Election 2016: Ben Carson’s Feet of Clay

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The success of Ben Carson has baffled the political establishment (and me) since he began his rise in the polls. I certainly thought after each of three low-knowledge, low-energy debate performances that the good doctor would fade. Yet he has only risen and even pipped Donald Trump, the longtime frontrunner, in recent polls.

Gifted Hands

It is easy to see the elements of Carson’s story and experience that would get him attention. A gifted surgeon who rose from poverty to world renown. A philanthropist and author. A devoted husband and churchgoer. A message promising to heal a divided America and to bring the common sense of ordinary people (leavened with a brain surgeon’s genius of course) back to Washington.

Despite that positive story, Carson has fallen down on policy issues and necessary knowledge that seems to reveal a man wholly unqualified to lead the United States. From the debt ceiling to healthcare, to immigration, Carson has shown only a surface-level knowledge of the real issues facing this country. Without a plan of action and the capacity to actually assess alternative courses, no amount of healing rhetoric can help this country.

The Pyramid Makers

While no amount of policy ignorance has managed to knock Carson down the rankings, a recent spate of scandals and revelations may do. This week it was revealed that Carson had once stated a belief that the pyramids were not in fact built over many centuries to house the remains of the pharaohs, but were instead built by the Biblical patriarch Joseph to house grain (you may remember the story from your Bible studies or, more likely, from “Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat”). When confronted about this statement a few days ago, Carson said he stood by those remarks.

A belief in the Bible and the Christian God is hardly a disqualifier for the presidency. In fact, faith remains a major positive trait cited by voters. But choosing to ignore the entirety of the archaeological and historical record in favor of an unsubstantiated personal guess is indicative of a dangerous mode of thinking.

The Past Haunts Him

Carson’s extremely unorthodox view of archaeology probably won’t be a deal-breaker to primary voters. But a few recent revelations of past dishonesty. For several days, journalists have been digging into Carson’s claims of a troubled and violent youth. So far they have found little to no evidence of the doctor’s claims. Obviously, this does not make him a liar, but the absence of corroboration is starting to raise eyebrows in the media and among his opponents for the nomination.

What does make Carson a liar is his claim to have been accepted to West Point when in fact he never even applied. This is a small, even inconsequential lie in itself. But alongside the other bizarre judgment calls Carson has made, and the continued skepticism toward other elements of his biography, people may start to question whether the newly minted frontrunner can go the distance.

It’s unclear how all this will play out in the coming weeks. Perhaps Carson will continue to defy gravity. But with his opponents scenting blood in the water, he had better move fast to stanch the bleeding.

About John Engle

John Engle is a merchant banker and author living in the Chicago area. His work has been featured by the Heartland Institute and the American Thinker. His first book, Trinity Student Pranks: A History of Mischief and Mayhem, was published in September 2013. John is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland and the University of Oxford. Read more from this author.