Dr. Carson’s (Conservative) Neighborhood

One Nation

One Nation: What We Can All Do To Save America’s Future

“Won’t you be my neighbor?” Dr. Ben Carson and his wife, Candy Carson, might as well just ask in their latest book, One Nation: What We Can All Do To Save America’s Future.

One Nation is neither a sophisticated nor a difficult read. It is a very simple manifesto of what Dr. Carson identifies as America’s most important problems and what he believes are solutions to those problems. Toward that end, Dr. Carson employs straightforward sentences and phrases even a middle school student could grasp without needing a dictionary at arm’s length. George Orwell would be proud. And this simple writing style is complimented by substance that even Mr. Rogers would have approved of: understanding, cooperation, and mutual benefit are all messages that Dr. Carson consistently endorses throughout his book as solutions for America’s woes.

Dr. Carson is a notable African-American conservative and is a member of the Republican Party. But for those – liberals and conservatives alike – tired of a popular narrative of conservatives’ mean-spirited anti-intellectualism, elitism, racism, and a variety of other “-isms” that Mr. Rogers would decisively not have approved of, One Nation is a refreshing anomaly. And this is perhaps because Dr. Carson is himself an anomaly. He is a man whose life story might as well have been ripped from a Horatio Alger novel. The son of a third-grade dropout single mother, Dr. Carson excelled academically as a youth, finding his way from Detroit first to Yale and then to Johns Hopkins Medical School before becoming a renowned pediatric neurosurgeon. Along the way, of course, he faced and overcame one challenge after another. Most famous is the story of how Dr. Carson had issues as a youth controlling his anger – an issue he forced himself to overcome after nearly stabbing a friend over an argument about changing the radio station.

One Nation is divided into three parts: the first titled “Causes of Disunity and Decline”; the second titled “Solutions”; and the third titled “Who We Are.” Part one, “Causes of Disunity and Decline,” lists out issues and trends all too familiar to Dartmouth students, such as the contemporary stress on political correctness, political infighting, debt, and elitism (both the socioeconomic and intellectual types).

Part two, “Solutions,” lists out myriad solutions to the problems laid out in the prior chapter. Many of these solutions are well grounded in practical experience. Most notable are Dr. Carson’s analysis of the woes of American healthcare and what he believes can be done to remedy a broken and terribly expensive system. He explains, for instance, how when he briefly practiced medicine in Australia, he was surprised to find out just how inexpensive medical malpractice litigation insurance premiums are there compared to the US – $200 a year in Australia versus an astonishing $300,000 in Philadelphia. He attributed this vast discrepancy to America’s broken tort system, in which seemingly minor errors on the part of a doctor can easily result in a lawsuit and a significant settlement to the affected patient. Doctors are thus incentivized to run as many as tests as necessary to cover their bases against any potential lawsuit, and the costs of these incessant tests (along with the insurance premiums themselves) play a major role in driving up healthcare costs.

Other solutions that Dr. Carson spells out are tailored more for the individual reader than for federal government public policy decisions. The subsections titled “Don’t Replace Your Brain with a Computer” and “Miley Cyrus is Not a Role Model” are memorable and humorous examples. Their messages are important. One really ought to approach current events with a well-informed mindset that does not rely on any one, politically or intellectually biased news source. Children really ought to not look up to questionable pop culture stars like Miley Cyrus as their role models; they should, as Dr. Carson explains, look up to revolutionary figures like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. The average Dartmouth student, grounded in the principles of a liberal arts education, may find such messages or their basic intents obvious; Dr. Carson’s target audiences – the median American voter – may not.

The third and final section, “Who We Are,” is a digest of Dr. Carson’s thoughts on politics and America in a broad and more philosophical sense. In this section, Dr. Carson explains his conception of an American identity, as well as his (Christian-based) conception of morality as it relates to America and American politics.

Readers will be surprised to find a short section titled “Action Steps” at the end of each chapter in this book. These steps call for the reader to do some introspection on the matters raised in the respective chapter. They often ask readers to identify more local and personal examples of the nationwide problems he spells out. He assigns some reading too – plenty of Biblical passages and other works like liberal activist Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. (Dr. Carson connects Alinsky’s book and methods to the political correctness movement, and encourages people to read Rules for Radicals to get a clearer idea of common liberal activist tactics. It is also a relevant read for Dartmouth students in the wake of contemporary campus radical activism.)

