Candidate-in-Waiting? Or New GOP Toy?

Washington View by Adrienne Washington

Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

Ben Carson
Ben Carson

A major television network anoints him “The New Conservative Folk Hero.” A Wall Street Journal editorial and a T-shirt available online hail “Ben Carson for President.”

Well, maybe not for president, but some in Maryland Republican circles are dreaming of a gubernatorial candidacy for Dr. Ben Carson, the preeminent Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon. He is, after all, touted among the headline speakers, along with Marco Rubio and Paul Rand, at the annual Conservative Action Political Conference (CPAC) being staged this week at National Harbor in Prince George’s County.

The superstar doctor has become such a sought-after political commodity since his conservative speech calling for a flat tax and private health care accounts given before President Obama during the National Prayer Breakfast last month that it takes nearly five minutes to listen to all the contact instructions given by the doctor’s office assistant on his answering machine. The message directs everyone except his patients to a half dozen numbers, websites and fax machines to leave messages and comments.

Efforts to reach Dr. Carson were unsuccessful.

“Republicans like bright, shiny objects and he’s a bright, shiny object for a lot of conservatives,” said Michael Steele, a political commentator and former Republican National Party Chairman and Maryland lieutenant governor. He should know.

Is it any wonder when Carson’s prescriptions for what ails America include giving speeches peppered with parables and scriptures and admonitions against “moral decay,” “fiscal irresponsibility,” “the PC police” and such? The latter he suggests do not allow free expression in public discourse. In fact, he claims a White House aide asked him not to offend the president during the National Prayer Breakfast.

Speakers have traditionally avoided political subjects such as the tax code, though Carson cloaked his comments in God’s fair system of tithing.

Then, at the March 8 Maryland Legislative Prayer Breakfast in Annapolis, the good doctor once again reportedly raised eyebrows after making a questionable comment about the institution of slavery. It was America’s “mistake,” but “there is no one alive today who is a slave and no one alive who is a slave owner … At some point you need to get over it and move on,” he said, according to The Washington Post.Really? Does Dr. Carson not see the vestiges of slavery for Blacks and Whites today, for example, in the income disparity of these groups alone? Indeed, we don’t want to make excuses, but we can offer slavery as an explanation for the current state of certain Black affairs. The intractable racism in this country is an outgrowth, for example. If we deny our history, then what? I’m not sure of the context in which Carson’s comment was given, but no one would dare suggest that Jews forget the Holocaust. Why should African Americans erase the Middle Passage and hundreds of years of bondage from their heritage memory, asked one woman, a Virginia Republican, upon hearing of Dr. Carson’s suggestion.

Flavor of the month? Carson told a Fox News interviewer that he is sometimes giving four speeches a week to Democratic and Republican audiences. Steele said he greatly admires Carson and said he thinks the doctor’s statements, especially about health care and education, are genuinely his, not force fed to the doctor by others with ulterior political motives.

“He’s beginning to find his political voice and it remains to be seen how it plays out,” Steele said.

However, he noted that Republicans have a penchant for discovering Black conservatives, especially those willing to speak against Obama, “without any forethought as to what it means” for the long term. So, think no cost-benefit analysis of their ideas. Remember Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan. So think “extraneous leaps.”

But “the party’s problems extend beyond” personalities, because the GOP’s issues “no longer resonate with the American people,” Steele said.

He noted how outspoken celebrities in both parties are often pumped up and set up for a fall because they really don’t understand how the political game is played, or what it takes to run a billion-dollar enterprise, like a state government. Note Jesse Ventura and Ashley Judd, he said.

“These people think they can run because people tell them they can. But it is not something to take lightly,” he said. That road is littered with more failures than successes.

Nonetheless, one Maryland political strategist speaking anonymously said Republicans are hoping to help Carson raise his national profile and money through speaking engagements such as CPAC and with his latest “America the Beautiful” book tour, so that he can make a run for Maryland governor. Their hope, he said, is that Democrats will be so split with candidates seeking the top office that Carson could slip in between those factions.

That would be one humongous pay cut for the world renowned “Gifted Hands” surgeon. And, no doubt “it is a daunting task,” as Steele suggested, “to move from the science of saving lives to the science of improving lives as a political leader.”

Steele cautioned that he doesn’t think Carson could win statewide elective office. “He is soft-spoken, quiet, and I don’t think his message would resonate across the state to get 51 percent of the vote to win an election,” he said.

Carson, as Steele said, should “not let the exuberance of the moment” blind him, or “to allow himself to be used.” While they may all be “clamoring around now,” unless real money and real organization is put up, Dr. Carson should proceed with trepidation.

He should “take a step back and catch his breath,” and “not allow himself to be trotted out as an example of anything,” Steele said of Carson.

Amen. Physician or politician. Will CPAC tell?

Veteran journalist Adrienne Washington writes weekly for the AFRO about relevant issues in the District, Maryland and Northern Virginia. Send correspondence to her at