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“Carson’s Admirable Qualities Don’t Extend To Politics”: Count Me Among Those Who Are Skeptical

To read Ben Carson’s memoir, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, is to enjoy an uplifting and inspiring tale of a man who overcame a traumatic childhood to become one of the nation’s leading neurosurgeons. That man is certainly worthy of widespread admiration.

But who is the guy taking his place on the campaign trail? Who is the man bashing Muslims, denouncing gays, and dismissing science? Who is the candidate engaging in all sorts of weird conspiracy theories? That Ben Carson deserves nothing but contempt.

Yet, the good doctor remains a leading Republican presidential candidate, either besting Donald Trump for the top spot, according to several polls, or coming in a close second. While he and Trump have managed to befuddle most professional prognosticators with their dominance of the Republican field, a new survey shows Carson has pulled off another equally surprising feat: He’s well-liked by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Indeed, according to Gallup, Carson is among the most popular of the presidential candidates of either party. Among all voters, regardless of partisan affiliation, he’s viewed favorably by 42 percent. Among Republicans, 67 percent have a favorable view, while a mere 8 percent dislike him.

That high esteem is certainly understandable for Dr. Carson, the surgeon, who embodies the quintessential American story of the self-made man. Through grit, hard work, and a deep-seated religious faith, he overcame poverty and teenage recklessness to graduate from Yale and the University of Michigan Medical School.

After a fellowship at Johns Hopkins Hospital, one of the nation’s most prestigious medical facilities, he joined the faculty there, rising to become director of pediatric neurosurgery. His memoir was turned into a TV movie starring Cuba Gooding Jr., and the millions of viewers who’ve seen it probably count among his many admirers.

Besides that, if you’ve watched any of the GOP presidential debates, Carson’s low-key demeanor compares favorably to the boisterous braggadocio of The Donald, whose every sentence struggles under the weight of first-person pronouns and whose every pronouncement is a heroic tale of his own achievements and talents. If you’re watching the neurosurgeon next to the reality TV star and real estate mogul, you certainly come away with a more favorable impression of the former.

Still, candidate Carson holds some distressing views. He has declared that he doesn’t think it would be appropriate for a Muslim to hold the presidency of the United States — a bias that directly contradicts the U.S. Constitution, which explicitly states that there shall be no religious test for political office. He opposes same-sex marriage and has dismissed homosexuality as “a choice.” (For the record, he also disputes broad areas of scientific consensus, including evolution, global warming and archeologists’ views of Egypt’s pyramids.)

The good doctor is also given to outrageous rhetoric, comparing Obamacare to slavery, for example. In a recent interview, he claimed that limiting firearms in the United States could lead to the rise of a government like that of Nazi Germany.

Given Carson’s worldview, it’s perhaps folly to try to find, among his beliefs, those that are most outside the mainstream. But a leading candidate for that dubious distinction is Carson’s fixation on a John Birch-type figure named W. Cleon Skousen, who has been described by the conservative National Review as a “nut job.” Carson frequently quotes works by the late Skousen, who wanted to repeal the minimum wage, outlaw unions, eliminate anti-discrimination laws and repeal the income tax.

Leave aside, for a moment, the fact that Carson knows next to nothing about how the government actually works. Shouldn’t a candidate for president, especially one who is so widely admired, at least be comfortable with the social and civic mores of the late 20th century — if not the 21st?

Count me among those who are skeptical that Carson’s stock will remain high throughout the primary season. By the time he’s done with his candidacy, his poll numbers won’t be the only thing in decline. It’s likely his broad appeal will have evaporated, as well.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, November 7, 2015

November 8, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Discrimination, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“What Ben Carson’s Rise Says About America”: We’ve Reached The Point Where Ignorance Really Is Bliss

So it’s Ben Carson’s moment. He’s overtaken Donald Trump in a CBS/New York Times national poll and he’s ahead in Iowa now with the caucuses just three months away. The Times is writing nice profiles of him full of polite euphemisms like “lack of governing experience.” First we all got used to the idea that it wasn’t insane to think that Donald Trump could be the GOP nominee. And now we have to acclimate ourselves to the idea it could be Carson, too.