Throughout his book, Dr. Carson references many of his experiences as a child and young adult in a racial America. Each time, he does so to qualify a point he had just made or was about to make. In this way, One Nation is a rather biographical work, and the roots of Dr. Carson’s political and personal self are exposed multiple times.

He cites his experience working as a supervisor for a highway cleanup crew to back up his arguments supporting cooperation and better work ethic. He cites his experience dealing with an aggressive dog in his neighborhood growing up to support his arguments regarding dealing with political and intellectual “bullies.” He criticizes conformity with his recollections of being teased for being a “nerd” in school. These are but a few of such biographical passages from One Nation. Other anecdotes include those from Dr. Carson’s experiences with being a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman, working as a mailroom clerk, seeing the vast disparity of wealth during his time at Yale, losing a conjoined twin baby in an operation, and working on a project with his academic rivals for his high school Latin class.

Perhaps the most noteworthy of personal anecdotes was in One Nation’s section about political correctness. Dr. Carson explains how, when he was still a medical resident at Johns Hopkins, he was once mistaken for an orderly by a nurse. Such an incident today would be grounds for a firestorm response of outrage and proclamations of a racialized society, but Dr. Carson approached such incidents differently. He explains in the book how, during such incidents, he would politely explain that he was not an orderly but rather a doctor. He explains how most individuals harbor no ill will, and that to mistake a black man wearing scrubs in a hospital as an orderly was understandable, given that few blacks at the time were nurses or doctors. Dr. Carson explains to the reader how such a response offers soft but effective ways to combat pre-conceived racial notions. Each time he corrected a nurse or doctor who mistook him as an orderly, he furthermore claimed, he gained one more friend.

Examples like these are informative. They show how even accomplished, black doctors were victims of a racialized society, and they show how there are different ways of dealing with such issues. Dartmouth students who are now long accustomed to physical and social media protests over political correctness, in particular, may find such passages in One Nation particularly enlightening.

Dr. Carson’s resounding personal characteristic of continual forgiveness and understanding manifest in his political beliefs as well. In the midst of one his many discussions regarding American healthcare and Obamacare in One Nation, Dr. Carson exclaims: “If Obama continues to crumble and/or is defunded, no one should gloat or say, ‘I told you so.’ This is not a time to proclaim victory, but rather a time to put aside our differences and solve a difficult problem.” It is a refreshing message in an era of attack ads and politics-induced un-cooperation at all levels. It is a political philosophy even Mr. Rogers would have endorsed.

All of this is not to say that One Nation is not an uncontroversial book. Dr. Carson does not shy away from addressing conservatives’ “anti-science” stereotype as it relates to evolution. Dr. Carson affirms his belief in creationism. He addresses how he does not, for instance, truly believe, as per the Bible, that God created the world in seven days. He instead explains how the Bible does not truly define the unit of time to be days, as in what exactly the seven periods of time are during which God created the universe is up for interpretation (e.g. seven hundred thousand years, seven centuries, seven millennia, etc.). This particular section is a worthwhile read, even for those who do not subscribe to Dr. Carson’s argument (or believe in Christianity and the Bible in the first place). Few other works give an inside view into how a pioneering pediatric neurosurgeon reconciles his scientific background and an ostensibly “anti-science” political philosophy.

An easy and quick read, One Nation is a book worth picking up. It is a clear manifesto of conservative ideas and ideals. For those interested in learning about modern day conservatism, One Nation is a great starting point. It may not be nearly as a seminal and sophisticated as a reading of Edmund Burke’s works, but it will bring the less-than-politically-savvy reader up to speed.

Of course, it is worth mentioning that Dr. Carson is increasingly in the spotlight these days. Many conservatives and Republicans view Dr. Carson as a potential Republican candidate in the upcoming 2016 presidential elections. Writing One Nation may very well be part of Dr. Carson’s goal of self-introduction to American conservatives, as were his decisions to become a Fox News commentator and Washington Post columnist. Towards that end, One Nation’s simplicity and auto-biographical aspects are its strong suits. They both help connect readers – and potential voters – to Dr. Carson personally. And while many of his messages and solutions are neither novel nor revolutionary, his method of introducing and advocating them are. Central to his book, understanding and mutual cooperation are important albeit recently forgotten messages.

But will Dr. Carson get the chance to put his book’s ideas to work? Only time will tell.