The Dream Candidate
Did you ever know someone who kept falling in love with people bound to hurt them?
The latest right-wing love interest is the pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson.
Carson was greeted as a hero at the Conservative Political Action Conference in mid-March, and his talk at the Prayer Breakfast in February led The Wall Street Journal to write an editorial titled: "Ben Carson for President."
He's now on TV news shows, talking about how he won't talk about running for president.
Why so much love from the right?
In Carson's speech at the Prayer breakfast, he turned his personal story into a moral narrative that implied political principles that he distilled into policies — such as Health Savings Accounts. If you give people Health Savings Accounts, he said, "they have some control over their own health care, and what do you think they're going to do? They're going to learn very quickly how to be responsible."
Instead of offering an overarching view that might give context to our debates and hope for managing diverse points of view in a divided country, Carson chose — at the Prayer Breakfast — to reassert the rejected conservative idea of the flat tax and declare that it came from God. "I see the fairest individual in the universe, God, and he's given us a system. It's called tithe."
After a vague indictment of public education in this country, Carson swerved from promoting conservative principles to promoting himself. He told the Prayer Breakfast crowd, "Take a look at the chapter on education in my latest book, 'America the Beautiful.'"
He then explained, "I don't like to bring up problems without coming up with solutions." So he talked about the Carson scholarships he's given out and the Reading Rooms he's funded (Ben Carson Reading Rooms). Then he told the people, "When you go home tonight, read about it: Carson scholars, carsonscholars.org."
I did read about it. On the home page alone, I counted more than 20 mentions of "Carson" or "Ben Carson," four photographs of Dr. Carson, and one video titled "The Ben Carson Story."
Carson subverted the purpose of the prayer breakfast to promote Ben Carson.
And it worked.
He sold about 46,000 copies of "America the Beautiful" in the six weeks following the speech, compared to about 1,000 copies in a similar period before the speech. His outgoing voicemail message, nearly seven minutes long, according to The New York Times, has instructions for how to get autographs, school visits, media interviews and speaking engagements, and for how to buy his books "and other merchandise."
Beneath the online transcript of Carson's Prayer Breakfast remarks, one Patricia Murphy wrote: "That man said what should be said ... and there was Mr. Obama, sitting there, being forced to listen to some common sense for a change. Too bad, Dr. Carson wasn't made our first black president ... he would have had this country moving ahead like a bullet train by now."
Why do right-wingers fall for this stuff?
Oh, I see his appeal. He is a bright and accomplished man whose skill as a surgeon has saved children's lives and comforted their parents. He has overcome adversity and tells a good story. But do you have to go all the way with him?
Think it through. Americans won't elect a non-politician president unless you are a five-star Army general who defeated Hitler. Ben Carson is not going to be president. Instead, Ben Carson will play with your affections to get more famous, sell more books, increase his speaker's fees and help accelerate the Republican decline.
The GOP's approval ratings, according to the Pew Research Center's Andrew Kohut, are at a 20-year low: 33 percent favorable; 58 percent unfavorable. And Carson's message is targeted directly to the subset of the Republican Party that Kohut has called "the staunch conservative bloc that has undermined the GOP's national image."
That's not a winning strategy.
If the Republican Party wants to win again, it needs to loosen the grip of the Sarah Palins, Michelle Bachmanns, Herman Cains, Donald Trumps and Rush Limbaughs — the self-promoters and political flirts who seek money, attention and excitement by elevating ideas that take the party down.
I know. It's hard. We all have a dream candidate. And this one is exciting and successful, and a good speaker who says what you think. But you have to let him go. He'll just take advantage of you. He can't give you what you need.
Tom Rosshirt was a national security speechwriter for President Bill Clinton and a foreign affairs spokesman for Vice President Al Gore. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Tom Rosshirt and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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