Let’s be honest: Ben Carson is an interesting cat. That’s not all bad. Unusual people change the world. Some of my best friends are weird. But if I were to run into him at some event, having no knowledge of his academic pedigree or accomplishments, and he started talking to me in that sort of whispering voice, I would probably smile and nod — and then slowly back away, making no sudden movements.
It’s hard to perfectly define what makes you think someone is strange. Like pornography, you know it when you see it. And I’m not the only one who has noticed. This is from National Review’s Alexis Levinson, who has covered Carson on the campaign trail:
He’s told voters not only about his sex life, but also about the time the drug dealer who gave him candy as a kid was killed — as well as plenty of the gritty details of many brain surgeries. His style sets him apart, too: “He’s got a very unique sort of speaking style in that he’s very soft-spoken, but also sometimes it looks like he’s closing his eyes. From a stylistic perspective, he’s certainly outside what you would think of as normal politicians,” says Republican consultant Reed Galen.
Galen hits on something. Sometimes Carson closes his eyes, and sometimes it seems like he’s not really looking at the camera. He also sometimes has a blank look on his face. And then, there are the interesting things he sometimes says.
Now that Carson is at the top of the polls, you can expect some of his eccentricities and inconsistencies to be highlighted. In the past, for example, Carson has talked with me (and many others) about having attempted to stab a classmate. Today, it was reported that CNN can find no proof of Carson’s allegedly violent past.
There’s also his 1998 pyramid theory, which is making the rounds today: “My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain,” he said.
This, of course, brings up Carson’s religion. “…Seventh-day Adventist, I don’t know about. I just don’t know about,” Donald Trump said recently. My fervent hope is that we leave religion out of it. It might serve as one more data point for anyone looking for a “Rosebud” moment, but it’s hardly the only one.
If you’re a black kid in Detroit who grows up to be not just a famous neurosurgeon, but a conservative — you are, by definition, weird. When something approaching 95 percent of blacks are Democrats, it stands to reason that the kinds of African Americans who self-identify as Republicans are, by definition, outside the mainstream of their community.
Whatever it is that makes Ben Carson unique, he can hardly complain. In a sense, Carson’s success is more stunning than Trump’s — and, perhaps, an even better argument that the “outsider” ethos is a new and powerful phenomenon. I might not like Donald Trump’s politics, but his appeal is understandable — it’s essentially what every successful demagogue has employed. But the notion that a good chunk of the Republican base finds Carson, a man who strikes me viscerally as unusual, wildly appealing is perhaps a sign that things have really really changed.