In the annals of presidential politics, it’s hard to recall anyone who has tried so hard to be so ordinary.
The fascinating story of Dr. Ben Carson’s attempts to ungild his lily by telling awful stories about himself — he tried to stab a classmate, later identified as a “close relative,” and hit his mother with a hammer? — will be its own chapter someday, if not in a collection of strange campaigns then perhaps in a catalog of psychological classifications.
Masochistic/Narcissistic Conflation Syndrome? (I made that up.)
The illustrious Carson seems to have found his own too-good-to-be-true life story too good to be true — or to bear. ’Tis a mystery: Why would this amazing man serially seek to belittle himself in the eyes of his admirers?
It is one thing to try to connect with people by sharing stories of common challenges or suffering. Al Gore talked of his sister’s cancer; George W. Bush was candid about his drinking problem. But it is something else to disperse wildly discordant anecdotes for the sake of unpainting a portrait. Is Carson a closet iconoclast?
Or, is it just too much being amazing?
Words like “amazing” and “remarkable” have followed Carson around all his life. Born to a teen mother, abandoned by his father, he somehow, miraculously, grew up to become a storybook pediatric neurosurgeon. The subject of a movie, he also authored a book that home-schooled children read as part of their curriculum.
Handsome, widely recognized as a superior physician, unexcitable and thoughtful, one could hardly imagine a more impeccable example of The Good Man. But perhaps the burden of perfection and the expectations that have stalked him led him to reveal a less-perfect being.
Maybe Carson is just trying to be human.
The problem with “bad” Ben Carson is that hardly any of his stories can be verified by reporters, leading to doubts about their veracity. If most people fib or exaggerate their resumes to get their dream job, what kind of man diminishes a story beloved by all? Why not just tell us Ronald Reagan was a pessimist?
On the one hand, one might say, who cares? On the other, people naturally would be curious to know more about histories that conflict so dramatically with the persona of a man they thought they knew.
Is he telling the truth? Does his memory not serve? Stories also have changed in the tellings, which isn’t unusual among storytellers. It’s when you decide to run for president that they become problematic. Rather than offering clarity, Carson has defaulted to blaming the media for unfair, disproportionate vetting.
Nonsense. Why bait a hook if you don’t want a fish?
Yet another odd tale has surfaced concerning a paternity claim Carson says was brought against him several years ago. Writing about it in a 2014 op-ed, he apparently was trying to make a case against “Chicago-style” politics and “how the blackmail threat operates” by reciting his personal experience. By his telling, he received a call in the operating room from the legal department at Johns Hopkins University informing him that the state of Florida was trying to garnish his wages for child support for a son he had fathered.
Carson wrote that he refused to provide a DNA sample, saying that he distrusted the government to handle things properly and feared that his DNA might show up at some murder scene.
Seriously? What is he suggesting? The case closed as mysteriously as it opened.
About 50 questions come immediately to mind, starting with: Who calls a doctor in the operating room to discuss ... anything? Who was the woman? Who was the boy? Was there ever a woman, a boy or a call?
While these and other puzzles continue to animate the media, as they should, Carson has indeed revealed himself to be a strategic iconoclast, successfully signaling to the Republican base the following targeted messages: He distrusts government; he was imperfect before faith corrected his course; the media are the enemy of the people; he’s been faithful to his wife.
Most important, he’s nothing like that other “Chicago-style” black male who happens to be president. Translation: I am not a superhero; I am you.
Except of course, he’s not like anyone else on the planet, which is why so many have found him so appealing. He’s a man of a higher order, unless he’s not. In which case, one is left to wonder: Who is Dr. Ben Carson?
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group.