Roger L. Simon

The Diogenes Factor: Will Success Spoil Ben Carson?


Timing isn’t everything, but it’s a good part of everything. Even though Ian Tuttle’s “Ben Carson, the GOPs Long Shot was published on NRO only a few days ago (August 29), it now seems a little dated.

This is not to condemn Tuttle, who makes his points well (that Carson sometimes overstates, lacks political expertise, etc.).  But the former brain surgeon has suddenly gone from long shot to neck-and-neck with Donald Trump in Iowa in the latest poll.  Both men are at 23%.

This is the first time in weeks anyone has even come close to tying The Donald.  Coming in a startling third is Carly Fiorina at 10%, the only other candidate even to make double digits. Are we sensing a trend here with all three non-politicians in front?  Of course.  But first a time out.

Attention, CNN: It will now seem truly discriminatory if you leave Carly Fiorina out of the top tier for the September 16 debate.  It will also be a ratification of the shameful bias shown by your network when Candy Crowley famously squelched discussion of Benghazi back in the Obama-Romney foreign policy debate of 2012.  Wise up.  (Of course, there’s another way of looking at this – that CNN inadvertently would be doing Carly a favor by omitting her, thus creating more controversy and generating more attention for this especially articulate candidate. Nevertheless…)

Now back to Carson:  Besides his extraordinary life story, three reasons for his success come immediately to mind, one being the aforementioned amateurism (he’s a doctor, not a politician).  The country, as we know from the immense success of Trump, is fed up with the political class.

The second, related to the first, is what I call The Diogenes Factor.  Diogenes of Sinope, it will be recalled, was the ascetic ancient Greek philosopher famed for spending his life, or a good part of it, looking for an honest man. Carson, at least to some degree, is the man Diogenes, and a significant part of today’s Republican electorate, was and is searching for.  Given the other side has as its leading candidate someone who is quite literally the poster child for total political and ethical dishonesty, with a complaisant media doing cartwheels to ignore her behavior, it’s no wonder such a person as Carson is attractive.  And this is not even counting the serial prevarications of the incumbent, from “you can keep your doctor” to we will have “anytime, anywhere” inspections of Iran, among a host of others.  Most of us are up to our eyes in lies and are in desperate search, like Diogenes, of an “honest man.”

The third, and most obvious, factor is that Carson is black.  Yes, it’s racist for me to feel that should make a difference and also more than a bit hypocritical.  I am, after all, one who abjures the neologism African-American and abhors identity politics in general, having written as much on numerous occasions. But, in the spirit of Carson, I have to be honest.  America, under Obama, has undergone the most reactionary period it has had regarding race literally since Reconstruction.  Never  have we moved so determinedly backwards.  Some even now broach race war as a possibility.  A black man like Carson is best positioned to prevent this and turn the country around.  More of his brothers and sisters will listen to him. His religiosity also helps, even to this agnostic.  He’s the antidote to Obama.  (So are Trump and Fiorina, in different ways.)

In most other areas, as Tuttle indicates, Carson’s a relatively standard issue conservative Republican, despite being an outsider. He opposes Obamacare (favors health savings accounts), wants a strong defense, is against the Iran Deal, is an immigration hawk, advocates a flat tax (based on tithing) and so forth.

But he has his problems.  His attitude toward gays will not play well in the general election.  (It doesn’t play well with me.)  Equally important is the question of whether Carson can even win the nomination because of lack of sufficient state organizations for the primaries.  As I was reminded by one Washington insider (yes, I know that’s a curse these days, but I try to listen to all), even politically-savvy Newt Gingrich had trouble getting himself on all the state ballots for the last go-round.

Carson has battled rumors of organizational problems for some months now.  Has he overcome them?  Is he a viable candidate for the long run? The insider was skeptical. I’m agnostic.  I don’t know.  But I will say this: Ben Carson may have been a bit at sea at first putting together a political team.  Nevertheless brain surgery takes more than just medical knowledge.  It takes serious organizational skill, as Carson himself has reminded us on multiple occasions. (Yes, like the standard politician, he repeats himself. Hey, nobody’s perfect, even politicians who aren’t really politicians.)  You have to pick a surgical team and it better be a good one to perform life or death operations.  I wouldn’t put it past Carson to have learned to put together skillful organizers on the political side.  No man could do this by himself. But if so, the question remains will he have done it in time?

Artwork adapted from “Diogenes searching for an honest man,” attributed to Tischbein (c. 1780)