One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future
By Ben Carson, M.D.
(Sentinel, 256 pages, $25.95)
Just for the record, here’s a list of the jobs that Dr. Ben Carson held before he had graduated from Yale University:
Does this sound like the pampered grandson of a bank vice-president and affirmative-action baby who was ushered through college and professional school by adoring academics thrilled to be meeting “a modern African-American man who is articulate and bright,” as Joe Biden would put it?
Ben Carson came up the hard way. Every other chapter of One Nation opens with an anecdote from his ghetto upbringing — the playground bullies he learned to confront, a knife fight in which he almost killed someone, an aunt and uncle who spent their lives caring for a retarded son, killing a bird with a BB gun and then regretting it, a gang leader he and his friends once followed around “like little ducklings” who ended up dead.
Born to an itinerant preacher and his wife who migrated up from Georgia, Carson saw his family fall apart early when his mother discovered her husband had another wife and “outside children.” Marooned in Detroit, she raised Ben and his older brother by herself. A woman without any education who cleaned houses for a living, his mother was nevertheless shrewd and observant. Spending time in the homes of rich people, she decided that what led to their success was that they read books instead of watching television. Home she came, turned off the TV and told her sons they must read two books a week and write her reports. She would go over them and ask questions. Only years later did Ben and his brother realize that their mother had been improvising the whole time. She could not read.
Ben quickly fell in love with the books he was reading, however, and discovered something new in himself. “Within a matter of weeks, I began to actually know some of the answers to questions in various classes, which was shocking to the teachers and my classmates, and frankly to me as well.” His adventures in the library led him to the lives of the great inventors, the wide world of nature, American history and a growing admiration of the Founding Fathers. Exploring the pages of books also gave him the subversive notion that his seemingly impossible dream of becoming a doctor might be attainable.
From Detroit’s Southwestern High School he went to Yale, the University of Michigan Medical School, and on to a career as a neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital. There his skills in the operating room became legendary. “[My] job as a crane operator in a steel factory… helped me realize that I was gifted with great eye-hand coordination,” he writes. In the end he became the youngest person ever to head a surgical department at that august institution.
Yet although Carson has climbed the ladder through the Ivy League and other top-notch institutions, any inoculation of elitism he received along the way has not taken. Carson has remained true to his religious roots and conservative background. He believes the path out of poverty lies through hard work and personal responsibility.
Although it sounds magnanimous to say the rich should bear virtually all of the tax burden and the poor should not have their lives complicated by paying any taxes, this is actually quite demeaning to the poor and is basically saying to them, “You poor little thing, don’t you worry because I will take care of you since you can’t take care of yourself.” Robbing people of dignity by making them feel like freeloaders is not compassionate.… [I]t is especially offensive to individuals like me who have worked extremely hard throughout life to achieve success and who give away enormous amounts of money to benefit others. This system unfairly assumes that people like me are only greedy and uncaring. Wealthy people in the United States have created more charitable organizations and have been more philanthropic than any other group in the world. We should celebrate their achievements rather than envy them.
In short, Carson is a liberal’s worst nightmare, an African-American who has climbed the ladder of American success, come to love his country and appreciate everything about it, but does not feel beholden to liberals for his accomplishments. In fact, it is just the opposite. He feels liberal ideology is what is holding America back:
The bottom line is that our country is in the process of undergoing fundamental radical changes while rapidly moving away from the “can-do” attitude that made us the most prosperous and beneficent superpower the world has ever known. If each of us sits back and expects someone to take action, it will be too late. But as of today, it is still not too late to join the battle to save our nation and pass on to our children and grandchildren something we can all be proud of.
The vision that comes through this book is expressed right in the title: “One Nation.” Carson rejects the Democrats’ strategy of divide-and-conquer — everybody vying to identify themselves as some oppressed minority and then reassembled as Democratic voting blocs. Instead, he says, we should unite around what has made this country great and turned it into a beneficent world power:
Like every other nation, we have made mistakes. However, what should be emphasized is that we are the first pinnacle nation of the world to wield such enormous power without brutally dominating other nations. We have helped rebuild nations ravaged by wars in which we took part and we have refused to confiscate oil, minerals and other treasures found in nations we have helped or defeated. I believe it is fair to say that we are the most benign superpower the world has every known. Furthermore, it is important that we maintain our pinnacle status, because if we lose it, we will be replaced by another world power that is unlikely to be nearly as benign.
After reading this book, I feel a social earthquake coming. Imagine if Jimmy Carter had gone on for another term wrecking the country. Imagine the Reagan backlash had been four more years in arriving. That’s where we are now. Things just can’t go as they are. It’s too much against the grain of the country. Frankly, I can’t think of anybody better suited to lead this revolution than Dr. Ben Carson, but if Jeb Bush or Mike Huckabee can do a better job, I’d be happy to hear about it.
Oh well, it’s only a book. One Nation has been #1 on the New York Times best-seller list for several weeks, outselling Hillary for a while. And remember, it was two books that rocketed an obscure Illinois Senator named Barack Obama into presidential contention. (Carson has written seven.) Now 62 years old, Carson is a veteran on the lecture circuit and used to inspiring crowds. He has all the makings of an American legend — born in the contemporary equivalent of a log cabin, a hardscrabble childhood, the uphill struggle out of poverty, the moment of inspiration when he realized he could achieve his dreams, the ascent to the pinnacle of professional success and the autodidactic entry into politics. It’s Ronald Reagan all over again.
So can a doctor who has never run for elected office or managed anything larger than the surgical department at a major hospital handle foreign policy and take on 435 Members of the House of Representatives and 100 Senators who know Washington far better than he does? We’ll eventually find out. Right now, however, Carson looks like a contender.