Keep Calm And Vote for the Idiot Brain Surgeon: Behind the Inexplicable Appeal of Ben Carson

ted-rall-aaron-la-timesSkewed NewsAs a leftist, it makes me feel exceedingly uncomfortable to call the only major black presidential candidate stupid. It’s especially strange to be so certain that he’s a dumbass, given that he’s a brain surgeon. But there it is. It’s true, and it needs to be said.

Ben Carson is stupid.

For the media, it’s the gaffes. Declaring that the Affordable Care Act is somehow akin to slavery. Claiming that the Holocaust would have been less Holocausty if the Jews had come out of their hidey holes with, as The Clash song had it, with their fingers on the triggers of their guns.

Not for me. I see the dead look in his eyes. I hear his voice — as Donald Trump says, it exudes low energy. Stoned, some say. Half-dead, I think.

More than anything else, it’s Carson’s answers to reporters’ questions. He takes too long to reply. When he (finally) does, it’s always — always — something dumb.

Here’s an exercise. Right now, on Monday at 11:35 am Eastern time, I’m going to Google Ben Carson and find the first answer in the first article that comes up with an answer. Here it is, from “As a teenager, I would go after people with rocks, and bricks, and baseball bats, and hammers. And, of course, many people know the story when I was 14 and I tried to stab someone.”



I’m not sure I want a president inept at something as simple as stabbing. How hard is stabbing, anyway? Take knife. Aim tip at victim’s skin. Plunge. If Carson can’t even stab right, how is he going to drone?

Pundits don’t get the appeal of Donald Trump, but I do: he’s loud and outrageous and brash and apparently has enough money that he doesn’t have to care what anyone thinks, or follow a rigid party line, or win the presidency. He has everything to win, and just one thing to lose — and he’s cool either way.

What I don’t understand is the appeal of Ben Carson. Trump and I are on the same page: “I don’t know what the hell is going on there,” Trump told a rally after hearing that Carson had passed him in the Iowa caucuses polls. “I don’t get it!”

Trip Gabriel tries to answer the why-Carson question in today’s New York Times.

It’s the stonediness.

“That smile and his soft voice makes people very comforted,” the Times quoted Miriam Greenfield, a farmer in Jewell, Iowa.

“I believe someone as mild-mannered and gentlemanly as Ben Carson is just about the only kind of person that could [change the partisan bickering in Washington],” said Jason Walke, a trial lawyer in Des Moines.

“His supporters cite Mr. Carson’s character, not his positions, as the main reason they back him. And they say his low-key approach is precisely what would tame Washington’s bitter partisanship, rather than Mr. Trump’s swagger,” Gabriel writes.

“Trump is rough; Carson is reassuring,” Peter D. Hart, a pollster who led a recent GOP focus group, concluded. “And the unknown elements of Carson are calming, and the known elements of Trump are disturbing.”

Focus groupers called Carson “wise” and a “gentleman.”

Wise, yeah, no.

Carsonmania reminds me of a study that confirmed something that ought to strike fear into the hearts of political consultants: voters cast their ballots based on vague impressions. Issues, framing, advertising — that crap matters not at all, or barely:

From Princeton magazine (long quote because it’s fascinating):

Princeton psychologist Alexander Todorov has demonstrated that quick facial judgments can accurately predict real-world election returns. Todorov has taken some of his previous research that showed that people unconsciously judge the competence of an unfamiliar face within a tenth of a second, and he has moved it to the political arena. His lab tests show that a rapid appraisal of the relative competence of two candidates’ faces was sufficient to predict the winner in about 70 percent of the races for U.S. senator and state governor in the 2006 elections.

“We never told our test subjects they were looking at candidates for political office — we only asked them to make a gut reaction response as to which unfamiliar face appeared more competent,” said Todorov, an assistant professor of psychology and public affairs. “The findings suggest that fast, unreflective judgments based on a candidate’s face can affect voting decisions.”

Todorov and Charles Ballew, an undergraduate psychology major who graduated from Princeton in 2006, conducted three experiments in which several dozen participants had to make snap judgments about faces. Participants were shown a series of photos, each containing a pair of faces, and asked to choose, based purely on gut feeling, which face they felt displayed more competence. The differences among the experiments largely concerned the amounts of time an observer was allowed to view the faces – as brief as a tenth of a second or longer — and to pass judgment afterward.

What was unknown to the participants in the third experiment was that the image pairs were actually the photographs of the two frontrunner candidates for a major election being held somewhere in the United States during the time of the experiment in late 2006. The races were either for state governor or for a seat in the U.S. Senate. In cases where an observer recognized either of the two faces, the researchers removed the selection from the data.

Two weeks later elections were held, and the researchers compared the competency judgments with the election results. They found that the judgments predicted the winners in 72.4 percent of the senatorial races and 68.6 percent of the gubernatorial races.

The two parties spent $7 billion on the 2012 presidential race. Why not just skip these expensive and time-consuming elections, shoot headshots of the candidates’ faces to the electorate for a second or two, and be done with it?

Which brings us back to Ben Carson. Put Carson’s face next to Trump’s, and even Republicans — who are more racist than Democrats — are likely to choose the amiable black man over the predatory orange-haired one. It makes perfect sense — until Carson starts talking.

For Skewed News, I’m Ted Rall.


  1. Donald Williams says:

    And how does Carson’s idea about college students’ reporting offensive political language from their professors fit into this?

  2. What amazes me is how little the mainstream media covers or exposes the outright lies and craziness of Carson. This man is batsh1t crazy and obviously mentally ill or deluded. Yet, a great amount of people actually endorse him. It is no wonder that Maher can conclude that the general populace of the US is ignorant and stupid. They must be.

  3. Based on Ted Rall’s line of reasoning in this column, the following statements are also true:

    1. Ted Rall is a racist.

    2. Barack Obama is dumb.

    Ted Rall is a racist because he singles out the black Republican candidate to call Dr. Carson stupid. The reason Rall believes Dr. Carson is stupid is because Rall disagrees with Dr. Carson’s opinions, not with his facts. Does Rall then agree with the other, white Republicans? I’d be willing to bet the answer to that is no. So Rall must therefore be targeting Dr. Carson because he is black. Thus, Ted Rall is a racist, like most leftists going back as far as Maragaret Sanger, and earlier.

    Barack Obama is clearly dumb. He has stated that there are 57 states in the United States (for Rall and his devoted fans, there are 50 states, plus the District of Columbia). Obama stated that if “you like your health plan, you can keep it,” with regards to his health care take-over; either he was ignorant of the facts of his own plan, or he was lying; probably both. He can’t count, “Making products we sell around the world, stamped with three proud words, ‘Made in the USA!’” (again for Rall and his fans, that’s more than three). Etc. etc.

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