Whenever somebody says something like, “Now, I know this isn’t PC, but … ,” watch out. It probably means they’re about to say something rude.
In the case of Dr. Ben Carson, the world-famous neurosurgeon and director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, the rudeness was pointedly public. As keynote speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., last month, he criticized President Barack Obama’s taxing and health care policies — while the president sat inches away, looking on stony-faced.
“It’s not my intention to offend anyone,” he said late in his address. “But it’s hard not to. The PC police are out in force at all times.”
Please. If the political-correctness police were in the house, they were lost among the roses of praise that conservative throngs soon tossed at Carson.
No question that Carson, 61, is an impressive figure. Best known as the first surgeon to successfully separate conjoined twins, back in 1987, he also is well known for his up-from-adversity narrative, recounted in his autobiography, Gifted Hands.
Raised by a single mother in Detroit who encouraged him through severe learning disabilities as a child, he became, at age 33, the youngest head of a major division at Johns Hopkins, a leading research hospital, and later received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush.
But at the National Prayer Breakfast it took his impressive bio to lend heft to his seemingly un-PC, yet decidedly conventional, ideas.
Besides his sermonette on “moral decay” and “fiscal irresponsibility,” he called for a flat tax, based on the Bible’s edict to tithe 10 percent of one’s income. His other big idea was to replace Obamacare with health savings accounts, automatically opened for everyone at birth — and subsidized for the indigent.
Those are appealing ideas to policy wonks, but both concepts were pretty much put to rest by voters last year. Republican candidate Herman Cain’s “9-9-9” flat tax idea won a lot of publicity but not much else in the primaries. And Republicans might have offered something like health savings accounts, had they been interested in holding a real debate on health care.
Yet Carson’s speech in Obama’s face energized conservatives. “Ben Carson for President,” blared the headline on a Wall Street Journal editorial. Several of the conservative columnists at National Review blogged and tweeted their praise.
His inspirational, Obama-bashing speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in suburban Washington, an annual showcase for aspiring Republican presidential candidates, received several standing ovations. His rounds promoting his latest book included at least two Fox News programs, during which he mentioned that, one, he was retiring soon and, two, he’s thinking about maybe running for president himself in 2016.
“I think Dr. Benjamin Carson,” right-wing radio star Rush Limbaugh cackled, “probably [has] everybody in the Democrat party scared to death.”
We’ll see. As a longtime admirer of Dr. Carson before the conservative establishment found he was cool, I cannot help but wonder how much of this new infatuation on the right is fueled by a novel form of reverse discrimination. I’m not saying that conservatives are only thrilled by Carson because he’s black, but they probably wouldn’t be nearly as excited about him if he wasn’t.
Dr. Carson appears to defy such easy captivity. He’s a registered independent, not a Republican. In an interview posted recently on the Daily Caller website, he said he opposed both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. On gay marriage, he said he didn’t believe “that anyone from any group has the right to redefine a major pillar of society,” but added, “Any two consenting adults have the right to formalize a relationship between them.”
Stay tuned. Conservatives have a history of getting excited about independent-minded mavericks only to have their excitement cool when the straight talk turns more independent than they expected.
CLARENCE PAGE’s column is distributed by Tribune Media Services Inc.