The most well-received remarks at this year’s CPAC were indubitably Rand Paul’s, who was likely test driving his Republican National Convention nominee acceptance speech. Barely trailing him in cheers, applause and audience size was Dr. Ben Carson. Carson is known as one of the most accomplished physicians of his time, but is building momentum as a rising star among conservatives. Hotel room keys and the shuttles to Union Station are adorned with Carson’s face, next to slogans endorsing him for president in 2016. During his speech, enthusiasts held up signs that read, “Run, Ben, run!” and the ballroom’s sudden swelled in size from onlookers and supporters. Carson’s relaxed mannerisms and tightly focused speech make him a natural, if unlikely, politician, and his prodigious career in medicine certainly qualifies him to discuss health care policy. But President? CPAC has had no shortage of eyebrow-raising moments, but that is the most unconventional one yet. Though Republicans once nominated a former Hollywood actor who went on to be a two-term president, so anything is possible.
Dr. Carson hit his talking points with airstrike precision, to the delight of his audience, who punctuated nearly every point he made with an ovation. Carson disparaged political correctness, likely a nod to the social conservatives who have been feeling that their place in public discourse is increasingly restricted as of late. And then, predictably, he launched into his tirade against Obamacare. And that was precisely when he lost anyone with a level head who has been following Carson’s ascendancy with interest.
Carson referenced—and defended—his claim that Obamacare is the worst thing to happen to this society since slavery, calling anyone who believes that he equated the two institutions a “dummy”. Aside from that claim being patently false—there were a number of things that were nearly as bad as slavery, but none so awful as slavery itself—it is an irresponsible claim to make as a physician. Doctors are trusted to be objective and rely on facts to make decisions on courses of treatment. The fact that Carson was willing to wade into the political fray, making claims that can be easily misconstrued is alarming. Anyone hoping that Carson would bring some balance and perspective to the blaring rhetoric from CPAC this weekend was in for a disappointment.
Carson’s best-selling books—the nonpolitical ones—are nothing like his speeches, and the vast disparity between the two personas is unsettling. The pediatric neurosurgeon whose memoirs I read as a child emphasized self-reliance, hard work, and trust in Providence to achieve the impossible. The speaker today was a speech away from running for office on fearmongering and repealing Obamacare. I was hoping to see more of the man I trusted to perform a complex operation instead of a pedantic speaker that validated the borderline irrational whims of CPAC attendees.