On February 7, 2013, Baltimore neurosurgeon Ben Carson criticized President Barack Obama's policies on healthcare, taxation, and the national debt in a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C.
President Obama was sitting a few feet away.
Conservative commentator Cal Thomas criticized Carson's comments for being rude and inappropriate. The National Prayer Breakfast is one of the few nonpolitical events in Washington, D.C., Thomas said. It is "supposed to bridge divides," he added, "not widen them."
Carson was, however, praised by conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Rich Lowry, Jonah Goldberg, and John Fund. The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial that said, "Ben Carson for president." Limbaugh said that Democrats will vote for Ben Carson because he's black.
A little more than two years after that speech, Carson says he will announce his candidacy for the presidency in Detroit on May 4.
Carson became the darling of the right, not for what he said at the prayer breakfast - that was immediately forgotten - but for the way he said it.
Rudeness is the raison d'etre of the far right, where bluster is preferable to rational discourse, hyperbole beats knowledge, and what one feels in one's gut is more important than the facts. Satirist Stephen Colbert calls this "truthiness."
Rudeness is a form of currency that provides those with shrill voices and cynical minds their own talk-radio programs or Fox News appearances, or maybe a future in politics, where they can scream their way to fame and fortune like carnival barkers and snake oil salesmen by appealing to the vilest of our instincts.
It's how we ended up with so many Obama birthers and global warming deniers, and why bigotry and homophobia still win the day in many places in this country.
If it were not for rudeness, what would have become of Limbaugh, Hannity, Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Michelle Bachman, Ann Coulter, and Newt Gingrich?
What separates Ben Carson from those he seeks to emulate is his extraordinary life story. He grew up in inner-city Detroit and graduated from Yale University and then Harvard Medical School. He became a gifted neurosurgeon and chief of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. President George W. Bush awarded Carson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian medal, for his contributions to medicine and to philanthropy.
Carson could've elevated the dismal state of political dialogue. Instead, he has contributed to it. He once represented the American dream; he has become Rush Limbaugh.
In October 2013, he called Obamacare the "worst thing that happened in this country since slavery." In February 2014, Carson said the Obama administration was acting like the Gestapo in investigating a popular right-wing commentator for income tax violations. In April 2014, he called Clive Bunch, the anti-government, renegade Nevada rancher, who said "blacks were better off as slaves," an "outstanding" person.
In January 2015, Carson compared the terrorist organization ISIS with our founding fathers. When he was criticized for this and other outlandish statements, Carson said that "political correctness" was turning the United States into Nazi Germany. In early March he told CNN that homosexuality is a choice because people "go into prison straight -- and when they come out, they're gay." On March 25, he called Obama a "psychopath."
The symptoms of a psychopath vary, but they include, among other things, grandiosity, diminished empathy, and disinhibited behavior, or, as one psychologist has put it, "high-speed vehicles with ineffective brakes."
Even if Carson achieves a following, what does it get him?
Perhaps Carson, who is a devout Christian, can find the answer in the Bible. Matthew 16:26 says: "And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?"
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