Dr. Ben Carson has very quickly climbed the ranks of prospective Republican presidential candidates thanks to some obvious strengths: he’s relatively young, eloquent, polite, passionate and generally conservative. Frustratingly for Republicans, Carson has repeatedly and publicly declined any offers to run for office, preferring instead to speak at events across the United States and author well-received books. If it’s a tactic to whip up support, it’s a time-honoured one that often pays off during the primaries.
Carson’s sixth book is the recently released One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future, a surgeon’s call for massive series of procedures to save the Republic. He addresses everything from Obamacare to the apathy of the American public. At its core, Carson’s latest argues that it’s time for both principled Republicans and Democrats to come together and reject the politics of division, mudslinging and hate and embrace a more traditional view of the United States as enunciated in the constitution of the country.
There might lay the weakness in Carson’s efforts. While he calls for unity amongst Democrats and Republicans, his agenda is generally conservative and Christian in nature. While that may appeal to the so-called Blue Dog Democrats on some issues – fiscal policy, for example – it’s somewhat hard to believe that Democrats beyond the centre of their party would subscribe to Carson’s call for the end to welfare or the imposition of income taxes on the poor. The two sides are unable to even agree on how to interpret the constitution, a cornerstone of Carson’s prescription, let alone on an interpretation of that constitution.
With that said, Carson is correct in One Nation when he argues that people of principle can agree to disagree more cordially and respectfully with each other. Only an ideologue would deny that political correctness has led to a fear by many to express disagreement with activists. It’s probably also fair to say that issues that both sides agree need to be addressed could potentially be resolved with approaches that both sides see as effective – not compromise but rather an honest win-win for both sides. And Carson is most certainly on track when he says that Americans must better educate themselves on issues and turn away from candidates whose tactics are to fear monger and divide.
Although Carson is usually identified as a political conservative, it must be noted that he himself has no official political affiliation, arguing that the United States needs less partisan politics and more logical politics. That has led him to generally adopt conservative political positions with the occasional twist. In One Nation he generally defends the Second Amendment but in previous public statements he has also advocated that assault weapons should be banned in major urban areas. His book sees numerous and strenuous attacks on Obamacare but Carson also opens the door to some kind of universal health care when he argues that a compassionate society should ensure a minimum level of health care. He just wants it cheaper and more efficient – such as with the use of Healthcare Savings Account.
Carson’s appeal to the political right is obvious – Christian and more often than not conservative – and to the Republican Party he checks off a number of key categories in a more politically, philosophically and culturally diverse country. Whether he’s more philosophically Ronald Reagan then George W. Bush remains to be seen but One Nation shows him to be a thoughtful and compelling figure that has the potential to gather support from many constituencies. Hopefully his contribution to American politics, if it’s not a candidacy, is to lower the temperature and remind people that it is possible to speak to each other civilly even in the midst of profound disagreement – and give those cold shoulder that thrive on division.