Who's on 'First': America's Obsession with Breaking the Political Mold

Regardless of whom Republicans support in the primaries, Dr. Ben Carson is an impressive and likeable guy.  He speaks simply and with eloquence about the issues that matter to Americans.  He exudes the wisdom of a successful and unassuming self-made man.  Yet although he is much admired, it would seem at this point that Dr. Carson has only a slight chance of becoming the Republican nominee and/or the president of the United States.  On the other hand, as the good doctor often points out, his phenomenal professional and personal achievements have so consistently exceeded the expectations of others that he has come to regard skepticism and negativity as spurs rather than deterrents.

Many Republicans are voicing alarm over the likelihood that the GOP’s primary field will be unusually crowded.  They express concern that the contenders will end up fighting each other instead of Hillary.  And even if that doesn’t happen, they fret that the attacks against the inevitable Democrat nominee will be interpreted as “piling on.”  As it is, the DNC playbook probably has an entire chapter on how to disparage Republican wannabes, the way New England Patriot staffers allegedly deflated footballs.

But Dr. Carson faces a special challenge because he is black.  It’s not that his race is a  major factor among Republicans.  After all, Herman Cain was a GOP favorite in the 2012 primary, though he was eventually sidelined by personal issues.  The bad news for Ben Carson is that Barack Obama beat him to the Oval Office.  Whether Obama has been a good or bad president is not at issue.  The fact is that we’ve already had the “first” black president.  And while “seconds” in America may be popular at dinnertime, they are less so at election time. 

That’s because we are enamored of “firsts.”  Trying something new is presumed to be a part of our competitive spirit.  America is described as a “nation of immigrants” and a “melting pot,” even if at times the elements do not seem to blend as  palatably as they might.  Nevertheless, the heady mix of ingredients is there, and from it arises an ebullience at the idea that anything is possible.  Over the opposition of many, John F. Kennedy became our “first Catholic” president.  And even though Mitt Romney didn’t realize his dream of becoming the “first Mormon” in the White House, America’s increasing diversity holds hope that other “firsts” will happen.

Now, in fact, we have a Democrat campaign strategy being built almost entirely around the idea of having “the first female” president of the United States.  As Hillary exhorted at an EMILY’s List confab, isn’t it about time?  Incidentally, the motto of that organization’s website is  “A Woman’s Place is in the White House.”  Being a “first” is regarded as an ace in the political hole.  Were Ms. Clinton not female, her mounting baggage would have long ago toppled her into oblivion.

Who knows what other “firsts” might come out of the upcoming election?  Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz will be touting the idea of being the “first” Latino president of the United States.  Rand Paul and Ben Carson may give impetus to having the “first” medical doctor to cure what ails us.  Carly Fiorina  might  unexpectedly ride to  victory on the skirt-tails of Hillary’s female ambition.  Indeed, Carly has a few “firsts” of her own to brag about, like being the CEO of a major U.S. information technology corporation.   

Yet, surprisingly, attempts to propel “firsts” into the office of vice president have  not met with success.  Two women – Democrat Geraldine Ferraro and Republican Sarah Palin – were tapped by their parties’ standard-bearers as running mates, only to find that the novelty was not compelling enough to sweep their teams into office.  I was once told that the second name on a national ballot really has no bearing on a voter’s choice.  Possibly a case in point is the fact that the Obama-Biden ticket was elected twice.  Incidentally, Dr. Carson was described in a liberal piece as alarmingly veering “from Horatio Alger to loose cannon.”  By contrast, Joe Biden’s offensive glibness is considered candidly refreshing by the same crowd. 

A case might possibly be made that the odds of a Ben Carson candidacy aren’t all that discouraging.  For even though coming on the heels of an Obama  presidency may lessen his chances of getting the nomination,  he is generally in a better field position than if he were, say, a white M.D. with virtually no prior political experience.

Carson’s compelling personal backstory becomes even more inspiring because, unlike Obama, he grew up poor in an inner-city ghetto, where even today so many young black men seem doomed to failure.  But unlike Obama’s mother, who, in effect, delivered him over to his well-to-do grandparents in Hawaii for care and nurturing, Carson’s single mom raised her sons on her own – and  on her own terms, based on a set of principles and a sense of optimism.

Even at that, it is a wonder that Ben Carson was able to overcome the general hardship of his circumstances and rise to the top of his profession.  In the wake of the recent mayhem in black neighborhoods, Dr. Carson becomes the kind of role model that a coddled Barack Obama could only pretend to be. 

Yet liberal gurus seem furious over the fact that Carson even presumes to run – and as a Republican.  A female MSNBC host accused him of “drinking the Kool-Aid of conservatism.”  Her bizarre argument was that affirmative action, put into place by Democrats, was responsible for getting him into college and qualifying him to become a world-renowned neurosurgeon.  Her highly racist presumption, of course, is that minorities in America are unable to excel academically unless their paths are greased by political correctness.

Such liberal rhetoric also shows their true priorities: that “firsts” – or groundbreaking choices of any kind in the electoral process – are all ideologically motivated.  To wit, political beliefs run far deeper than pigment  or DNA.  A “first” will be supported only if the person behind it conforms to the party line.  If there had been no Barack Obama in the White House, would liberals be in favor of putting Ben Carson there as the “first” black president?  When an accomplished female like Carly Fiorina throws her hat into the ring, does her name appear on EMILY’s List  of female candidates to support, since, after all, she could well break the glass ceiling in the Oval Office?

I doubt that many young blacks will even tune in to Dr. Carson’s message.  But they should.  The statistics in America’s black urban communities are nothing to be proud of.  A preponderance of births are to unwed mothers.  Too many schools are underperforming, presided over by entrenched teachers who have just about given up trying.  Unemployment among blacks is higher than it is for any other national demographic.  Ghettos are blighted by drugs, gangs, and violence.  Those who manage to survive in them are likely to face dead-end futures, without skills or decent jobs.  The recent urban destruction by angry blacks was broadcast worldwide, evoking not so much sympathy as fear.

And if these frustrated minorities don’t care about a candidate like Ben Carson, neither do they seem affected by the urgings of their own black leader, the man in whom they had placed so much trust and hope.  It baffles me that presidents are expected to show up – and pronto! – in areas devastated by natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, yet they feel free to stay comfortably away from man-made ones like Baltimore.  Is it that we are united against Nature’s wrath but divided over the havoc wrought by humans?

When Ben Carson was asked by a young person of color if he felt Obama’s election  as the first black president had spoiled his own chances,  he surprised everyone by saying that Obama is half-white, and Carson isn’t!  It is time for America’s obsession with “firsts” – in color or ancestry or gender – to give way to something more substantial: the ability of a candidate to recognize our national problems and find solutions that benefit all Americans.