Barry Saunders

Saunders: Maybe Ben Carson and I aren’t as similar as I thought

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks in Lakewood, Colo. on Oct. 29, 2015.
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks in Lakewood, Colo. on Oct. 29, 2015. AP

Ben Carson is a nut, but don’t worry: I come to defend him, not lampoon him.

Sure, he is fixated on slavery and the Holocaust – proclaiming, among other things, that Obamacare is the worst thing to happen to this country since slavery, that women who have abortions are like slave owners, that the Holocaust could’ve been less deadly if Jews had had guns – and has blamed victims of mass shootings for being too compliant with the gunmen.

On top of everything else, he blinks unnervingly slowly.

All of those are things for which he can be legitimately upbraided, for which his political qualifications and good sense can be questioned.

Why, then, is CNN so assiduously trying to prove that Carson’s childhood wasn’t as bad as he says it was, that he wasn’t as bad as he says he was?

It could be because no other candidate has written a heralded autobiography in which he claimed he attacked his mama with a hammer, tried to kill a friend for changing the radio station or rescued a group of white high school students during the riots in 1968.

The fuel propelling Carson’s political popularity engine into the stratosphere is his compelling life story, which tells how he was a violent kid and a horrible student until he prayed for God to remove his ‘pathological temper.’

The fuel propelling Carson’s political popularity engine into the stratosphere is his compelling life story, which tells how he was a violent kid and a horrible student until he prayed for God to remove his “pathological temper.”

It’s also propelled by his bogus pulling-himself-up-by-his-own-bootstraps narrative – bogus because the government against which he now so profitably rails provided those boots and free eyeglasses so he could actually see the blackboard in class and become a brilliant surgeon.

CNN reports that it interviewed nine of Carson’s childhood peers: not one remembers the temper he ascribed to himself or that incident during which he became a one-man Underground Railroad for several white students during the Detroit riots following Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

Oy! Really, CNN: that’s what you’re investigating him for, this man who thinks the pyramids were actually grain silos? Those are some whoppers, if untrue, but there is plenty about Dr. Carson which we should fear other than lies he told in a 20-year-old book.

Besides “Are you Jewish?” – because I love the word “Oy” so much – the question I’m most often asked is “Were you as big a hooligan growing up as you claim?”

The answers are, respectively, no and yes. How bad was I?

So bad that, if the cops in Rockingham had had speed dial in the 1970s, my number would have been on it. So bad that, even into adulthood, my palms would sweat and heart would pound at the sight of any white car that looked as though it could be a cop cruiser.

Yet, if today you asked some people in Rockingham – the same ones who double-locked their doors if they knew I was lurking about or punished their children for talking to me – they’d probably say (as I’ve heard some say) “Oh, he was a nice boy, a bit rambunctious, maybe.”

Buffalo chips. From the ages of 13 to 17, I doubt that a week ever passed without me hearing “You ain’t gonna live to be” whatever age was next. It was often spoken by people with an urge – and a reason – to make that prophesy come true. At 14, I couldn’t stand myself, and neither could most people who knew me.

So, just because some people claim they don’t remember “bad” Ben doesn’t mean he didn’t exist.

I hope he did, because the seeming similarity of our backgrounds was something I liked about Carson. For instance, when he wrote in his autobiography, “Gifted Hands,” about the time he stabbed a friend with a knife over some trivial incident but was saved from a murder rap because the knife hit the kid’s belt buckle instead of puncturing his gut, it reminded me of the time I angrily threw a knife at a fleeing kid in Washington but was saved from a similar fate because the handle, instead of the blade, hit him in the back.

Carson’s knife story has been pretty much discredited: no one could find the victim, “Bob,” and Carson now says the name was fictitious. If CNN wanted me to prove my knife story, which happened when I was 12 or 13, good luck. All I know of the kid is that his name was Nick, he lived around the corner from me and his mother for some reason didn’t appreciate having a knife thrown at her son. Imagine that.

Carson’s life story was similar to mine also in the fact that he says he felt lost in class, was called dummy by classmates and lacked whatever quality it is that girls look for in boys.

Carson’s life story was similar to mine also in the fact that he says he felt lost in class, was called dummy by classmates and lacked whatever quality it is that girls look for in boys.

Check, check and check.

Perhaps Carson can find some of his “victims” and silence the skeptics, can find that non-existent scholarship offer to West Point, or he can admit to embellishing his past to serve as a parable and inspiration for others. That was unnecessary, because even without embellishment, his is a genuine Horatio Algebra story.

(I know, I know: it’s Alger, but I stole that one from The Kingfish.)

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

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