The only actual interesting thing about Carson is that he raises a question we rarely get the chance to contemplate: How can a man who is so obviously distinguished and brilliant in one field be such an across-the-board nincompoop in another? Because usually, if a man (or woman) is a good and knowledgeable and sure-footed doctor, or lawyer or department chair or any other position that could have been attained only through repeated displays of excellence and probity, then that person will also be a pretty solid human being across the board. He or she might be right wing or left wing, and he or he might have a weakness for French New Wave cinema or for Rock Hudson-Doris Day movies; but s/he won’t be an idiot.

But Carson is a political idiot. And it’s not all the Nazi and slavery talk, although those are certainly stupid and crude comparisons that can only be invoked by people who are dumb enough—and, I should add, insensitive enough—never to have given serious thought to the grisly particulars of what Nazism and slavery entailed. Whatever you think of Obamacare, you actually have to be a ghastly human being to compare it to practice in which horrors like this happened all the time, to many millions of people.

And these rants of his against political correctness! We’re getting to be like (again) Nazi Germany? Is he serious? Yes, he is. Imagine how ignorant of history a person has to be to think that today’s pc police, annoying as they sometimes are, can be compared to the SA or the SS? It’s insulting even to have to hear it.

So all that is plenty bad, but even more, I mean nearly everything else that comes out of this mouth. Just Google “Ben Carson ignorance” and you’ll see quickly enough that on subjects ranging from science to foreign policy to the Constitution to virtually any political or historical or policy topic on which he chooses to speak, he says something that has no basis in real-world fact.

How does a man who is (presumably, anyway) in his chosen realm a man of science and empirical knowledge and testing of hypotheses enter this other realm and become someone who just spends his time scouring the most lunatic right-wing websites there are and repeating back everything he reads there as if it’s true? That’s where that madness about how armed Jews could have prevented the Holocaust comes from—it started about 20 years ago, and there is nothing about it that’s true. But the notion lives a healthy life on right-wing and pro-gun websites and chat boards. Great weight is given in those circles to a supposed quote from Hitler extolling gun control. But as Alex Seitz-Wald showed in this Salon piece in which he quotes leading scholars, Hitler almost certainly never said it.

Now, none of this is shocking to you, if you follow these things at all. There are all kinds of matters on which conservatives have their own version of reality. I remember being astonished back when we were all first getting to know a certain half-term Alaska governor to learn, via some dodgy and weird creationistic answer she gave to some question, that there’s this excavation site in, predictably enough, Texas, called the Taylor Trail, where there exists “evidence” that man and dinosaur walked together. So this kind of thing goes on all the time out there in this big country of ours.

But what doesn’t go on all the time is that a man who gets his ideas about the world from conspiracy-theory websites is a leading presidential candidate—or that his idiot comments not only don’t hurt him but help him. I’d reckon some of you saw that poll last week asking Iowa Republicans whether X statement about Carson raised or lowered their esteem of him. His comparison of Obamacare to slavery was considered “attractive” by 81 percent of those polled, and gave just 16 percent the willies.

It’s one of the great cons of the year that Carson gets to be called “mild-mannered.” How many people who think that getting health insurance is worse than being held in bondage get to be called mild-mannered? And how arrogant a man must Carson be—what made him think he should be the president of the United States in the first place? There are lots of distinguished surgeons out there. So why him?

And now we have this debate coming up Wednesday. Carson did pretty badly in the first couple debates—he was unfocused and off-point and spoke in the kind of generalities that left you wondering what he really meant. But did it hurt? No, it helped him! Now, Trump and maybe some of the others are going to come after him. So we’ll see how he holds up.

