Dr. Ben Carson, Presidential Candidate? Not Yet
Around the State
The decorated neurosurgeon affiliated with Johns Hopkins Hospital wowed conservatives in recent weeks with wonderful speeches at the National Prayer Day breakfast in February and the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last month. The conservative media quickly noticed and, in a gushing article at National Review, Jonah Goldberg even compared Carson to Booker T. Washington.
Buzz quickly grew that Carson would set his sites on the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. Carson, who is retiring from medicine in the coming months, did nothing to kill the rumors that he was open to entering politics and he even took 4 percent in a presidential straw poll at CPAC, placing him in a tie for seventh place. Facebook groups and other sites popped up on the Internet encouraging Carson to run for president.
To be sure, with his medical successes and inspirational story, Carson is a man to look up to. George W. Bush rightfully honored Carson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor the American government can give a civilian, in 2008.
But Republicans who are calling for a Carson presidency are ironically following Obama’s game plan.
Republicans have spent a great deal of the last few years savaging Obama as an inexperienced politician with no executive experience who can give a great speech. Carson is a legendary surgeon and no doubt is a competent medical department administrator -- but that’s not exactly the background a president needs. Some of the same Republicans who bashed Obama’s lack of experience are now turning around looking to elevate a candidate with even less experience, moving him into the Oval Office. Why? Because he gives a good speech.
Sound familiar? Well, the Carson supporters really can’t point to anything in their candidate’s background that marks him down as White House material besides the fact he can give a good speech.
We’ve heard this tune before. Too often in recent years, Republicans have promoted African-American candidates who are gifted orators and short on actual relevant experience needed as the leader of the free world. A staunch social conservative, Alan Keyes became a permanent candidate for office, running three times for the U.S. Senate (including being clobbered by Obama in Illinois back in 2004) and three times for the Republican presidential nomination. In the last election cycle, businessman Herman Cain won the Republican Party of Florida’s straw poll in a major upset before collapsing as his limitations and personal skeletons all went on public display. While they are both men of strong convictions, neither Keyes nor Cain should have come close to sitting in the Oval Office -- and, frankly, neither did.
Carson should take a page from Ronald Reagan’s playbook instead of Obama’s. Reagan stunned the political world and fired conservatives up with his “Time for Choosing” speech for Barry Goldwater in 1964. Instead of gunning for the White House right off the bat, Reagan headed to Sacramento where he served eight years. The actor became an executive.
There are opportunities for Carson in his home state of Maryland if he decides he needs executive experience before sitting in the White House. Gov. Martin O’Malley, who also has a presidential bee in his bonnet, is term-limited in 2014 and is widely thought to be running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. Longtime Democrat U.S. Barbara Mikulski will be 80 in 2016 if she decides to run for a sixth term -- and other senators around her age are heading to the sidelines in 2014.
Carson is 61. With the exception of George W. Bush, every Republican presidential nominee in recent decades has been in his 60s or 70s. If he wants to be president, let him gain some relevant political experience that could come in handy if he ever becomes leader of the free world. We’ve already seen the damage a president with little executive experience but who gives a good speech can do in the White House.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis piece exclusively for Sunshine State News.