Commentary: Dr. Ben Carson's baffling vitriol against President Obama

The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)March 26, 2013 


Dr. Ben Carson poses for portrait at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland, February 15, 2013.


You wouldn’t know it just by looking, but Dr. Ben Carson, the brilliant neurosurgeon, and I have a couple of things in common.

We were both placed in special education classes in school – deemed incapable of book learning – and we both also were saved when a knife didn’t do what it was supposed to do.

In Carson’s case, he tells how he stabbed a fellow in a fight but the blade hit his victim’s belt buckle and broke, sparing him serious injury and Carson a possible murder rap.

Me? I threw a knife at a kid named Nick with whom I was fighting, but the handle – not the blade – struck him in the back. Fortunately for me, our mothers powwowed and resolved the problem without police. The look of disappointment and sadness on my mom’s face was worse than anything the cops could’ve done to me, anyway.

That’s where our similarities end. Carson has since become a genuine role model and the world-renowned director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital who performed the first successful separation of Siamese twins joined at the head.

You see what I’ve become.

Carson has added yet another title to his name – darling of poor-people-demonizing, government-hating conservatives. His speeches at a presidential prayer breakfast in February and the CPAC convention this month have made him the hot, new face for conservatives – as though all they need do is put forth the same old tired message with a black or brown face.

Vitriol is baffling

His incessant, vitriolic assault on the poor and the government has made it hard not to conclude that the dude has gone loony. Or has a new book out. Or is planning to run for office. Or has a new book out.

Take it easy, greasy. Neither President Barack Obama nor any other president is immune to criticism, and Carson has as much right as anyone else to slam Obamacare and O without being perceived as villainous. Honest people can have honest disagreements over such contentious subjects. It is the vitriol with which he attacks the president and the poor that is so baffling, even when he is making a salient point about, say, self-reliance.

For instance, who can dispute the importance of personal responsibility – not a Republican invention, by the way – when Carson tells in his autobiography, “Gifted Hands,” how his mother, not willing to believe he was a “dummy” as teachers and fellow students called him, made his brother and him turn off the television set and write her twice-weekly essays. She then made them read the essays to her.

It was years later, he said, before his brother and he realized that their mother made them read the essays because she was illiterate. In explaining how he succeeded, Carson proclaimed at CPAC, “It was because I had a mother who believed in me.”

She didn’t do it alone

No doubt, Mother Carson deserves tremendous credit, but – in the words of a political sound bite from the last presidential election – she didn’t do it alone. Carson, in his book, tells how his grades improved tremendously when a government program provided him with free eyeglasses because he could barely see. Not only that, in “Gifted Hands” we read this nugget: “By the time I reached ninth grade, mother had made such strides that she received nothing but food stamps. She couldn’t have provided for us and kept up the house without that subsidy.”

He writes elsewhere, “As I’ve said, we received food stamps and couldn’t have made it without them.”

Oy. Ben Carson now, though, bemoans the “welfare state” and talks about how the rich have always taken care of the poor, how “no one is starving in America” and how government dependence kills initiative.

Eating welfare cheese obviously didn’t kill his ambition or prevent him from becoming a great surgeon, but he now thinks it would be bad for everyone else. Sort of like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, eh, railing against Medicare and government-backed student loans – even while admitting that his parents received Medicare and he went to college on student loans?

How many more Ben Carsons might there be out there who, if Carson’s plans go into effect, would never get a chance to shine?

Carson said he may quit medicine to enter politics, and he obviously knows there is no quicker way to raise one’s profile and sell a boatload of books than by attacking Obama, government and the poor. Just ask Herman “I may not be president but I sold a zillion books” Cain.

In 2003, my 13-year-old son and I went to see the Greg Kinnear-Matt Damon goofball comedy “Stuck on You,” in which they played conjoined twins. The movie was funny, but I fell asleep.

“Dad, it’s Dr. Ben Carson,” the kid yelled into my ear. Sure enough, the good doctor had made a cameo in the movie, and the money he received for it went toward his noble scholarship fund.

In 2011, filmmaker Spike Lee and his wife wrote a children’s book featuring famous people, and NBC news host Meredith Viera turned to a page and asked the couple “Who is this man and why is he in your book?”

They patiently explained to her who Carson was.

After his latest attack on O, government and the poor, everyone knows who Ben Carson is.

Except, perhaps, Ben Carson.

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