David Frum

03.16.13

CPAC Meets Dr. Ben Carson

Less than eighteen months after the spectacular political implosion of Herman Cain, is the conservative movement ready to embrace another charismatic and politically inexperienced African American?

Dr. Ben Carson took the stage at CPAC as a budding star on the right. Carson, one of the world’s leading pediatric neurosurgeons, first shot to political consciousness a month ago when he delivered the keynote address at the National Prayer Breakfast. He delivered a strongly conservative speech with Barack Obama sitting feet away that was hailed in the Wall Street Journal and on Fox News. In the wake of that speech, Carson became a full-fledged media celebrity and his appearance at CPAC was televised live on Fox.

The ideological content of Carson’s speech was unremarkable. He hailed a flat tax, which he found to be biblically based, saying “if God thinks proportionality is fair who are we to say that it is unfair?”

Carson also announced his willingness to fight in the culture wars, urging the crowd to “resist this war on god, freedom of religion and freedom of speech.”

Instead, what was notable was his emphasis on education and his own intellectual achievements. Carson was able to frame much of his speech around his professional life. After all, he was able to winkingly dismiss critics who said that he didn’t understand economics saying “how hard can it be, after all, it’s not brain surgery?”

Carson’s speech was littered with coy hints of an interest in politics, offering the hypothetical “let’s say you magically put me in the White House” to a cheering audience. He even ended by noting that he was retiring from medicine in several months and leaving the door wide open to a second career seeking elected office.

Like Cain’s bid for office, Carson is unlikely to be successful as a candidate. But he’s likely to cut a far more respectable figure in the Republican Party.

After all, you don’t need to be a brain surgeon to run for President, but it helps to be an intelligent guy with no history of sexual harassment.