty darn good, and here's why. That's not a political manifesto. It's a Horatio Alger story.

mar 23, 2013; updated apr 01, 2013