When world-renowned neurosurgeon Ben Carson first threw his hat in the ring as a 2016 GOP candidate, pundits and private citizens alike were as dismissive of his candidacy as they were of the candidacy of the other prominent outsider, real estate magnate Donald Trump. Dr. Carson was categorized as “a nice man” with an incredible personal story which included a path from abject poverty in Detroit to worldwide prominence as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at The John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
While the world has recognized Carson for his many contributions to the field of neurosurgery including his landmark separation of conjoined twins for which he received many accolades including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, his candidacy for the presidency was presumed to be a long shot. In fact, in the first Republican debate, many people thought that Carson came across as too polite. It appeared to the viewers, that he had difficulty getting a word in edgewise. What a difference a few months makes! According to the most recent Real Clear Politics Average, Ben Carson and Donald Trump are virtually running neck and neck with Carson at 24.8% and Trump at 24.6%.
As the media increasingly turned the spotlight on Dr. Ben, we started seeing the emergence of a new candidate. And this Ben Carson is hardly “The Quiet Man”. The evolution of Carson’s candidate persona has been gradual. While he continued to deliver his message in a thoughtful deliberate manner, he started taking risks in his messaging. For instance, in September during an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, he made the statement “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. “ Carson went on to say that he would not support any candidate for the presidency whose religion was at odds “with the values and principles of America.”
Carson’s remarks generated a lot of commentary both for their substance and for the way he responded to the media’s scrutiny of these remarks. Carson clearly demonstrated that he was willing to take a stand by not backing down from his statements despite the potential allegations of an anti-Islam bias. The Doctor showed the world that he was not going to succumb to the siren of political correctness. And clearly his boldness and adherence to his principles resonated with the voters as this incident was followed by a surge in the polls.
They say that politics is a dirty business and that if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. Those adages are perfect descriptors for the latest brouhaha surrounding Dr. Carson’s candidacy. Since Carson has no political experience on his resume, he has essentially built his campaign around his personal story and his ethics. This past week several media outlets including CNN and the publication Politico have questioned the authenticity of items in Carson’s 1990 autobiography, Gifted Hands. CNN reporters Scott Glover and Maeve Reston claim that in conducting their research or their article “A Tale of Two Carsons”, they found discrepancies with Carson’s account of his childhood as a juvenile delinquent in Detroit. With their article, Glover and Weston were essentially postulating that the “narrative” which Carson’s campaign is built around — that “divine intervention” at age fourteen took him from a path of violence towards a life of healing — is built on inherent fabrications. Apparently, according to Glover and Weston, they interviewed nine classmates and acquaintances of Carson’s who knew him while he lived in Detroit and later attended Southwestern High School and not one of them could recall the incidents of violence which Carson describes in his book. These incidents include attacking his mother with hammer during an argument about his clothes, which Carson’s Brother Curtis diffused by wrestling Carson away from their mother.
In Gifted Hands Carson also claims to have had two violent incidents while attending junior high school. One incident involved Carson attacking a classmate named “Bob” with a knife. In the other situation, Carson hit a classmate named “Jerry” while holding a lock in his hands. The CNN reporters, however, found no one from Carson’s high school days who could corroborate or deny the “Bob” and “Jerry” stories. While Carson says the names are fictitious, the incidents were real occurrences and that since they took place while he was in junior high school, in questioning his high school acquaintances, the reporters were not speaking to the right people.
This past week Politico ran a story where they accused Carson of admitting that he fabricated the offer of a scholarship from West Point. The publication initially published the article with the headline “Ben Carson Admits Fabricating West Point Scholarship” but then later changed the headline to read “Carson claimed West Point scholarship but never applied”. Carson later said that during his tenure in the ROTC, he was selected to have dinner with General William Westmoreland. He was also told that based on his grades and his performance in the ROTC, he would surely be admitted to West Point. Carson also said that he decided not to apply to West Point because he was interested in a career in medicine. He also admitted that the use of the term scholarship was not accurate. West Point cadets are typically nominated by a local congressional representative and tuition to West Point is free. However, upon graduation, the newly minted officer is required to serve in the military for a designated period of time.
Carson has retaliated by calling the media out for biased treatment. He has accused them of digging and digging until they find something on him. Furthermore, Carson has asked why the media is putting him under such scrutiny when they failed to do so in the vetting of President Barack Obama. Carson has criticized reporters from shying away from questions about then candidate Obama’s educational records, his associations with people such as William Ayers ,who founded the Weather Underground, a self- described communist revolutionary group that “conducted a campaign” of bombing public buildings, and Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who delivered a speech to his congregation on September 16, 2001 “damning America” and accusing the United States of igniting Al Qaeda’s attack because of its own terrorism.
Carson’s campaign manager Barry Bennett has stated the American people will be seeing a new Ben Carson at the November 10 Fox Business News Debate. The question is how will the American people receive him? Will they see him as fighting back against a biased media or will he just be seen as an angry man? The public perception of the “new Ben” will shape the future of his candidacy.