But it hardly matters. If he misstates some facts, no one’s going to care. And if he pulls a big whopper—locating a country on the wrong continent, not knowing some obvious point of history—that too will just help him, because to the Carson people it will just be the liberal media piling on the poor man. We’ve reached the point where ignorance really is bliss.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 27, 2015

October 29, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Donald Trump, GOP Primary Debates | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Conspiracy Theorists And Doomsday Preppers”: Ben Carson, American Gun Advocates, And The Fantasy Of Individual Heroism

Chances are that you are not a hero. That is to say that you do your job and live your life, but seldom if ever are you called upon to do something extraordinary in a life-or-death moment, some spectacular act of bravery that calls upon otherworldy cunning and physical skill. Compared to a Hollywood action film, your life is rather mundane and ordinary. You don’t begin your week on Monday knowing that by Friday you will have leaped from explosions, taken down ninja death squads, or battled supervillains.

It’s fun to indulge those fantasies from time to time—with enough money, time, and training, maybe I could be Batman!—but most of us are level-headed enough to realize that they are just fantasies. They certainly shouldn’t be the source of judgments we make about our fellow human beings, let alone the basis for policymaking.

But not everyone agrees. Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, for instance, has recently attracted a great deal of attention for saying that unlike those cowering sheep who were killed by a gunman in Roseburg, Oregon, he would have quickly organized his fellow victims-to-be and rushed the shooter. In the ensuing discussion, Carson’s similar views about the Holocaust came to light—that if the Jews had more guns and more gumption, they could have stood up to Hitler and, if not stopped the genocide entirely, at least … well, at least done something or other.

As a piece of historical analysis, this is positively deranged, as any historian will tell you. But it’s also widely shared on the right, not just when it comes to World War II in particular but as a way to understand the broader relationship between the individual and government. Take, for instance, this execrable op-ed on FoxNews.com from frequent on-air contributor Keith Ablow, which basically argues that the Holocaust happened because German Jews were too wimpy to rise up, find some guns, and do the job.

As Jacob Bacharach reminds us, plenty of Jews did fight back, not only in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising but among resistance forces spread throughout Europe in the places Germany occupied. And what happened to them? They mostly got slaughtered, because they were fighting against a vastly stronger force, the Wehrmacht. It took the combined might of the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and about 20 smaller countries to actually defeat the Nazis. But Carson and others want to believe the Jews could have done the job, too, if only they had some guts and a few bolt-action rifles.

And why might they think that? I’d suggest that it’s because their ideas are shaped by a particular kind of Hollywood fantasy, one in which individual heroism and ample firearms are the means by which enormous, sweeping problems can be solved.

Though it hasn’t gotten as much attention as it should in the coverage of his candidacy, Carson is succeeding in part because he is the candidate of a particular portion of the Republican fringe, the conspiracy theorists and doomsday preppers who watch Glenn Beck, listen to Alex Jones, and know that the apocalypse is around the corner. One of the key components of the ideology these people imbibe is not just that you’re on your own, but that on your own you can do anything. Society will disintegrate, vast conspiratorial forces are arrayed against you, jackbooted government thugs are about to come knocking at your door—but if you’ve got your AR-15 and a strong will, you can turn them all back and maintain our freedom. Not only that, the only reason it hasn’t happened yet is because the government knows and fears your potency.

This fantasy—at once maniacally paranoid and looking desperately forward to the day the opportunity for heroism comes—is fed by the gun industry, the NRA, and gun advocates like Carson. It tells people they need to have lots of guns stockpiled at home, and to always carry their gun everywhere they go. Because today could be the day when everything depends on your willingness to use deadly force.

Now think for a moment about how Hollywood action films work. They’re seldom about large armies facing off, with the individuals within them each playing their small but important role. Instead, they show us a solitary hero or small band of comrades doing spectacular things against far superior forces. Arnold Schwarzenegger mows down hundreds of faceless enemies who never manage to lay a hand on him; Liam Neeson cracks the necks of dozens of thugs on his way to save his daughter; Sylvester Stallone single-handedly defeats the entire North Vietnamese army; Jennifer Lawrence overthrows a brutal dictatorship with a few friends and some well-aimed arrows.

