Dr. Ben Carson, the famous neurosurgeon from Johns Hopkins University Hospital, has become the newest African American standard bearer of the conservative movement. It makes sense: he’s clearly very bright and learned (c’mon, you can’t say a renowned brain surgeon is dumb); he’s very fiscally and socially conservative; and – perhaps most importantly – he’s an African American who has lived the African American experience.
Ever since Barack Obama became the darling of the Democratic Party, the Republican Party has been searching for a similar figure to call their own. Politics aside, there are clear similarities between the two men. Both were raised by single mothers and managed to garner degrees from Ivy League schools (Obama from Columbia, Carson from Yale).
Like President Obama, Dr. Carson used his status as an educated African American to help others. Upon arrival to Baltimore, Dr. Carson became heavily involved in at-risk youth programs. Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic recalls his experience with Dr. Carson as an African American kid from Baltimore.
For kids like me who came up in Baltimore during the '80s and '90s, Carson has special importance. Whenever the black folks at our summer camps or schools wanted to have a "Be A Credit To Your Race" moment they brought in Dr. Carson. I saw him speak so many times that I began to have that "This guy again?" feeling. As an adult, knowing how much it takes to speak in front of people, I can recognize that Carson's willingness to talk to black youth (and youth in general) came from a deeply sincere place. There were no cameras at those summer camps and school assemblies. No one had money to pay him. But he showed up. And that was what mattered.
As Dr. Carson has gained political importance within the GOP, he has played up his African American heritage. After the fiascos of Michael Steele and Allen West, who both managed to sound less than intelligent at times, Dr. Carson is different. He exudes intelligence and states his views in a reasonable and intellectual manner. His voice is that of an accomplished surgeon talking to a patient; it is calming, rather than apocalyptic.
Though he appears to be the paradigm of a good candidate, there are large roadblocks that stand in the way of a President Carson. For one, he is staunchly against evolution. The issue with this stance is that he is a brain surgeon who ostensibly uses the theory of evolution, because that is what grounds modern biology and medicine. There is also his fiscal policy of a flat tax, which will never be received well by the overall population. Finally, there’s the gay issue. In an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, Dr. Carson likened homosexuality with pedophilia and bestiality.
All of these stances are fringe policies and are in no way going to help the Republicans with a presidential comeback.
Ta-Nehisi Coates recognizes Dr. Carson’s positive qualities, but also sees that all his good is being used by a white GOP for their own political purposes. This, of course, comes at the expense of his character. Like other successful African Americans, Dr. Carson should recognize his race, but not let it be used by others as if he were a rare painting. Coates reiterates this sentiment in a New York Times op-ed.
Carson responded to that adulation by regularly giving his time to talk to young people, who needed to know that there was so much more beyond the streets.
I was one of those young people. I don’t doubt that Carson was a conservative even then. I knew plenty of black people who loved their community and hated welfare. But white conservatives were never interested in them, and they were never as interested in Ben Carson as they are right now. When the presidency was an unbroken string of white men, there were no calls for him to run for the White House. And then he put on the mask.