Political Hay

Why Republicans Should Consider Ben Carson

The case for a Republican Obama.

By 5.21.14

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Philip Terzian, literary editor at the Weekly Standard, has written an article entitled “Inspired Amateurs Should Avoid Politics,” arguing that Republicans should avoid nominating Ben Carson for President. And the editors at The Wall Street Journal have seen fit to print it.

Which leaves only one question. What is wrong with these guys? Do they enjoy losing elections?

First let’s ask this. Why run this article now, more than two years in advance of the Presidential election, and why single out Ben Carson as the “inspired amateur”? If we’re going to complain about amateurs running for President, how about the current occupant of the White House? Well, too late for that.

But why Carson? There are plenty of other amateurs out there as well. Donald Trump is always talking about running for President. Steve Forbes ran twice as an amateur politician and I don’t recall the Journal or the Weekly Standard registering any complaints. Terzian does mention these two in passing but where was he four years ago when they were out on the hustings? Instead, he offers the example of General James Gavin, a World War II general who had a boomlet in 1968 during the Vietnam War. I lived through that era and frankly I have no recollection of General Gavin, nor can I understand why his case offers any enlightenment. (Is there a long-ago Ph.D. thesis lurking here?) Terzian offers an explanation. Gavin came from a hard-scrabble background, an orphan raised by a Pennsylvania coal mining family. Carson has a similar appeal. He came from a family of preachers that migrated north until his parents split up and he was raised by his single mother. So what? Ronald Reagan came from a similarly difficult family background? So did Bill Clinton? What’s the point?

Let’s be frank. What Terzian is really telling us here, I think, goes like this: “Look, under the banner of electing the first African-American President we’ve ended up with a chief executive far to the left of Mike Dukakis, who used to read Swedish planning manuals at the beach. Running on Obama’s first-term record, any other candidate, from Herbert Hoover to Jimmy Carter, would have been voted out of office. But nobody wanted to say the First Black President had been a failure, so now we’re getting what is essentially Carter’s second term.

“But let’s not get carried away with this copycat business. We nominated Sarah Palin to prove weren’t biased against women candidates and look what happened. The press eviscerated her, she became a standing joke on Saturday Night Live and we picked up about four women’s votes in the process. Let’s not repeat this experience with Carson. Let’s stick with competent, proven politicians and show the public we have someone who can do a better job.”

Well, there are some good points to be made here. Carson probably won’t win many black votes. He will be excoriated as an “Uncle Tom,” an “Oreo” and accused of “acting white” — all the high-school epithets that make mainstream success so precarious for talented AfricanAmericans — unless of course they are expletive-spewing rap artists. Carson isn’t going to send a tingle down Chris Matthews’ leg. (Was he trying to tell us he had wet his pants?) The press will entertain suggestions that he is a “traitor to his race” and “not a true African-American” Joe Biden may even work up a revision of his “putting-you-back-in-chains” shtick. But all these groups have good reason to worry. As John Phillip Sousa IV, who is spearheading the “Draft Ben Carson” campaign, points out, if Dr. Carson were to attract only 15 percent of the African-American vote — as opposed to the usual 5 percent — he would be virtually assured of election.

Now it’s quite possible the Carson bubble will deflate just as quickly as it did for Herman Cain or Rick Perry. Who knows? He may have a mistress hiding somewhere or won’t be able to remember the name of the Department of Energy. But how about settling all this in the primaries? Why try to dismiss Carson now on the basis that he “doesn’t have experience”?

The response to all this, of course, is “Well, he wouldn’t even be being considered if it wasn’t for his race.” That’s what Bob Feller said about Jackie Robinson when he was just coming up from the minors. “He can’t hit the curve ball, he’s just an ordinary player. If he wasn’t black, nobody would be paying him any attention to him.” Remember that?

