Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

Commentary

March 1, 2013

Ben Carson vs. Barack Obama

The National Prayer Breakfast is not supposed to serve as a forum for a clash of political visions, but that was what Ben Carson made it.

The Johns Hopkins Hospital neurosurgeon and motivational speaker lit up the event with a politically charged speech that quickly went viral. Mention "death panels" standing a few yards from the president, and that tends to happen.

Putting aside the propriety of Carson delving into policy at an event that is supposed to be apolitical, the speech demonstrated the power of the old-fashioned American up-from-the-bootstraps success story joined to a celebration of old-fashioned American virtues.

Carson's personal story sounds like an elaboration of the old saw about walking to and from school through the snow uphill both ways. He grew up in Detroit. One of 24 children, his mother married when she was 13. Her husband was a bigamist, and she ended up raising her children on her own with nothing.

Carson was a rotten student, teased by other children for being "dumb." At times, he lashed back at them, losing "all rational control," as he put it in his autobiography. A broken family. Poor impulse control. Anger. These are not ingredients for success. For too many young men, in fact, they are ingredients for jail or an early grave.

As Carson tells it, his mother, working as a domestic, noticed that people in the homes where she was employed didn't watch much TV. One day, she came home, turned off the TV and told Carson and his brother that they would read instead. She assigned them two written book reports a week, even though at the time she was only semiliterate herself.

She refused to take welfare, and she forbid her kids from feeling sorry for themselves. As Carson put it at the prayer breakfast: "She never accepted an excuse from us. And if we ever came up with an excuse, she always said, 'Do you have a brain?' And if the answer was yes, then she said, 'Then you could have thought your way out of it.'"

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