His name has never once appeared on a ballot paper and he has never held public office. Yet Dr. Ben Carson has spent much of the past 50 days sitting second in the polls to be the presidential nominee for the Republican Party ahead of the 2016 election.
Only the insurgency of Donald Trump, a man with an equal paucity of elected experience, has demoted his rival to the role of subsidiary, though recent polls have Carson besting his competitor in the early voting state of Iowa.
Either way, both remain far ahead of the “traditional” candidates in the race for the nomination, a roster that includes three former governors, two current governors, three senators, one former senator and a member of the House of Representatives.
Much has been written about the appeal of “political outsiders” across the US and Europe in recent years. The predominant American narrative has Carson and Trump riding a wave of conservative discontent birthed by the election of Barack Obama, and nurtured by a Republican party impotent to offer coherent opposition ever since.
Yet Trump and Carson are also exploiting a very American flavor of disgruntlement – the obsessed, conspiratorial mindset of a pocket of the population besieged by paranoia and a fear of the hidden hand.
Their approaches, however, do differ. Whereas the billionaire property tycoon is peddling empty optimism, fawning to a sense of injustice that says a longstanding political cabal has robbed America of its God-given dominance of the world, Carson’s campaign has the hue of an Internet comment board, replete with Nazi analogies, hatred of the media, conflation of the welfare state and Stalin’s gulags… and yet more Nazis.
A fetish for Hitler references has contaminated Carson’s campaign, the MD given to likening the United States to the Third Reich or warning that Democratic policies are paving a path for the next Fuhrer. “Socialism” is discharged as a similar catchall for “bad.”
Although Trump recently denounced Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders as a “communist,” generally the businessman resists using McCarthyite slurs to attack his competitors. Evoking Herr Hitler or the Soviet Union is too thin a branch even for the rambunctious frontrunner. Not so Carson, who applies a heavy garnish of fascist fear mongering every time his feather-caked voice leaks towards a microphone.
Witness the recent gun debate following the Oregon shooting in which Carson shoehorned a Nazi analogy into the tragedy by suggesting the Holocaust would have been “greatly diminished” had the Jews been armed.
Likewise in 2013, Carson called Obamacare (that’s the provision of healthcare to millions of working class Americans), “the worst thing since slavery,” while noting that American citizens were living in a “Gestapo age.”
In August this year, Planned Parenthood, a non-profit organization that provides reproductive health services, was decried by Carson as an agent of “population control” in black neighborhoods. “Read about Margaret Sanger, who founded this place [Planned Parenthood],” he told Fox News. “Look and see what many people in Nazi Germany thought about her.”
On evolution Carson forewent the Nazis, settling on that other bête noir the Devil, arguing “the adversary” had possessed Charles Darwin and was therefore responsible for the Victorian naturalist’s famous theory. At the same meeting in 2012, he claimed the Big Bang was a “fairy tale” cooked up by “highfalutin scientists.”
When the doctor is challenged on his historical parallels, he claims he has either been misrepresented or misquoted, opting not to defend his position but to blame the media.
Much of Carson’s twaddle appears to be inspired by the 1958 book ‘The Naked Communist,’ in which the author heralds a Red plot to take over the world. “It reads like it was written last year,” Carson told Newsmax in 2014, while suggesting viewers read ‘Mein Kampf,’ to find out the truth about President Obama.
The ’58 tome was written by W. Cleon Skousen, a far right conspiracy theorist who, when not crusading against hidden communists in society, was warning against a cabal of global bankers. Although written half a century ago, this paranoia has become the tone for much of the right wing Internet, a vernacular that Carson is gleefully corralling into a run for the White House.
Policies aside, Carson is an odd chap – and not just because his eyelids look like a half-closed blinds with weights tied to the trim. The delicate tenor of his voice jars with the savagery of his rhetoric. Red faces etched with mounting dander usually deliver right wing bluster. Hearing Carson quietly mumble his way through musings on Hitler’s manifesto is jumbled.
The 64-year-old attributes his slow and measured demeanor to the tranquility of his faith. This maybe so, but faith likely accounts for Carson’s conspiratorial bent too. This is, after all, an educated man from Detroit who followed a successful career in medicine by becoming the author of hugely popular books in which he employed his own life story as an aspirational metaphor for the United States. Yet he speaks in sentences that could be cut from the bottom end of a comment board on YouTube.
It could be that the bounds of rationality have long since been breached. Carson fluffs with abandon his Seventh Day Adventism, a protestant sect that eagerly awaits the Second Coming of Christ. Central to the faith’s doctrine is the belief that the Son of God was due to swing by in 1844. He did not, but adherents insist he remains en route. If Carson can swallow that conspiracy with a straight face, perhaps it’s not surprising to find him indulging in more sinister make-believe, including jackboots goose-stepping up Pennsylvania Avenue.