While the punditocracy bloviates endlessly about the rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, branding this the year of the outsider, the ultimate outsider is quietly sneaking up along the outside, Dr. Ben Carson. He’s already running second to The Donald in Iowa, and a not very distant second at that, in the latest poll of the early caucus state.
His performance at the first big debate won plaudits, especially his witty final speech making fun of his background as the only neurosurgeon running for president.. He came in second in Google searches during the debate.
He spent Wednesday in Harlem, walking and talking to the people and reporters, agreeing that, yes, “black lives matter,” but the real problem is that young black people are killing each other in depressing numbers and that their communities were falling apart. When asked for an explanation, to my surprise and delight, he referenced the famous quote from Lyndon Johnson about his patriarchal Great Society plans, “I’ll have them [n-words] voting Democratic for the next two hundred years.” (I know there’s been some dispute about the accuracy of the quote, but Johnson did frequently use the n-word and that definitely was his strategy, to the everlasting detriment of African-Americans.)
Carson’s approach was, of course, different. Here was an actual black conservative attempting to solve the problems of the inner city, the first man to separate Siamese twins, a true hero black or white and a human antidote to the racial exploitation of Barack Obama. What a role model!
Could the doctor actually be nominated? Everyone said he was too naive, that he didn’t understand the process, that politics is not brain surgery (and how), but here he is, a top-tier candidate. This year anything is possible Let’s put it this way — if you’re not so cynical about this country that Mr. Smith Goes to Washington can still brings tears to your eyes, maybe Ben Carson could be president.
But there’s a long way to go before anything quite that unlikely occurs. Still, it is interesting to speculate. Imagine what a Carson-Clinton debate would be like. Okay, that’s getting increasingly harder to imagine these days. One or two more shoes drop on this email thing and Hillary may be moving to Argentina. Nevertheless, Carson-Clinton debates (were they to happen) would be something to behold — God versus the Devil or some such. Carson versus Sanders would also have some intrigue. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ben would be just the person to have old Bernie doubting his tired socialist ideology or at least getting him flustered. In any case, it would be one of the more unpredictable presidential pairings.
But there’s one thing I can predict. Ben Carson is one person Donald Trump will not come after, even if Carson continues to rise in the polls. You don’t attack soulful pediatric neurosurgeons raised by single mothers without risking substantial blowback. Now a Trump-Carson ticket. That’s another matter. There’s something to contemplate. Whoever would have dreamed that one up even a year ago? But as Sherif Ali said to Lawrence: “Nothing is written.”