The Ben Carson mirage
Why some Republicans think a charismatic brain surgeon can win the White House
BETWEEN now and the presidential primary season, expect to hear more about Ben Carson. Though unknown to many Americans, the retired brain surgeon is a conservative pin-up. He was raised by a black single mother in Detroit, almost flunked out of school and nearly stabbed a teenage rival to death, before finding God, heading to Yale and becoming a paediatric neurosurgeon. He has written several books about his life—one became a TV film (Dr Carson was played by Cuba Gooding junior).
Political celebrity came in 2013 when the doctor used a speech to a National Prayer Breakfast to lecture a stony-faced Barack Obama, sitting a few feet away, about the national debt, those who treat poverty as an excuse for failure and the “horrible” menace of political correctness. A Fox News TV contract followed, and many invitations to address conservative gatherings.
Fans want to draft Dr Carson to run for the presidency in 2016. They call him a citizen-statesman for an anti-politics age. They praise his philanthropy (he runs a scholarship fund for star pupils in poor schools), and his appeal to churchgoing, socially conservative voters of all races. Their idol has said that he might run “if the Lord grabbed me by the collar and made me”. Some are willing to try more earthly interventions. According to official filings, the recently-formed National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee (slogan: “Run Ben Run!”) raised $1.2m dollars in the last two months of 2013. The committee, which operates without sanction from Dr Carson, boasts that it has raised another $1.6m since. The committee’s co-founder, Vernon Robinson, makes an unblushing, race-based pitch. Democrats have scooped about 90% of the black vote in presidential elections since 2000, helping to offset a consistent Republican lead among whites. In 2016, argues Mr Robinson, Dr Carson has only to take 17% of the black vote and “Hillary loses every swing state in the country”.
支持者們想提名Carson醫生競選2016年總統，稱他為反政治時代的平民政治家。他們頌揚他的慈善心（他設立了專為窮困小學優秀學生提供的獎學金），而且他呼吁人們去教堂，全種族的社會性投票。他們的偶像說如果上帝勒住他的領子、命令他，他可能會去參選。一些人則愿意嘗試世俗性的干預。根據一些官方文件角料，2013年最后兩月，最近組建的全國性Ben Carson競選委員會（標語：“競選 Ben 奔起來！”）籌集到120萬美元。Carson醫生沒有認可這個委員會，而他們還吹噓道自那時起又籌集到160萬美元。創始人之一的Vernon Robinson還做了一個不要臉的、基于競選的促銷活動。民主黨人應經搶先奪取從2000年來總統選舉中的90%黑人選票，用于對抗民主黨一如既往的白人支持率。Robinson說2016年，Carson只奪了17%的黑人選票，就讓“希拉里輸掉了全國所有持觀望態度的州選票”。
At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), a three-day shindig attracting big-name Republicans that ended on March 8th, Dr Carson was given a prominent speaking slot. He drew cheers with a talk that delivered partisan attacks (eg, Obamacare is a “massive” government power-grab) in a paediatrician’s mild tones (a favouriteCarsoninsult is to call foes “dummies”). CPAC attracts a young crowd with a libertarian bent: think students in blazers and bow-ties, and pamphlets headed “How to debate your teacher (and win!)”. Still,Carsonfans were excited when their man came third in a presidential straw poll of CPAC-goers, behind Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz but beating heavyweights such as Senator Marco Rubio, Governor Chris Christie and Representative Paul Ryan. It was a revealing moment, but not because Dr Carson can win the White House. To be clear, he will not even win the presidential nomination. His rise is interesting because of what it says about Republicans today.
