It Doesn’t Take a Brain Surgeon … Or Does It?
By Mark S. McDonald
He has the capable hands of a craftsman, a skilled artisan who does fine work up close, a jeweler, an artist … medium-sized palm spread, strong-ish but not over-powering fingers, dark skin that is smooth but not delicate.
Dr. Ben Carson, noted pediatric brain surgeon, has the practiced grip of a public figure, which he is … firm-ish but not too tight, measured but not distant nor insincere.
Reared by his mother in a broken family in inner-city Detroit, Dr. Carson paddled his own achievement canoe through med school to forge a remarkable career in medicine at an early age. Known for his ability to envision the human brain in three dimensions, he recently retired as director of pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institution.
Dr. Carson burst on the national stage – or was thrust upon it — when he spoke last spring at the White House prayer breakfast. In comments that sparked controversy, he ripped America’s general direction, blasting the current state of political correctness run amok and “moral decay and fiscal irresponsibility.”
“PC is dangerous,” Carson said during the speech, with President Obama seated two seats away. “In this country, one of the founding principles was freedom of thought and freedom of expression. PC puts a muzzle on people.
“We have imposed upon people restrictions on what they can say, on what they can think. And the media the largest proponent of this, crucifying people who say things really quite innocently.”
I had read Carson’s books before and heartily endorse his core message of self-reliance and personal accountability. I thought his remarks were calm and measured, thoughtful as his handshake. Organizers and White House operatives heard the comments as critical of the President, politically motivated and poorly timed. They asked Carson to apologize to the President.
Carson quietly demurred, saying he had spoken to the President after the breakfast and detected no ill will. No apology necessary, Carson said. End of non-issue.
Fast forward to summer … I am one of 400-500 at a book signing in Midland, Texas. Book tour organizers have this routine down to a science … Buy the book(s), get in line, have the book opened to the title page, moooooo, keep the cattle moving … I was No. 91 in line, which by then has snaked through the Barnes & Noble stacks and out the front door.
Hillary Clinton reportedly drew 1,000 for her recently signing in New York City. I wonder how many Dr. Carson would draw in the same size city. Would cops have to direct traffic?
Suddenly, it is my turn. Somebody nudges me forward and presents my books for Dr. Carson to sign. I step forward for the obligatory handshake and photo. Something made me I lean in and whisper to Dr. Carson.
“Truth to power … I hope you continue to speak truth to power. “
Historians say the phrase comes from the mid-1950s when Quakers called for the U.S. to stand firm against fascism and other forms of totalitarianism. The founding fathers risked their lives to speak truth to power, then held by King George of England.
These days, politicos and pundits have parsed the words and bent them to their own satisfaction. To me, speaking truth to power, risking the fallout, means showing courage in the face of fallout. It must be difficult, because today, we don’t have enough of it in go-along to get-along Washington, D.C.
Surprised and maybe a bit amused, Dr. Carson held me with a steady gaze, then renewed the handshake just as it began to go lax. Again, not too hard, like an over-eager fraternity pledge during rush, but deliberate and thoughtful.
“I will,” Dr. Carson whispered back, with a nod. “I will.”
Speak truth to power. From a Republican, Democrat or Independent, it is the very bedrock of a free society, something we need in this country. Will Dr. Carson keep his word?
His past, his handshake, tells me he will at least try.
Mark S. McDonald variously worked at five Texas dailies, barely escaped while covering conservation, hunting, fishing and team sports. His next book, “They Gave Us Baseball: Now Look What We’ve Done” will be released in early 2015.