Is Ben Carson [Really and Truly] Running for President?
Vote for Ben Carson, or better yet, send him money. Photo: Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters/Corbis
By Jonathan Chait, New York Mag
On February 7, 2013, Ben Carson appeared at a National Prayer Breakfast, where he visibly annoyed President Obama by delivering a right-wing speech denouncing Obamacare and cultural liberalism, and calling for a flat tax based on the biblical tithe. Conservatives, still devastated by Obama’s reelection, took delight in the appearance on the scene of a surprising new presidential antagonist, who until that point had no political profile. “Finally, a self-reliant conservative decided to make this every bit as political as Obama does,” tweeted conservative pundit David Limbaugh.
The Wall Street Journal celebrated Carson’s remarks in a short editorial, headlined “Ben Carson for President.” The headline was obviously hyperbolic; nothing in the text that followed proposed that Carson run for public office.
But now Carson actually is running for president. Or is he? It is hard to tell. Conservative politics are so closely intermingled with a lucrative entertainment complex that it is frequently impossible to distinguish between a political project (that is, something designed to result in policy change) and a money-making venture. Declaring yourself a presidential candidate gives you access to millions of dollars' worth of free media attention that can build a valuable brand. So the mere fact that Carson calls himself a presidential candidate does not prove he is actually running for president rather than taking advantage of the opportunity to build his brand. Indeed, it is possible to be actually leading the polls without seriously trying to win the presidency.
And the notion that Carson could be president is preposterous. The problem is not only that he has never run for elected office. He has never managed a large organization; he has not worked in and around public policy, and he lacks a competent grasp of issues. His stance on health care, the closest thing to an issue with which his professional experience has brought him into contact, is gibberish. He mostly thrills audiences by scoffing at evolution and insisting Muslims be barred from the presidency, stances he cannot even defend coherently.