Politics & Policy

Too Late for Carson to Catch up on Homework

(Justin Sullivan/Getty)

A little over a year ago, when Ben Carson was gearing up to run for president, I questioned in this space whether he was ready for what lay ahead. We now have our answer: No.

Carson had a great number of things going for him: his amazing life story, charm, professional accomplishments, eloquence, and courage. I had only one major concern: “While he speaks eloquently and passionately about the importance of doing homework in his own life and for children everywhere, it’s not obvious he’s taken those lessons to heart when it comes to politics.”

It’s now obvious that he hasn’t.

In the weeks before the terrorist attacks in Paris, Carson was already having a rough time. In a development that defied satire, Donald Trump was attacking Carson’s character, which is a bit like Carrot Top ridiculing Jerry Seinfeld’s sense of humor.

But it was smart politics. The rationale for Carson’s candidacy is based largely on biography and character. Take those away and what’s left?

Not too much, unfortunately. Oh sure, grading on a human level, there’s still a great deal to admire in Carson. But we’re talking presidential politics, not lifetime achievement awards.

RELATED: As His Iowa Polls Numbers Slide, Carson Goes on Offense Against Foreign-Policy Criticisms

Preparation matters.

In Miami, he was asked about the so-called wet-foot, dry-foot immigration policy for Cuban refugees. “You’re going to have to explain to me exactly what you mean by that,” he replied.

In a GOP debate, he said that the Chinese were involved in the Syrian civil war, alongside the Russians and the Iranians. His campaign had to awkwardly walk back the claim.

RELATED: Sorry, Media, You Won’t Destroy Ben Carson

The New York Times even found two of his advisers to state on the record that Carson was struggling to get up to speed on foreign policy.

#share#These and other flubs aren’t necessarily disqualifying on their own. But after the terrorist attacks in Paris and Mali, not to mention the de facto declaration of martial law in Brussels, Carson’s soft-spoken ad-libbing about foreign policy doesn’t play nearly as well.

“I know a lot more than I knew,” Carson said when asked on PBS about his foreign-policy deficit. “A year from now, I will know a lot more than I know now.”

RELATED: What Ben Carson Doesn’t Know

That kind of answer doesn’t cut it when Americans feel threatened. That’s why he’s been sliding in a number of polls since the Paris attacks.

In fairness, Trump’s answers shouldn’t cut it either. But Carson is admiringly honest about his shortcomings and admits when he gets things wrong, while Trump makes up for his shortcomings and ignorance with bluster, bullying, and bombast. Sadly, that continues to work for him.

Carson places an inordinate amount of emphasis on platitudes and clichés, particularly about common sense.

Also, Carson’s problems extend beyond foreign policy. He places an inordinate amount of emphasis on platitudes and clichés, particularly about common sense. I like common sense as much as the next guy, and we need more of it in Washington. But common sense isn’t a leather-bound book one takes down from the shelf to find the right solutions to every problem. Presidents who think otherwise are begging to be rolled by the permanent bureaucracy. Nobody would want their brain surgeon to rely on common sense when removing a tumor.

Of course, politics isn’t brain surgery. But it does require a certain foundation that only experience and homework can provide. If you’re waiting until you run for president to get up to speed, it is too late. Wisconsin governor Scott Walker learned that the hard way this year. He simply wasn’t prepared to discuss policies outside his comfort zone.

#related#Carson’s has been an all-too-familiar tale in GOP presidential politics in recent years. Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, former Texas governor Rick Perry (in 2008, not in 2012) — all squandered opportunities by not being adequately prepared to leverage their popularity and potential.

The rarest commodity in politics is a genuinely charismatic personality that arouses passion in voters at a propitious political moment. Money can’t buy that; just ask Mitt Romney. Doing your homework, meanwhile, is easy. I don’t mean it doesn’t require effort; it most certainly does. But there’s no trick to it: Read books, talk to experts, think things through when you have the time and resources to do so.

If Carson had consulted common sense, he would have known that.

— Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of National Review. He can be reached by e-mail at goldbergcolumn@gmail.com, or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2015 Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Most Popular

U.S.

Men Literally Died for That Flag, You Idiots

The American flag’s place in our culture is beginning to look less unassailable. The symbol itself is under attack, as we’ve seen with Nike dumping a shoe design featuring an early American flag, Megan Rapinoe defending her national-anthem protests (she says she will never sing the song again), and ... Read More
Books

The Plot against Kavanaugh

Justice on Trial, by Mollie Hemingway and Carrie Severino (Regnery,  256 pp., $28.99) The nomination and confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was the political event of 2018, though not for the reasons anyone expected. All High Court confirmations these days are fraught with emotion and tumult ... Read More
Politics & Policy

He Just Can’t Help Himself

By Saturday, the long-simmering fight between Nancy Pelosi and her allies on one side and the “squad” associated with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the other had risen to an angrier and more destructive level at the Netroots Nation conference. Representative Ayanna Pressley, an African-American Massachusetts ... Read More
White House

On Gratitude and Immigration

Like both Rich and David, I consider it flatly inappropriate for the president of the United States to be telling Americans -- rhetorically or otherwise -- to “go back where you came from.” In consequence, you will find no defense of the president from me, either. What Trump tweeted over the weekend was ... Read More
Education

Gender Dissenter Gets Fired

Allan M. Josephson is a distinguished psychiatrist who, since 2003, has transformed the division of child and adolescent psychiatry and psychology at the University of Louisville from a struggling department to a nationally acclaimed program. In the fall of 2017 he appeared on a panel at the Heritage Foundation ... Read More
U.S.

The ‘Squad’ Gives a Gift to Donald Trump

On Sunday, Donald Trump gave the Democrats a gift -- comments that indicate he thinks native-born congresswomen he detests should “go back” to the countries of their ancestors. On Monday, the four congresswomen handed Trump a gift in return, managing to respond to the president’s insults in some of the most ... Read More
PC Culture

A Herd Has No Mind

sup { vertical-align: super; font-size: smaller; } Funny thing about my new book: I had begun shopping around the proposal for writing it long before my brief period of employment with that other magazine and the subsequent witless chimp-brained media freakout and Caffeine-Free Diet Maoist struggle ... Read More