If you don’t appreciate that these are fantasies, it might make perfect sense to think that Germany’s Jews could have stopped the Holocaust by being more gutsy. In real life, though, that’s not how it works. Armies aren’t defeated by a lone hero with a gun and a ready quip; armies are defeated by bigger, better armies (or in some cases by organized, decades-long insurgencies). Dictatorships aren’t brought down by a single act of defiance; more often it takes years or even decades of protest, organizing, and arduous work.

All of the Republican candidates would probably tell you that owning a gun (or two or twelve) is a good idea to protect your family. This happens to be wrong; a gun in your home is far more likely to wind up killing one of your family members than it is to defend you from a home invasion. But at least it’s possible. And you might, someday, commit an act of heroism that saves people’s lives, even if most of us never do. But the chance that you will buy a gun and use it to stop a fascist takeover of America is precisely zero, not only because there won’t be a fascist takeover, but because if there were, you and your gun wouldn’t stop it from happening.

Ben Carson imagines himself a Hollywood hero. If he were in that classroom in Oregon, no one might have died. And if he were a Jew in Germany in 1939, he would have hidden away a revolver, stood up to the SS, and before you know it, Hitler would have been taken care of. Right now, he’s speaking for everyone who shares his fantasy. And it looks like there are plenty of people who do.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, October 11, 2015

October 14, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Conspiracy Theories | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Ben Carson Gives New Meaning To Crazy”: He’s Managed To Prove He Has Lost More Than A Few Shingles Off His Roof

For more than a few months many campaign experts and pundits have been trying to figure out how and why semi-prominent surgeon and political nut-boy Ben Carson has been doing so well in the Republican race for president. He has maintained healthy numbers in the polls and seems locked into a strong second place position in a field of candidates where experience and common sense are viewed as huge liabilities.

But it wasn’t until last week that Carson managed to prove he has lost more than a few shingles off his roof. Ben has his own space program going and he’s out there on the fringe talking nonsense in a soft, nonthreatening manner that is quite similar to the voice level heard among so many sitting sadly by themselves today in Day Rooms of mental institutions, off in a corner, wearing paper slippers, slowly eating apple sauce, unaware that nobody is listening.

Somewhat incredibly though, a small percentage of people are listening to Gentle Ben. And he is indeed running for president of the United States. And each day he takes the field and gives new meaning to crazy.

A few days ago, Ben was asked about the latest mass shooting on a college campus in Oregon where nine died because a mentally deranged young guy had 14 guns and no girlfriend. WWBD: What would Ben do?

“I’m glad you asked that question,” one of the two leading presidential candidates of the Republican Party replied. “because not only would I not probably not co-operate with him, I would not just stand there and let him shoot me. I would say, ‘Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can’t get us all.’”

And there it is. Ben is clearly a movie buff.

Ben probably saw himself as Little Bill in Unforgiven who was confronted by William Munny in a saloon showdown. Little Bill was a bad-ass sheriff, a bully who had beaten to death Munny’s only friend, Ned, and hung the body outside the saloon.

In the scene that perhaps excited Ben, Little Bill is promising free drinks and prattling an empty-headed moron, a guy the crowd listens to because he’s wearing a badge. Little Bill is surprised though as Munny arrives, rifle in hand and shoots the skinny bar owner. Then Little Bill and William Munny confront one another.

“Well, sir, “ Little Bill says, “You are a cowardly son of a bitch because you have just shot down an unarmed man.”

“He should have armed himself if he was gonna’ decorate his saloon with the body of my friend,” Munny tells Little Bill.

At that moment, Little Bill seems to recognize Munny and says, “I guess you are Three-Fingered Jack out of Missouri, killer of women and children,” And Munny tells him, “I have done that…killed women and children. I have killed most everything that walks or crawls and now I have come to kill you, Little Bill, for what you done to Ned.”

Right here is where Ben Carson starts taking notes. He must have been mesmerized because, clearly, it has had a huge impact on his outlook.

