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Ben Carson: The other surprise in Republican race

18 september 2015, 15:28
0
Republican presidential hopefuls, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson gestures while speaking during the Republican presidential debate. ©AFP
Republican presidential hopefuls, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson gestures while speaking during the Republican presidential debate. ©AFP

At 14, Ben Carson tried to stab a classmate. Had the boy's metal belt buckle not stopped the blade, Carson would probably be in prison, AFP reports.

Instead, he is running for president of the United States.

The incident leaves audiences speechless when Carson tells it at conservative gatherings, an opportunity for him to show how faith and family values helped a drifting teenager escape poverty's grip and find the internal strength to realize his dream of becoming a doctor.

"That was the last day I had an angry outburst," the Seventh Day Adventist said recently.

Carson, who turns 64 on Friday, has little reason to be cross these days. In a dramatic surprise in the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign, Carson has surged to second in the polls, nipping at frontrunner Donald Trump's heels.

He is the only African-American Republican in the race, and like billionaire Trump he has never held public office. 

But while both are praised by supporters for their authenticity, Carson is often referred to as the "anti-Trump": reserved and thoughtful, instead of impulsive and bombastic.

Carson is the most discreet of the 16-candidate Republican field, as evidenced during Wednesday's debate, in which he struggled to stand out but delivered a calm, even-keeled performance that is rapidly becoming his trademark.

Carson's history is the epitome of the American dream. He grew up poor in Detroit and Boston, raised by an illiterate mother who married at age 13 but left her bigamist husband.

Young Ben earned poor marks at school and had a quick temper. But his mother, who scraped by doing low-wage work, prioritized her sons' education.

The turning point came when she forced Carson and his brother to read two books each week and submit book reports to her -- even though she could not read them.

Carson grew into a model student, earning a scholarship to Yale University and attending University of Michigan medical school.

At age 33 he became the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University. He earned global acclaim in 1987 by leading a 70-person team that performed the first successful separation of twins, two seven-month German boys who were joined at the head.

George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2008 and Carson's high-flying medical career became the subject of a television movie, "Gifted Hands," starring Cuba Gooding Jr. 

  'Saving the nation' 

Carson has authored six books, from the spiritual to the motivational and, in 2014, a best-selling guide to problem-solving in US political discourse. He retired in 2013 to hit the conservative talk circuit.

He became a sought-after speaker. On stage, his affable delivery is punctuated with anecdotes, jokes, life stories and passages from the Bible.

He routinely promotes compassion and a return to individual responsibility -- a value that led him to denounce the welfare state, which he has warned only traps people in poverty.

"If we continually keep people in a dependent position, then they're soon going to lose the drive that is necessary to achieve in our society," he told a conservative gathering in 2013.

Despite his churchly demeanor Carson increasingly has grown "politically incorrect," leaving many shocked by his statements, including on homosexuality.

In the same speech in 2013 he said he wanted to "re-educate the women" about abortion.

But it was his criticism of the president's health care reform law as "the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery" that drew the most attention.

"It is slavery, in a way, because it is making all of us subservient to the government," he said.

His recent surge past Jeb Bush and other establishment candidates in the Republican primary polls is thanks largely to success with the evangelical Christian base, which according to recent polls in the key state of Iowa is now favoring Carson over Trump and other rivals.

But like Trump, Carson has taken advantage of the anti-establishment wave that has swept the Republican race.

This summer in Iowa he reminded conservatives why it was so important that he is "not a politician."

"They want to get re-elected," he said, "and I want to save our nation."


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