Carson for Fuhrer

Ach du Liebe, Dr. Carson!


From the moment Ben Carson entered the public eye, bashing Obamacare at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013, many conservatives clamored for him to run for president. Even when Carson indicated that he would not run, groups–often nefarious groups–collected money in his name, claiming that they needed the money to urge Carson to run. His soft-spokenness, unapologetic appeal to principle and religious dedication endear him to conservatives tired of the self-promotional bombast of typical politicians. For Republicans looking to change the Party image, the black Carson offers a rebuttal against the stereotype that the GOP regards blacks with hostility. Carson writes about his successful career as a neurosurgeon in “Gifted Hands,” the most popular of his books. Before him, no one had ever successfully separated craniopagus twins. That said, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to see that Dr. Carson’s newly announced presidential campaign’s greatest weaknesses may be the candidate himself.

In any presidential campaign, the potential nominee must be supremely accomplished, as is Dr. Carson. However, Americans have yet to decide what kind of experience best translates to being a good president. So far, we appear to favor Ivy League lawyers (sorry, Scott Walker), governors (sorry, Rand Paul), and distinguished military service personnel (sorry, John Kerry). Each of those fields, and elements of others, correspond to some responsibility of the Executive office. This means less to Dr. Carson whose success in an admirable profession will hardly disqualify him. The point, though, is that in the absence of knowing what profession best predicts the skill set necessary to be a successful president, Americans faced with fields of accomplished candidates look for more superficial traits–namely those that make a candidate a good campaigner. Dr. Carson, for all of his accomplishments, fails where it matters the most–as a politician.

“I gotta tell you something. I’m not politically correct,” Carson said during his official presidential announcement. “I’m not a politician. I don’t want to be a politician. Politicians do what is politically expedient. I want to do what’s right.”

Carson’s line, appropriately striking a populist tone, attempts to cover him for some egregious remarks he’s made–remarks that he must renounce. Saying that “Obamacare is really…the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery,” and then doubling down, saying that “it is slavery,” represents a monumentally stupid statement. Todd Akin stupid. (Abortion ranks higher than Obamacare on the spectrum of morally reprehensible policies, I think.) In March, Carson apologized for saying that prison turns straight men gay. This statement brought such a backlash, that Carson refuses to address gay rights issues (a pivotal topic in America right now) for the rest of the presidential campaign.

Then, there is his comparing America to Nazi Germany–implying that the IRS equates to the SS or the Gestapo. One needn’t be Jewish to take offense to a comparison that trivializes the most sinister part of Nazism–the genocide. Still, Carson stands by his comments, and this represents a problem for Republicans who want to win the 2016 election.

Clearly, Democrats have a problem: their wealthiest candidate also has the best name recognition and potentially gives the Party four more years to develop new talent that is sorely lacking. This candidate, though, is Hillary Clinton: the secretive, corrupt, overly-ambitious, unaccomplished Hillary Clinton. Democrats look across the aisle and see formidable Republican candidates assembling to take control of the third branch of our three branch government, and potentially secure further control in the Supreme Court by replacing aging conservative judges and perhaps even Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The left’s best chance to denigrate the Republican Party is to paint the candidates as out of touch extremists, as clowns, as unserious. Just as Akin’s comments hurt the entire Republican field in 2012, forcing candidates outside of Missouri to speak to Akin’s gaffe, Democrats are always on the lookout for another candidate that can help them advance their narrative and direct the electorate to discuss a stupid statement rather than the issues at hand. Alexandra Jaffe, writing about Carson’s Nazi Germany statement for CNN.com, writes: “Carson’s unapologetic, outspoken style has contributed to his meteoric rise within the conservative movement and the Republican Party more broadly…” The subtext of Jaffe’s statement  is that conservatives like Carson’s crazy statements, and his egotistical refusal to walk them back. Between Ted Cruz’ government shutdown and Ben Carson’s “wrong-but-strong” proclamations, Democrats have strong opportunities to smear the party–perhaps even well enough to damage our aspirations.

While I hope that Dr. Carson contributes positively to the 2016 race, I highly doubt that Republicans will make the mistake of nominating him to represent the party in this important election. The accomplished, Dr. Carson may do well as Surgeon General; or as a beloved conservative speaker, campaigner, and writer. Whether or not he wins the nomination, though, I don’t foresee him leading the United States into a Fourth Reich.

America Untethered

“For the first time in my 72 years, I have no idea what’s going on,” writes Pulitzer Prize winning writer, Henry Allen, in the Wall Street Journal. “We are all outsiders with no inside to be outside of…What a strange time it is to be alive in America.”

What a strange time indeed.

Since President Barack Obama and the Democrats committed to “fundamentally transforming the United States of America,” Americans find themselves increasingly perplexed by events–untethered to the immutable, reliable reality of life in an ordered society. Police are the enemy. Marijuana is legal. Marriage is redefined. Iran is a negotiating partner.

What’s happened?

The American Left increasingly exchanges its championship of liberal virtues for support of the avant garde. Ronald Brownstein and Libby Isenstein of National Journal provide a series of charts showing how the Democrat Party has realigned politically while the Republican Party changed much more modestly. These charts, sourced with data gathered in Pew Research Center surveys, show that the percentage of Democrats self identifying as “very liberal” has dramatically increased since 1996. On some issues, too, Democrats have “evolved” more substantially than the general public.

Judging by Obama’s drive to normalize relations with Cuba and to broker a nuclear deal with Iran, there appears no slowing of the Democrats’ trend.