Actually, there’s plenty about Carson that goes well beyond his race. A graduate of Yale and the University of Michigan Medical School, he became a remarkably skilled neurosurgeon who was the first to separate twins conjoined at the back of the head, the youngest director of neurosurgery in the history of Johns Hopkins Medical Center, and the author of six books on conservative American values. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2008 and has received 38 honorary degrees. Like Ronald Reagan, he wasn’t born a Republican but learned it through his life experience and self-education. And precisely because he arrived at these viewpoints on his own, he’s very good at articulating them to other people — which was Ronald Reagan’s gift but something that Bob Dole, George Bush, Sr., George Bush, Jr., John McCain, and Mitt Romney never quite mastered.

But let’s not ignore the obvious. Does Carson’s race have any bearing on all this? It certainly does. And precisely because he is, as Harry Reid would say, “a mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright, clean and nice-looking,” I’m going to spend the rest of this article arguing that giving weight to Carson’s race is not a bad thing but may just be what Republicans need to win a few elections.

Like most Americans, I would be more than happy if we reached the point where race didn’t play a role in every aspect of life. I’d like to root for a baseball team without counting how many African-Americans they have in their lineup, as some of my liberal friends do. I’d like to see African-Americans working as plumbers and carpenters and oil roustabouts and traffic cops and insurance salesmen, college professors and every other profession. (I’d like to see everybody working, for that matter.) And just because I don’t consider 12 Years a Slave the best movie of the year, I’d like to think that doesn’t make me a racist — as Ellen DeGeneres wryly accused her audience at the Academy Awards.

But as much as I would like to live in a color-blind society, I also have to face up to the idea that race does matter to a whole lot of other people and one of the most significant groups is black Americans themselves. I live in a small town that has a sizable black population and lately I’ve been working with several black musicians on a theater project. Whenever I walk the streets with them I’m amazed at how friendly all African-Americans are with each other. Every black person greets every other black person as if they were all members of some vast brotherhood. And in fact that’s exactly the way they feel. Black people believe, first and foremost, that they are a beleaguered minority living among a white majority and therefore it’s imperative that they all stick together. That’s why they vote 90 percent for the same political party. And that’s why they are so unforgiving of anyone who breaks ranks and thinks any differently. I represented The American Spectator at a “viewing party” at the Apollo Theater in Harlem the night of the second Presidential debate in 2012. The audience listened to my views politely and I even got a few surreptitious complements afterwards. But when the black conservative sitting next to me, radio host Armstrong Williams, opened his mouth he was immediately hooted down at every turn. African-Americans don’t like anyone who breaks ranks.

That solidarity may seem simplistic but it is also deciding national elections. White people haven’t voted for a Democratic President since Lyndon Johnson but the African-American vote has been decisive in every Democratic victory since. Yet Democrats are hardly representative of all black voters’ interests. School choice is a completely Republican issue and the population of most charter schools is entirely black and Hispanic, yet Republicans gain absolutely no credit among African-Americans when they try to prevent Democrats from dismantling programs in order to placate the teachers’ unions. President Obama has virtually abandoned any hope of improving the economy and is busy trying to put people out of work — especially in the manufacturing sector — to satisfy his upper-crust constituency over global warming. Yet none of this evokes any criticism from African-Americans. Some of the strongest opposition to gay marriage has come out of black churches — although the press tries to keep it all quiet. It wouldn’t take much to crack this monolithic black support for Democratic candidates if people voted on issues rather than race.

Ben Carson is very much representative of this conservative segment of the African-American population. Raised by Seventh-day Adventist ministers, he does not believe in Evolution, has gotten in trouble over his views on gay marriage, and doesn’t believe in having the government run the healthcare system. (I believe in Evolution but it is not my primary yardstick for choosing a Presidential candidate.) Were the Republicans to nominate Ben Carson or someone like him, the issue of race might fade into the background and ideas would become more central instead.

But it isn’t just the African-American vote that Republicans should be concerned about. This whole “people of color” thing that the Democrats have latched onto is resonating widely. Look at Chinese and Korean voters. They have almost nothing in common with African-Americans — and in my experience aren’t very well disposed toward them, either. Chinese and Koreans are entrepreneurial, financially conservative, highly moral and adversely affected by affirmative action and racial quotas since they are overrepresented at universities and other institutions. (40 percent of the student body at MIT is of Asian descent.) Yet they still vote 80 percent Democratic. In California, where Asians are 15 percent of the population, they have combined with blacks and Hispanics to give the Democrats a supermajority in the legislature and turned it into a one-party state.

