To the consternation of the GOP, Ben Carson still remains a significant player in the Republican presidential field. Carson appears to have no interest in what his challengers say or do, and he could not care less about how they speak of him. Remaining above the fray has been a tactic that Carson has used superbly throughout his campaign. But the most alarming aspect of his campaign thus far is the apparent disregard he has for what he says and does.
Carson knows that he is ignorant on many pertinent issues that are required for the presidency, especially foreign policy. He has frequently mentioned his reliance on advisers to get him up to speed on the issues, but none of this seems to faze him. He appears to wholeheartedly believe that he will know what he needs to know when he will need to know it. And until that time comes, the American public will be subjected to a barrage of gobbledygook that could make one go insane.
During last week’s GOP debate, Fox Business debate moderator Maria Bartiromo asked him a standard question about whether he supported President Barack Obama’s decision to deploy 50 special ops troops in Syria. Carson’s response started with, “Well, putting the special ops people in there is better than not having them there, because they—that’s why they’re called special ops.”
If this response was delivered with the cocksure Texas swagger of a George W. Bush or Rick Perry, Carson would have been the butt of endless jokes, and his poll numbers could have plummeted. Yet Carson gets a pass because he is a more subtle form of wrong. His post-debate poll numbers still have him neck and neck with Donald Trump atop the GOP field.
Carson gets a pass because our society craves his narrative. He was a successful neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He is also a successful author, and his rags-to-riches story is an inspiration for many. America loves narratives like Carson’s because they remove complexity from the world. Life becomes incredibly simple because all of its problems can be solved through determination, hard work, and an unwavering belief in God.
Stories like Carson’s allow us to ignore the cognitive dissonance that is the bedrock of our society. The dichotomies of creating a democracy while also forcefully preventing victims of the African diaspora from participating in their government and subjecting them to oppression and terrorist abuse, and being a religiously devout nation and one that values the separation between church and state, speak to this dissonance that Carson assuages.
We cannot overlook the significance of Carson’s race in both his political rise and the acceptance of his narrative. He has been positioned as the African American anti-Obama from Day One. His life story has now become the inspiration of a conservative electorate that prefers to ignore the systemic nature of racial oppression in America. Carson’s narrative now encourages their disregard of racial injustice and their embrace of individual liberty as a universal uplifting force.
Carson’s failings are excused because countless Americans want what he represents, even if he thus far has displayed no capacity to provide what they need. He has a list of gaffes that most candidates would never be able to recover from. But few are alarmed because no one truly cares about what he says; they care about his narrative.
Supporters of Carson do not seem interested in the reality of candidate Carson, which appears to be that he is an individual who is wholly out of his depth and struggles to answer basic policy questions. They care about what he represents, which is a smart man with an easily digestible, inspirational story that makes the world appear simple. Carson’s tax plan, which is based around the religious practice of tithing, is a prime example of this.
This is why Trump spent more than 90 minutes attempting to dismantle Carson’s narrative during a campaign stop in Iowa. If Carson’s strength emanates from his narrative, you cannot fault Trump for trying to destroy it.
Despite being vastly dissimilar candidates, Trump and Carson fill an emotional need within the GOP base, and as a result they can get away with saying almost anything they want. Trump’s campaign is more bellicose and vile than Carson’s, and his supporters have figured out how to explain away his vicious attacks much like Carson’s have for his gaffes.
Trump’s campaign tactics make it easier to envision how awful his presidency would be, but the vagueness of Carson’s policy positions and general ignorance on all pressing issues can make Carson’s potential future harder to envision, yet equally as troubling.
In the past week, he has been nothing more than a disaster on foreign policy. When pressed on nearly any subject pertaining American engagement in the Middle East, Carson only appears capable of spewing a word salad as he hopelessly searches his brain for a cogent response.
In light of the tragic Paris attacks, Fox News’ Chris Wallace asked Carson about how he would form a coalition to combat ISIS, and all he could muster was a bunch of gibberish that Wallace struggled to decipher, and even asked the candidate to clarify.
Carson’s ignorance might not appear as dangerous as Trump’s belligerence, but ineptitude has many diverse and equally dangerous faces.
His campaign is nothing more than an inspirational non sequitur that has no connection to political competency. Carson consistently proves that the genius of being a brain surgeon does not necessarily transfer to the political realm. And without being blinded by his back story, it would be impossible for anyone to believe that he would be up to the task of being president based on his performance thus far.
Carson, like Trump, has energized the zeitgeist of conservatives, and this encourages devotion and the capacity to ignore or explain away his many faults. In many ways, they are two sides of the same coin: different back stories, different personalities and faults, but equally inept and potentially disastrous at governing.
Eventually, the narrative falls away, reality takes precedent, the faults of the man can no longer be excused, and everyone else is left to pick up the pieces. We should all hope that Carson’s campaign unravels before his obvious ignorance becomes dangerous, and leaves a mess that could take years to clean up.