This helps make the 2016 election so crucial.

Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard, makes this very case.

“The importance of a presidential election depends on what’s at stake…Now…the stakes are even higher than 36 years ago. Not only is the economy unsteady but threats to American power and influence around the world are more pronounced and widespread.”

Barnes’ assertion rings true. But how does it connect to Democrats’ unmooring America from once accepted social norms and order? The answer rests in the courts–specifically, the Supreme Court.

“Four justices are 76 or older. Two…are liberals. Antonin Scalia (79) is a conservative. And Anthony Kennedy (78) is a swing vote.”

Control of the Supreme Court affects lower court rulings and much of America’s character for generations. Liberals understand this and cheer whenever their agenda is codified by courts. The implications of these decisions will outlast us–and likely our offspring as well.

Unfortunately, pundits deem every election “The Most Important Election in the Entire History of Civilization.” Americans, myself included, tire of the superlative and consider it nothing more than talking heads crying wolf. Considering the Democrat Party’s sharp leftward turn, though, there is something to be said about using the 2016 election to take stock of where we are, where we came from, and where we want to go, before these changes are cast in stone by a liberal Supreme Court.

A Republican president elected in 2016 will likely preside over the retirements of justices Ginsburg, Scalia, Kennedy, and Breyer. With a friendly Congress, these judges could be replaced with strong conservatives. At the end of one term, Justice Thomas will reach 70 years old and Alito will be 69, granting the next president the opportunity to replace six Supreme Court justices.

On the other hand, a Democratic president could do the same, if he/she enters the White House in 2016, leaving us to collectively ponder the rest Allen’s quote:

“I worry that reality itself is fading like the Cheshire cat, leaving behind only a smile that grows ever more alarming.”

Rand’s Gambit

Another Dash of Salt?


Rand Paul’s campaign announcement, while not a surprise, has appropriately electrified the media and the Republican Party. This Paul campaign promises real change for American politics and for the GOP, in part, because Rand, unlike his father, stands a chance to win Republican delegates. Pegged as a libertarian, Paul fancies himself a different kind of Republican–one who aims to broaden the Party by moving it toward classical liberalism and one focused on welcoming newcomers. This hope relies on two assumptions: one–a large libertarian political block lies dormant, awaiting a candidate who speaks to their values. Two–Mr. Paul epitomizes the libertarian savior.

Libertarians argue that the reason conservative and liberal claims of an untapped electorate favorable to their views never seems to materialize, indicates that the unmotivated voters actually hold libertarian views. David Boaz, the Executive Vice President of the Cato Institute, makes the case:

“Events of the past few years have pushed voters in a libertarian direction, causing some observers to talk about a ‘libertarian moment’ in American politics…A 2006 Zogby poll for the Cato Institute asked respondents, ‘Would you describe yourself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal?’ Fully 59 percent said yes…That’s a huge untapped market for a candidate who can cut across red-blue barriers.”

This rosy assessment belies too many other indicators to hold water. For example, Gary Johnson and Ron Paul ran libertarian campaigns that never gained traction. Johnson failed to attract enough support to participate in most of the GOP nomination debates. Furthermore, if the Zogby poll supports Mr. Boaz’ assertion, then with 59% of all voters holding libertarian views, some of them would be in the Democrat Party pushing it rightward on economic matters.One may ask, then, where are those libertarians in the Democrat Party calling for more conservative fiscal policy–like a balanced budget amendment?

To be gracious, let us assume that 58% of those libertarian voters find their home in the GOP, while the remaining 1% struggles to get a word in edgewise in the DNC. That could argue that a sizeable number of Republican voters are libertarians. New York Times writer, Nate Cohn, offers the best refutation of that myth by way of empirical evidence:

“In one sense, you could argue that the libertarian wing of the Republican Party barely exists at all. According to a large Pew Research survey in 2014 of 10,000 respondents, 11 percent of Americans and 12 percent of self-identified Republicans considered themselves libertarian…If we take a different tack and use issue positions, rather than self-identification, to identify libertarian voters, we still find only a small number of Republicans who consistently agree with Mr. Paul’s libertarian views. Only 8 percent of self-identified Republican-leaners in the Pew data take the libertarian position on four issues that [Rand Paul] emphasizes: disapproval of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program; support for a more restrained American role in the world; skepticism of the efficacy of military intervention; and a relaxation on drug sentencing.”

As for the second assumption of the Paul campaign, that he personifies the libertarian savior (for the small number of libertarians existing in peril)–perhaps a second look is warranted.

For starters, Paul never referred to himself as a libertarian, but rather as libertarian-ish. Boaz points out that Paul breaks from libertarians on gay marriage (he opposes it), abortion (he opposes it), and drone strikes against ISIS (he supports them). These positions Boaz believes work to “nudge the GOP in a libertarian direction” and make libertarianism more palatable.

On the topic of palate, the best analogy I know regarding libertarianism comes from a Northwestern professor of mine, Jeffrey Rice. Rice said to me, “libertarianism is like salt: a little bit can be good. Too much can spoil the meal.”
It’s impossible to say how well Rand Paul will fare in the GOP primary. Paul’s intelligence, passion, and courage should go a long way to endear him to many voters inside and outside of the Republican Party. Of the many challenges he faces, though, he must reconcile his appeal and his philosophy. A move to the Party’s mainstream represents a safe bet at the risk of altering his rogue image. A gamble for a large libertarian contingent, that may not exist, could ultimately spell humiliating defeat.