Neurosurgeon’s Speeches Have Conservatives Dreaming of 2016

Trip Gabriel, New York Times, March 20, 2013

Dr. Benjamin Carson was a political unknown just weeks ago.

Then with a single speech delivered as President Obama looked stonily on, he was lofted into the conservative firmament as its newest star: a renowned neurosurgeon who is black and has the credibility to attack the president on health care.

In his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast last month, Dr. Carson criticized the health care overhaul and higher taxes on the rich, while warning that “the P.C. police are out in force at all times.”

Overnight, he was embraced by conservatives including those at The Wall Street Journal editorial page, which proclaimed, “Ben Carson for President”—a suggestion Dr. Carson helped feed at a high-profile gathering last weekend, the Conservative Political Action Conference. He was interrupted by sustained cheers when he coyly said, “Let’s just say if you magically put me in the White House…”

In an interview in his office at Johns Hopkins University, he said he had been told for years that he could have a political career. It would be built on his compelling personal story that began in poverty in Detroit, leading to fame through pioneering work separating conjoined twins and his own self-help and inspirational books, including “America the Beautiful: Rediscovering What Made This Nation Great.”

While Dr. Carson, 61, said that there were better candidates out there, he did not rule out a presidential run in 2016. “Certainly if a year and a half went by and there was no one on the scene and people are still clamoring, I would have to take that into consideration,” he said in the interview. {snip}

He is in some ways a dream candidate for Republicans. But he also fits nicely into the realm of fantasy where the very early jockeying over 2016 now plays out. No modern contender without a political résumé has ever gotten close to a major party nomination.

{snip}

“If you are calling with remarks regarding that speech, please do not leave a message on this voice mail,” his office recording instructs callers, referring them to a fax line and e-mail address. The recording, nearly seven minutes long, also includes instructions for speaking requests, media interviews, school visits and autographs, as well as how to buy Dr. Carson’s books “and other merchandise.”

Sales of “America the Beautiful,” his latest book, soared to 46,000 in the six weeks since his prayer breakfast speech, from fewer than 1,000 sold this year before to the speech, according to Nielsen BookScan.

{snip}

In speeches and writings, Dr. Carson describes growing up with a divorced mother whose education stopped at the third grade and who worked two, and sometimes, three jobs. He was teased as “dummy” because his grades were so bad. But his mother insisted that he and an older brother turn off the television and read, writing weekly book reports that she could only feign understanding.

He went to Yale and the University of Michigan Medical School, and at 33, became director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins. He gained fame for a series of operations separating conjoined twins, long and risky procedures that did not always succeed. His 1996 autobiography, “Gifted Hands,” became a movie starring Cuba Gooding Jr.

“He is one of the acknowledged leaders of pediatric neurosurgery,” said Dr. Donlin Long, a retired chairman of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, who first brought Dr. Carson to the department.

Dr. Carson said he was a “flaming liberal” in college but became conservative through his own climb to success. “One thing I always believed strongly in was personal responsibility and hard work,” he said. “I found the Democrat Party leaving me behind on that particular issue.”

{snip}

Although Dr. Carson is a registered independent and has declined to identify himself as a Republican, his views are solidly conservative. He belongs to a Seventh-day Adventist church and says churches are better mechanisms for taking care of the poor than government.

He draws on the Bible’s description of tithing to argue in favor of a flat tax, a perennial favorite of conservatives. “You make $10 billion, you put in a billion; you make $10, you put in 1,” Dr. Carson explained at the prayer breakfast. “Now some people say that’s not fair because it doesn’t hurt the guy who made 10 billion as much as the guy who makes 10. Where does it say you’ve got to hurt the guy?”

{snip}

{snip} At CPAC, Dr. Carson told conservatives that he would retire this year, because “there are so many more things that can be done.” The hint of a political future drew appreciative cheers.

But he said in his office that he had decided a while ago to step back from medicine after noticing that neurosurgeons he knew died young, which he attributed to stress. His immediate plans include public speaking and promoting his education foundation.

As for politics, he said, “I would like to have a voice.”

[Editor’s Note: For more on Dr. Carson, including his support of homosexual marriage, illegal immigrant amnesty, and “socio-economic affirmative action,” see here.]

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