“He’s got one barrel left, gentlemen, “ Little Bill announces to his saloon pals who are either cowering or heading for the nearest exit. “After he has used it, pull your pistols and shoot him down like the cowardly, drunken scoundrel he is.”

Ben wanted the students at that Oregon Community College to charge the shooter. After all, he only had four weapons on him. If Ben had more time to think he probably would have woven a few scenes from Saving Private Ryan into his answer. After all, the Germans on the bluff above Omaha Beach had multiple weapons but they were beaten back because we charged them.

A few days later, Ben was on CNN where he insisted that the number of Holocaust victims would have been greatly reduced if more Jewish people in Europe owned guns. Here he is on that topic: “I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed.”

(We pause here for a quick, commercial-free reminder: This guy, Ben Carson, is running for president of the United States and according to many polls is placing second to Donald Trump as the potential candidate of one of two major American political parties, the Republican Party.)

His supporters list several reasons why they would consider voting for him: “He seems like a nice man. He speaks softly. He is a fine Christian. He speaks his mind.”

He is also a few quarts short of a gallon. But when it comes to Ben Carson’s preposterous campaign, count me in with Chauncey Gardiner who said in Being There: “I like to watch.”

 

By: Mike Barnicle, The Daily Beast, October 11, 2015

October 13, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Is Carson Losing His Teflon Shield?”: The Kid-Gloves-Treatment Of Carson Could Be Coming To An End

Up until now, Dr. Ben Carson has had an extraordinarily charmed existence on the presidential campaign trail. Even though his world-view is weird and John Birchie, political reporters either don’t notice it or don’t think it’s important. Fellow GOP candidates give him a wide berth, and conservative activists tend either to adore him or only talk about his positive qualities.

Some of this is undoubtedly a byproduct of the party-wide obsession with bringing Donald Trump down to earth; since Carson seems to have some of the same “outsider” appeal as The Donald, the Republican Establishment is happy to promote him at Trump’s expense. And above all, the mental identification of Carson with Herman Cain–you know, another unqualified African-American conservative who had his 15 minutes of fame before retreating to obscurity–seems to exert a powerful influence on attitudes towards Carson, even though it is extremely unlikely the doctor is going to succumb to a sex scandal.

Anyway, this kid-gloves-treatment of Carson could be coming to an end, if WaPo’s Jennifer Rubin is any indication:

Donald Trump wants to round up 11 million people in two years for deportation. He approves of Russia’s incursion into Syria. He has a tax plan that adds at least $10 trillion to the debt. And with all that, he is not the most ignorant or unfit GOP presidential contender. That distinction goes to Ben Carson.

Wow, how’s that for an opening shot?

Rubin proceeds to recite the many examples of Carson showing he doesn’t know much about various subjects from the composition of NATO to the history of the Holocaust, and then turns to her fellow Republicans with justified scorn:

Conservatives have a dangerous habit of excusing ignorance or offensive comments so long as they come from someone attacking liberal elites. One does not need to elevate ignoramuses to cultlike status simply because they also happen to attack the media or liberal dogma. In doing so, Republicans wind up getting behind crank candidates and losing elections to mediocre candidates. (Anyone recall the “I-am-not-a-witch” Christine O’Donnell?)

There is a Chauncey Gardner-like quality to Carson. He speaks softly, smiles a lot and lulls his audience into the belief he possess great insights and wisdom. He is an esteemed neurosurgeon and a lovely dinner speaker. He is, however, entirely unfit for the presidency, seemingly oblivious to basic historical facts, constitutional concepts and world events. Surely conservative Republicans, especially some in the right-wing media who have fawned over him, should have figured this out by now.

This kinda makes me wish Rubin would take a similarly jaundiced look at Carly Fiorina. But hell no! She may soon be head of the DC branch of Fiorina’s fan club. Guess somebody else will at the appropriate moment have to point out that this isn’t a candidate anyone would take seriously if she wasn’t useful in bashing the “liberal elites” with a first name of Hillary and a last name of Clinton.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, October 9, 2015

October 10, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Donald Trump | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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