If you don't know who Ben Carson is, you should. He's a hero and role model to millions. With hard work and gifted hands, Carson traveled from working-class Detroit roots to become head of pediatric neurosurgery at the prestigious Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the first physician to successfully separate conjoined twins linked at the head.
After taking a seventh-place finish in the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll, having Sean Hannity devote a full hour to him, and receiving flattering coverage in The New York Times and Washington Post, Carson is getting plenty of exposure as the conservative movement's latest obsession. For a guy who's never run for office and whose go-to line is "I'm not politically correct," it's been a quick transition from outspoken pediatrician to savior status among Republicans.
And while it's probably not as bad as MSNBC's Toure Neblett opined Friday - that conservatives are "assuaging their guilt" by swooning over their "new black friend" (pretty harsh) - it does raise the question of whether Carson mania is about the man or about the perception that he's the Republicans' answer to President Barack Obama. After all, Carson is no Herman Cain - he's got bipartisan cred and eschews the pizza executive's cartoonish antics. But that still doesn't mean he's the ideological antidote to the first black president.
Yet ever since February's National Prayer Breakfast, when Carson - with Obama sitting just a few chairs away - took on Obamacare and floated the idea of a 10 percent flat tax (modeled after Christian tithing), he's been touted as a contender by those looking for an Obama counterweight.
Carson is headlining a GOP event in Atlanta next month. But despite being blessed with a Tony Robbins-like gift of gab, and contrary to the hopes of some on the right, there's little chance that he'll ever be president.
Why? Because he's not a politician, and even though there's a distaste on the right for "career politicians," politics is, indeed, a career. More often than not, those who have practiced the craft are those who succeed at it. It's no accident that Mitt Romney and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina were underwhelming candidates - since the attributes that make a good business leader aren't always those that make a good political leader.
Because when it comes to policy prescriptions, the devil is always in the details.
Carson's 10 percent flat tax has a nice, simple ring to it - until you consider that government revenues have to pay for our wars, national parks, interstate highways, food and drug inspection, Border Patrol and Head Start. And Carson's plan for health savings accounts sounds like a good idea - but how do you get there from a system with the individual mandate layered atop the employer mandate, and a country full of sick, broke people who need everything from dialysis to ADHD medication?
Plus, there's built-in hypocrisy when conservatives cheer the pro-education, pro-family message that Carson delivers in speeches, but then criticize the same message if it comes from Obama. It wasn't Carson who said, "You can't drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You've got to work for it and train for it and learn for it." It was Obama, in a 2009 speech to America's schoolkids that Republicans feverishly boycotted.
Republicans need fresh faces and fresh ideas; their own research says so. But if they're looking for a black icon - and Carson surely is one - who will take on the task of running down the black president, then they're sending him on a fool's errand.
Carson will make an impact on the political scene, but before he goes from full-time healer to part-time speechmaker, he - and the conservatives championing him - would be better served if they took a slightly more critical look at why Obama won the last two presidential elections and accepted that the skill set needed to be a brilliant physician isn't necessarily the skill set of a statesman. You would no sooner ask Carson to order an airstrike than you would look to Obama to separate conjoined twins.
And figuring that out isn't exactly brain surgery.
David Swerdlick is a contributing editor to The Root.