Indian immigrants are following the same path. They are entrepreneurial, hardworking, industrious, specialize in small businesses and have higher incomes than the average American, Yet in politics they simply consider themselves another “dark-skinned minority” and vote Democratic. Certainly Governors Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal have won election in the supposedly bigoted South, but in the larger media capitals Democrats have sewed up these immigrants. My son worked as a fund-raiser for Obama during the 2008 election (What can I do? He went to an American college) and he said whenever he attended upstate New York fund-raisers, every large donor was a wealthy Indian businessmen.

A year ago, in a story about Washington’s “Gilded Age,” the Wall Street Journal featured the mansion of Frank Islam, an Indian immigrant who had risen to success through government grants to minority-owned firms and other favoritism in awarding government contracts. “The manor, in suburban Washington, features a reflecting pool (just as the Capitol does), east and west wings (like the White House) and is configured for easy Secret Service coverage when VIP guests attend [he and his wife’s] Democratic Party fundraisers.”

In other words, the Democrats have a huge racket going here. Every (non-European) immigrant who shows up is a “minority” and therefore eligible for government sponsorship. It’s much better than the old spoils system where you handed jobs to friends and relatives. Now you can buy whole voting blocs. This is the way politics worked in New York in the 19th century — and why New York City still votes 90 percent Democratic today. As Betsy McCaughey recently pointed out, the Obama Administration is now working this system nationally. Planned Parenthood, the NAACP, the Service Employees International Union and all the other Democratic satellite organizations have been awarded jobs as “navigators and facilitators” to sign people up for Obamacare. “Assisters sign up the uninsured for non-health benefits and register them to vote. The National Association of Community Health Centers identifies voter registration as a key part of its mission. The whole scheme recalls the days of Tammany Hall.”

Now undeniably there is a lot of hypocrisy here. It’s not as if Americans are the first to have invented race. Every country in the world is racked by conflicts between racial majorities and minorities — or if that doesn’t work then language or something else will do. Dark skin has almost always been a sign of low-class origin because it means you are a peasant and spend all day in the sun. Only when people started working in Manhattan office towers did a suntan become a status symbol, advertising that you had just spent a week in the Bahamas. In India, for instance, the “black people” are the Dravidians, the original native population, otherwise known as the “Untouchables.” Not many of them migrate to America. But a member of the Brahmin caste — the highest caste in the most caste-ridden society in the world — can show up here and automatically become an “oppressed minority.” Or if like Frank Islam you are a member of the Muslim minority, you have an even better claim. But is this our fault that Hindus and Moslems haven’t gotten along in India for centuries? Does every dark-skinned immigrant who arrives on our shores automatically become eligible for government rewards?

Yet the entire Democratic election strategy now rests on a “ground game” of getting these people to the polls and rigging the system toward bloc voting. Month-long elections, online voting, no voter ID’s, same-day registration — every “reform” is designed to help Democratic ward heelers shepherd their people to the polls. This mass mobilization and “identity voting” makes a mockery of the concept of elections as a polity of thoughtful, independent individuals deciding on important issues. As was often said of Iraqi elections, “That wasn’t an election, it was a census.”

But it’s working, more than Republicans seem to realize. Consider Tom Daschle, the liberal Democratic Senator from South Dakota who won three elections and served briefly as Senate Majority Leader. How did such a liberal stalwart end up representing a conservative state? In every election Daschle received 2,000-to-0 majorities from the state’s Indian tribes. In 2002 Tim Johnson won South Dakota’s other Senate seat by only 500 votes with the same unanimous tribal support. Janet Napolitano won her first election as Arizona Governor by only 2,000 votes thanks to the nearly unanimous vote of the state’s 35,000 Navaho voters. And Washington’s Senator Maria Cantwell won her first election in 2000 only when Indian casino money from other states poured in to boost her candidacy.

