Who is Ben Carson?

Ever heard of him? Well, I hadn’t either until February of this year, when he made a splash at the National Prayer Breakfast and philosophically challenged the White House on taxes and health care in a way that garnered mass exposure. The speech seemed to attract particular attention because Carson’s views were generally interpreted to be conservative. President Barack Obama happened to be in attendance and, according to a report in The Christian Science Monitor that appeared March 20, sat stone-faced nearby, caught completely off-guard.

Meanwhile The Washington Times speculated that it might never have occurred if Carson had honored multiple requests by the Obama administration to turn over the full text of the remarks beforehand.

“I told them I don’t have an advance copy because I don’t write out my speeches (!) and I don’t use teleprompters (!!),” Carson said. The White House hadn’t expected anything particularly conservative, although it was aware that there might be philosophical ideas presented with religious overtones.

“They asked more than once,” Carson is quoted as saying by The Hill publication. “I gave them (biblical) texts around which the remarks would be framed ... I said, ‘Read those texts. The remarks will be framed around those.’ ... That should have told them something.”

Carson held nothing back, criticizing Obamacare, fiscal irresponsibility, political correctness and problems with education and taxation. He then offered thoughtful, reasonable solutions. When later asked how he could be so direct under the circumstances, Carson basically suggested that someone needs to be courageous enough to stand up and say these things.

At the annual Conservative Political Action Conference on March 16, he won several standing ovations while speaking about his upbringing by his single mother in Detroit, the importance of education, the need for a flat tax and the “war on God.”

And now, all of a sudden, he has become a darling of the right and possibly the intellectual standardbearer for the modern-day Republican Party, which is currently struggling with a dearth of ideas, absence of cohesion of thought and a lack of forward-thinking vision. John Stuart Mill would have a grand ole time criticizing the Grand Old Party (as stupid) as it desperately searches for new leadership. Solution: Carson? Who knows? At any rate, he’s exploded out of nowhere like the huge meteor that recently blew up over Russia. And he’s not fading away.

I say out of nowhere because it’s quite remarkable how he has the time to sit around and ruminate over conservative ideology since he’s busy enough during his day job (and many nights as well, of course) as full professor of neurosurgery, oncology, plastic surgery and pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University. After graduating from Yale and later the University of Michigan Medical School, he would, by age 33, become the youngest major division director in John Hopkins history as director of pediatric neurosurgery, his ongoing specialty.

He is credited with several surgical innovations and, in 1987, made history by being the first surgeon to successfully separate conjoined twins who had been joined at the back of the head. Carson is a member of the American Academy of Achievement and the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans and, in 2008, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the nation’s highest civilian honor. Completely unbeknownst to me, he is an internationally known physician, has authored more than 100 peer-reviewed neurosurgical publications, written three best-selling books (with Christian and secular themes) and received 38 honorary doctorate degrees and dozens of national merit citations.

Along the way, he started developing rational conservative ideologies that would blend with his highly individualized success story and start promulgating them in a variety of public forums. Fast forward to the National Prayer Breakfast, where it all came together in a catalyst of articulation, media attention and a confrontation with the Obama administration. Although the president’s name wasn’t explicitly used per se, there was no mistaking to whom or what Carson was referring.

The Wall Street Journal was so impressed that the editorial page suggested Carson could well be a serious contender for a run at the presidency in 2016. Carson responded by saying, “If the Lord grabbed me by the collar and made me do it, I would.” Interestingly, at the CPAC conference, Carson, 61, announced that he would be retiring in about three months. “I’d rather quit at the top of my game,” he said. “And there are so many more things that can be done.”

Well, isn’t that a coincidence? But what’s the big deal about a physician with rightward leanings entering the rough and tumble world of politics? Hasn’t former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist already done that? And isn’t Sen. Rand Paul doing it now?

There’s something about Carson that none of the others can lay claim to: He’s African-American.

Of course, liberals hate that, particularly when it concerns someone like Carson who is essentially self-made. And, predictably, there have been the usual attacks. MSNBC’s “Toure” (a fellow African-American with single name chic) delivered particularly nasty criticism toward Carson the evening of March 26, inferring that the latter is an Uncle Tom and a token “black friend” to Republicans who embrace him only to assuage their own white “guilt.

“Really? Perhaps former congressman and now Sen. Tim Scott of the great state of South Carolina will help redirect his thinking on that concept. And accordingly, Dr. Carson may well get out his mortar and pestle and derive a concoction that shocks a lot people.”

Who is Ben Carson?

Stay tuned. You’re about to find out.

Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at edwardgilbreth@ comcast.net.