3月8號結束的，連續舉辦三天，吸引眾多共和黨大人物保守黨政治活動會議（CPAC）上，Carson醫生成為重要的致辭者。他在宴會致辭時，以一個兒科專家的溫和音調，將黨派攻擊呈現出來（例如，奧巴馬醫改是“顯著的”政府權力濫用）（Carson最喜歡用的輕蔑語是稱對手為“傻瓜”）。CPAC吸引了愛好自由的年輕群體：他們認為學生是開拓者，宣傳冊上寫著“怎么樣與老師辯論（而且是勝利?。?。Carson的支持者們還在為民調中他取得第三位好成績而興奮，僅次于Rand Paul議員和Ted Cruz，擊敗了重量級選手Marco Rubio議員，Chris Christie州長和Paul Ryan代表。這是有啟迪性的一刻，但不是因為Carson醫生能入主白宮。甚至，很明確的是，他將不會贏得總統提名。因為談論了共和黨人的事情，他的威望提升才變得有趣。
Republicans have flirted before with self-made men from outside politics. Remember Herman Cain, the pizza tycoon whose folksy manner and populist tax plans propelled him to giddy heights in 2011, before sex scandals dragged him down and out of the presidential primaries? Dr Carson is no Herman Cain. Before the 2012 election Republican activists looked at a string of odd-bods and firebrands, casting about for someone, anyone, who thrilled them more than their eventual nominee, Mitt Romney.
共和黨人層和政壇外部的成功人士接觸過。還記得Herman Cain，披薩巨頭，行事隨和，計劃推行平民稅收促使他在2011年排名讓人眼前一亮，后來性丑聞將他從競選圈內排除。Carson醫生不是Herman。2012年的選舉之前，共和黨活動者們聚焦了一串“臨時工”和“煽動者”，尋找一些人，任何人，能讓他們比推出最終提名者Mitt Romney更興奮。
This time Republicans seem more sober-minded. A bit unexpectedly, their current mood takesLexingtonback to early 2004, and to (cold, snowy) memories of coveringNew Hampshire’s Democratic presidential primary. Back then it was fractious Democrats who were united by their loathing of the sitting president—seeing George W. Bush as not just wrong-headed but un-American and dangerous. Yet even as Democrats told themselves that they representedAmerica’s true values, they were troubled by doubts about their ability to win overall majorities in a country that was stubbornly hostile to their arguments.
Their first response was to blame their opponents and the media for sowing division and fear (just as Republicans do today). Their second response was to fret about their bench of White House contenders—a line-up of lightweights, shrill partisans and ponderous elder statesmen.
Democrats sought a quick fix: candidates with sterling military records to reassure a nation at war. In the end that meant picking John Kerry, whose war service proved less helpful than hoped. But for a period, notably aroundNew Hampshire’s primary, wild hopes were pinned on Wesley Clark, a retired four-star general with no political experience.
民主黨人尋求了快速法：選一批有純正軍方背景的候選人讓戰時國家安心。最后選了John Kerry，但是他的戰爭經歷沒有像預期那樣提供足夠幫助。但有一段時間，尤其是對于New Hamshire預選，狂熱的希望寄托在Wesley Clark的身上，他是一位沒有政壇經歷的退休四星上將。
The myth of the heroic outsider
A decade on, Republicans seem equally unconvinced by their likely presidential contenders, and Dr Carson has the makings of a new Wesley Clark: a successful man, unready for the blowtorch scrutiny of politics. Some of his views might startle his party: for example, he favours stiff tariffs on manufactured imports. And he is already proving thin-skinned. At CPAC, he accused the press of distorting what he had meant when he called Obamacare the worst thing to happen in America “since slavery”, or when he seemed to equate gay-marriage advocates with child-molesters.
Republicans are bullish about November’s mid-term elections, when turnouts are usually low and the electorate skews whiter, older and more conservative. However, the more thoughtful know that the race for the White House in 2016 will be far harder. Swelling ranks of non-white and younger voters have never enjoyed the American dream of rising living standards. Their pessimism poses a test for Republicans whose creed is that hard work leads to success, if government will only get out of the way. Alas, too many conservatives—like Democrats in 2004—are too blinded by dislike of the president to grasp the limits of their own popularity. Hence their desire for quick fixes, as represented by folk like Dr Carson. But quick fixes seldom work.