In short, the Democrats’ minorities-against-the-majority strategy is winning. And it’s only going to get worse. Census data now shows that the majority of the population under age 18 is non-white. Writing in National Review, Robert Doar, who was Commissioner of the New York City Human Resources Administration for six years under Michael Bloomberg, noted that “The three biggest programs at HRA were cash welfare, food stamps, and Medicaid, and our data showed that more than 25 percent of cash-welfare and food-stamp recipients and more than 35 percent of Medicaid recipients were non-citizens or children of non-citizens.” Just wait until those people get the chance to vote!

As long as ethnicity remains the deciding factor, Democrats will be able to hold together constituencies that have little or nothing else in common. They have opened their arms to Muslims, for instance, and have become ever so slightly anti-Semitic in their foreign policy, yet they still command the allegiance of the majority of Jewish voters because Jews remember having been excluded by the Protestant majority in the 1930s. It all hearkens back to the Roosevelt coalition, when the Democrats were able to impose an ultraliberal agenda on the entire country by holding together a coalition of labor unions, Northern liberals, and Southern segregationists whose only common ground was they all hated Republican businessmen.

So what to do? Gnashing of teeth over the “takeover of minorities” isn’t going to help much. Far more sensible would be to make ideas rather than racial heritage the focus of politics. And that means taking a long look at potentially transformational candidate such as Dr. Ben Carson.

Because ultimately politics is not about race but ideas. The fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats is not skin color or ethnic origin but their approach to world problems. Republicans are in favor of private initiative, free enterprise, a healthy public morality, and limitations on government. Democrats favor “government action,” which essentially means setting up common pools where everybody is told they will be able to take out more than they put in, plus giving the government control over just about everything in people’s lives.

I don’t think I truly understood what Democrats were about until l spent time with Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson when he was conducting that state’s successful welfare reforms. He told me the following story: “When I was first elected to the Wisconsin Legislature, I used to come to Madison on Monday, do a week’s work and then go home on Friday afternoon. It wasn’t until after about two months that I realized my Democratic colleagues were spending every weekend in Madison plotting the next week’s activity. They never went home. To me, politics was just a job. To them it was a way of life.”

All this goes back to Tocqueville’s observation: “In America there are so many ways of making a living that a man doesn’t usually enter politics until he has failed at everything else.” Democrats are political animals. Their entire agenda involves running other people’s lives. They never stop thinking about how to put the government in charge of something and then put themselves in charge of the government. What else is the monumental appeal of global warming except an opportunity to regulate everything, from backyard barbecues to cow flatulence? What is Obamacare other than a prescription to centralize the medical industry in Washington (as if the District of Columbia weren’t already the richest metropolitan area in the country)? Last week Democrats in Connecticut tried to ban chocolate milk.

So what’s the antidote to all this? I can’t imagine anything more appropriate than a “gifted amateur” like Dr. Ben Carson who has learned everything he knows outside the political system. Sure, a doctor who has never run anything larger than the surgery department at one of the country’s leading hospitals might feel a little lost at first in Washington. But it’s certainly better preparation than community organizing. You just find competent people who agree with you and hire them. Aren’t there any Republican Timothy Giethners and Eric Holders? If the Republicans think they are going to appeal to the electorate by choosing “a politician who knows how to run things in Washington,” they have been outside the Beltway for a long, long time.

George Washington was an inspired amateur, the “American Cincinnatus” who left his farm to run the country, then returned. Abraham Lincoln was a country lawyer and a one-term Congressman who had lost re-election. Ronald Reagan was a movie actor whose candidacy for Governor of California was considered a joke until it became clear that he had principles and his experience as head of the Screen Actors Guild counted for something. Voters like candidates who come out of nowhere, especially in a Presidential year. In two years, everyone is going to be primed for change and Dr. Carson is nothing if not a fresh face.

So let’s not have any soft prejudice of dismissing the candidacy of Ben Carson because he “wouldn’t even be considered if it weren’t for his race.” What his candidacy can prove is that race doesn’t matter, that the promise of America is open to everyone. As the “Republican Obama,” Carson would be a transformational candidate, putting Republicans back into the mainstream and ideas back at the center of our politics.

Hey, “the Republican Obama.” That has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

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About the Author
William Tucker is news editor for RealClearEnergy.org.