Politics & Policy

Ben Carson: It’s Not Politics or Economics, It’s the Culture

Carson announces his campaign in Detroit. (Bill Pugliano/Getty)
A long shot, the famed neurosurgeon has defied the odds all his life.

Detroit — At the Dr. Ben Carson High School of Science and Medicine, where on Monday the renowned neurosurgeon continued the launch of his campaign for president, a student served up a boilerplate question: What has Dr. Carson learned in life? Carson’s response was anything but boilerplate.

“Sometimes mistakes are lifelong mistakes. Young ladies, it’s a mistake to have a baby when you are still young and out of wedlock,” said Carson, 63, with his wife of 30 years by his side. “Don’t just give yourselves away to some guy. Guys, respect young ladies.”

It was an answer that perhaps only the African-American Carson could give. It is the guts of his quixotic 2016 campaign. And it was in refreshing contrast to President Obama’s tired, hopeless recitation of racial grievances in Brooklyn the same day.

Carson’s roots are in Detroit. He rose from abject poverty to become a celebrated surgeon and author and has never forgotten where he came from. He has lived two careers: one, saving the sick on the operating table; the other, rescuing children from the poverty that he escaped himself. Are there any other candidates in the race who have an inner-city public school named after them? Is there any other candidate who inspires youth like the author of Gifted Hands?

Carson has chosen to run for president, but the times seem to have chosen him as well. At a time when black inner cities are exploding in a downward spiral of rage, Carson preaches a message of hope through basic truths: hard work, family, and personal responsibility.

Out-of-wedlock marriage “usually sends that baby into poverty,” he told students. “A child is four times more likely to wind up in poverty or in the penal system.”

National media in attendance completely ignored Carson’s message, just as they have ignored the root causes of the violence in Baltimore and Ferguson. Almost monolithically Democratic, today’s press views inner-city problems through a simplistic, black-and-white prism. Carson’s argument that poverty is the result of poor decisions and a culture of government dependency doesn’t fit the media’s narrative.

“Reading books changed my attitude about poverty,” Carson said. “As I read about [successful people], I realized they pretty much designed their own careers. It was their determination that resulted in their success.”

“The Republican Party has to get bigger,” says Carson campaign manager Barry Bennett. “Carson can talk about poverty in a way no other candidate can.”

Having lived his values, Carson inspires youth. “He came from here,” says Cajuan Treadway, a Carson High senior who will, like 93 percent of his classmates, go to college next year. “He shows that anyone can make it in this world. It’s a real motivation.”

Carson’s foundation has motivated students by financing some 7,200 student scholarships. Carson Reading Rooms pepper America’s schools. The Detroit native’s campaign is an extension of such efforts. His speeches are studded with references to his mother’s work ethic, his father’s absence, and his determination to get an education.

A celebrity candidate with little experience in public office, Carson bears no small resemblance to Barack Obama during his celebrated 2008 candidacy. But that similarity highlights how much Obama betrayed his promise of hope with a divisive, cynical presidency. Obama has ignored inner-city issues while hobnobbing with rich elites over esoteric issues like global warming.

Coincidentally, while Carson spoke about empowering students in Detroit, Obama spoke with college students in Brooklyn about their dreams. Decrying the lack of a father in his own upbringing, Obama has, however, claimed that minorities have been kept down by societal unfairness and insufficient government funding. “Some communities have had the odds stacked against them,” he said in Brooklyn. “That sense of unfairness and powerlessness is helping to fuel the protests we’ve seen in Baltimore.”

Obama’s message of victimization contrasts with Carson’s forceful call for personal responsibility. But whereas candidate Obama marinated in media goodwill, Carson receives the Clarence Thomas treatment: scorn for daring to speak as a black Republican.

#related#Media accounts of Carson’s announcement here stereotyped him as an awkward, religious-Right whack job. The Associated Press, for example, recycled old gaffes while suggesting that Carson is a welfare hypocrite. To be sure, Carson’s rhetoric will need to be more disciplined, but lazy reporting has so far missed a campaign that challenges the GOP order.

“The Republican Party has to get bigger,” says Carson campaign manager Barry Bennett. “Carson can talk about poverty in a way no other candidate can.”

Indeed, his up-by-the-bootstraps story speaks to American ideals. Bennett dismisses the idea that Carson’s campaign is a business startup to raise money for the candidate’s pet causes. He points to Carson’s explosive, Obama-esque popularity on social media.

“We can win,” Bennett says. “America needs to listen to him.” With a partisan media wind in his face and little establishment GOP support at his back, Carson is a long shot. But his campaign coffers are healthy, and he has defied the odds all his life.

“So many people are negative. People will always tell you what you can’t do,” Carson told the students. “Nothing’s been done until it’s been done. Maybe you’ll be the one to do it.”

Maybe he’ll be his party’s nominee for president.

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