Meet The Candidates #3 - Gifted Hands, Questionable Brains: The Ben Carson Story

The story of how Ben Carson, born into poverty, overcame astounding obstacles and became a celebrated surgeon is the stuff American dream-hawkers live for, but though Carson’s early-to-middle life is worthy of the inspiring Cuba Gooding Jr-led TV Movie based on it, his next major transformation from surgeon-hero to insensitive and outrageous ideologue has been a doozy.  Now, Carson’s general distaste for the secular, fact-having world has “called” him to run for president, a position he’s uniquely unqualified for and a mission he seems largely ambivalent towards.  That hasn’t prevented him, however, from gaining frontrunner status in the first primary state.  American voters are a real kick in the pants.  

Carson’s life is a fascinating and uniquely American story, one that proves that...idiot savants are a real thing.  He’s the only candidate in the race that we’d let operate on our brains, but he doesn’t seem super capable of using his own to think analytically or practically about how to not make unnecessary references to slavery or Hitler.  How Carson wound up in the middle of a political maelstrom that he seems only casually interested in riding out is a real question, but we’ll be digging for answers as we take you through his life, chapter by chapter.


Life Pre-Gifted Hands

Unlike many of the GOP’s “inspiring” figures, Benjamin Solomon Carson is a legit success story.  He didn’t overcome having casually disinterested parents and a trust fund that wasn’t quite as big as the other rich people in his prep school class, he overcame being raised by an illiterate single mother in crime-ridden parts of Detroit and Boston with all the scary violence, drugs, and death that entails.  When he was young his father was revealed to have a second family and so they were estranged for most of his childhood and it was his mother, one of over 20 kids herself, who did all the parental heavy lifting.  She reportedly required her kids to read two books a week despite being unable to read herself, but she suffered from depression, periodically checking herself into mental institutions.  Who can blame her?  This all sounds terrible.

The world outside, meanwhile, was a scary one, filled with “Boarded up windows and doors. Sirens. Gangs. Murders.” According to Carson, who rarely says anything truly relatable but is certainly trying here, “the thing that impressed me the most though were the roaches. They had large aggressive roaches.”  

That world also faced its fair share of trouble in the form of Ben Carson himself, who was an angry young man with a quick temper and bad grades.  It probably didn’t help that his classmates were fond of calling him “dummy.” Because he was at the bottom of his class, his mother started banning him from watching TV and playing outside, so Carson eventually got his act together, and later in high school he he joined ROTC and turned out to be a talented marksman. (One thing Americans should be able to agree on is that Ben Carson has impressive hand-eye coordination.)  He was offered a full scholarship to West Point (11/6/15 Update: HOLY COW HE JUST REVEALED THIS IS A LIE!) but instead wound up at Yale, then went on to medical school at the University of Michigan.  You know, the usual story of disadvantaged city youth goes to Yale and UMich.


Carson's Hands Gain Their Gift

The post-medical school Carson bio is so success-filled that it almost seems fictional (and it’s not!).  In 1984 Carson became the youngest director of pediatric neurosurgery in America when he was appointed to the position at Johns Hopkins.  Then, in 1987 he performed a groundbreaking surgery, separating twins conjoined at the head in a 22 hour marathon surgery that required a 70-person team to complete.  Both twins survived for the first time in the history of the surgery.  Soon after he gained renown as one of the first modern surgeons to perform a hemispherectomy, which involves separating the halves of a patient’s brain but somehow doesn’t kill them.  We know this because we saw it done once on “Grey’s Anatomy.“


Gifted Celebrity

Carson eventually wrote his uber-inspiring life story down and it was turned into a TV movie starring Academy-Award-winner Cuba Gooding Jr, who, thank God, manages to make Carson look like a person who emotes.  Carson also was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom during the Bush years and was selected by the Library of Congress as a “Living Legend.”  He was really killing it for a while there.  Then he got some bad news, delivered, as were all of these pieces of life-changing news, mid-surgery.  He was informed that he had an aggressive form of prostate cancer, all while he had a kid cut open on the table, then was somehow expected to buck up and finish saving the kid’s life.  What on earth?

Carson, by the way, isn’t just a graduate of two of the most highly regarded universities in America.  Mr. Obamacare=slavery also has 38 honorary doctorates.  Perhaps this is a sign that we respect creative thinking in America.  Perhaps.  Also, perhaps not.


