Dr. Ben Carson, the new conservative folk hero

Though many commentaries have tried tiptoe around it, it’s impossible to pretend there’s no racial dimension involved in a successful black conservative castigating the liberal black president. Black conservatives remain fascinating to Americans of all political persuasions and ethnicities; look no further than Herman Cain’s presidential campaign. And in the age of Obama — when many on the right feel that any criticism of the president is liable to draw undeserved claims of racism — a champion for the cause who can sidestep that retort is sure to be welcomed. Jonah Goldberg came closest to addressing this question, likening Carson to Booker T. Washington.

Carson has remarkable parallels with Cain, it’s true — but they’re much deeper and more interesting than skin color. Both men rose from hardscrabble backgrounds, Carson in Detroit as the son of an illiterate single mother who had wed at 13, Cain as son of a chauffeur in Atlanta. Both found academic success, then went on to impressive careers. Both are cancer survivors. And both burst onto the political scene as professionally successful political unknowns confronting unsuspecting Democratic presidents. Compare Carson’s speech with Cain’s first great moment in the public spotlight. That was in 1994, when Cain, then the CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, got into a debate with President Clinton at a town hall meeting on his health-care overhaul and quickly gained national acclaim. (Of course, there’s no reason to believe that Carson has anything like the personal skeletons in the closet that forced Cain to abandon his presidential run.)

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