2013: Un-Gifted Brains

Carson’s rise to political fame occurred at a 2013 National Prayer Breakfast of all places.  Carson, who had been invited to speak despite the fact that he’s not a pastor and is solely famous for being an unusually good medical doctor, delivered a riveting and pointed attack on Obamacare and Obama’s tax plan while mere feet from the big guy himself.  Putting aside the irony of a medical doctor criticising our President’s attempt to expand health coverage to millions of uninsured Americans, there’s also the question of why he felt qualified to condemn a tax plan of any sort given that his area of expertise is, again, operating on the brains of babies.  

Ultra-conservatives are a pretty easy bunch to impress, however, so Carson immediately became a huge celebrity in their circles.  Far-right enthusiasts saw his attack not as a semi-confused moment of accidental honestly but a concerted plan to speak “truth” to power.  Though he was soon invited to speak at major conservative events far and wide and is now one of the most sought-after conservative speakers in the country, it’s worth remembering that Carson has never held elected office of any sort.  Outside of the brain-operating realm, he’s literally just some guy.  His political prescriptions are as valid and informed as any rando’s.  


Retired Hands

Now, however, Ben Carson is more than some guy...he’s some guy who is running for president.  Carson’s calm demeanor, rambling style of speech, and sleepy eyes have gained him thousands of supporters, but many of them have doubts about his actual governing abilities and it’s no surprise why.  Aside from his many questionable quotes (detailed below), Carson’s policy prescriptions are generally ill-informed and/or hilariously simplistic.  His tax plan is based on tithing, his foreign policy plans are based on one day learning something about foreign policy, and his healthcare plan is based on denying reality.


Carson Quotes

Campaign Announcement, 2013 -

“If God ordains that we end up in the White House...we are going to change the government into something that looks more like a well-run business."

Where: The Values Voters Conference, 2013 -

"Obamacare is really the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery. It is making all of us subservient to the government."

Where: CNN Appearance, 2015 -

On Whether Being Gay Is a Choice: “Absolutely….Because a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight and when they come out they’re gay. So did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question.”

Where: Meet The Press, NBC, 2015 -

On Whether A Muslim Could Be President: “If you heard the whole conversation, I said...anybody from any background, religious or otherwise, who accepts the values of America and is willing to put our Constitution above their beliefs, is fine with me. And then it continued in another vein bringing up somebody who perhaps did not fit into that category. Well, if they don’t fit into that category because of their belief system, and in this case the assumption being that they are Islamic believers—part of the Islamic belief system, which is a lifestyle, not just a simple religion, includes Sharia.”

Where: Center for Security Policy's National Security Action Summit, 2014 -

On the New AP U.S. History Curriculum: “I think most people, when they finish that course, they’d be ready to go sign up for ISIS.”  Here’s why: “There’s only two paragraphs in there about George Washington.... Little or nothing about Dr. Martin Luther King. A whole section on slavery and how evil we are. A whole section on Japanese internment camps and how we slaughtered millions of Japanese with our bombs. A whole section on how we wiped out American Indians with no mercy.” (Bonus Thoughts on Why America Did Those Things: “Because we’re people. And all people make mistakes.”)

Where: CNN Interview w/ Wolf Blitzer, 2015 -

On Gun Control Causing the Holocaust: In his book A More Perfect Union Carson writes, “Through a combination of removing guns and disseminating propaganda, the Nazis were able to carry out their evil intentions with relatively little resistance.”  When asked by Wolf Blitzer whether the Holocaust would have happened in the absence of gun-control laws he said, “I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed."

Where: Celebration of Creation, 2012 -

Ben Carson is also a doctor who doesn’t believe in Evolution:

Apparently Darwin came up with evolutionary theory because the devil made him do it: “I personally believe that this theory that Darwin came up with was something that was encouraged by the adversary.” (The Adversary is a nickname for the devil.)

Where: Fox & Friends, 2015 -

On What He Would Have Done in a Shooting Situation: “Not only would I probably not cooperate with him, I would not just stand there and let him shoot me. I would say, Hey, guys, everybody attack him, he may shoot me, but he can’t get us all. [Laughs.]”

On What He Actually Did in a Shooting Situation: "I have had a gun held on me when I was in a Popeye's organization.... Guy comes in, put the gun in my ribs. And I just said, 'I believe that you want the guy behind the counter.'"

And guys, there are so many more.  So.  Many.  More.


Random Thing

Here is his wife singing at one of his campaign events.  That's a real thing that's happening out there.