During an interview with Shannon Bream of Fox News, Carly Fiorina—former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, and possible 2016 Presidential contender—said:
“I’m not quite sure when we became a nation that believed that only professional politicians could run for office. It’s not how we were founded. Ours was intended to be a citizen government.”
While I certainly agree with what Fiorina said, the reason America has become accustomed to professional politicians running for office is because politicians have the savvy to handle a tough media. In other words, someone who has spent a dozen years in the political sphere will usually have a level of polish, and media savvy that a non-politician might not.
This is not to say that non-politicians are incapable of running a gaffe-free political campaign. Nor am I discouraging them from doing so. There are those who—due to careers in business, as well as other fields in which media acuity is important–are already adept at the game of speaking with clarity, eloquence, and shrewdness. However, many non-politicians who have political aspirations are wildly underprepared for how difficult a race can be.
I had hopes for Ben Carson. Did I think he could pull off a win? Absolutely not. There has never been a moment when I considered him an actual contender, simply because he is not a politician, nor does he have a background that would prepare him for politics, such as Fiorina does. As such, he would be bound to make a severe gaffe sooner or later. However, I was hopeful that someone of such astounding intelligence as he would not make such a gaffe so soon—let alone immediately after opening an exploratory committee for a potential 2016 run.
I was also hopeful that he would continue to make important contributions to the national debate, as he has already done. Though I suppose it was not meant to be, because in a rather spectacular fashion, Carson has taken a poison pill.
During an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, the following exchange occurred:
Carson: “People have no control over their race, for instance–“
Cuomo: “You think they have control over their sexuality?”
Cuomo: “You think being gay is a choice?”
Cuomo: “Why do you say that?”
Carson: “Because, a lot of people who go into prison, go into prison straight, and when they come out, they’re gay. So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question.”
Carson hastily apologized via Facebook, writing in part:
“…I realized that my choice of language does not reflect fully my heart on gay issues. I do not pretend to know how every individual came to their sexual orientation. I regret that my words to express that concept were hurtful and divisive. For that I apologize unreservedly to all that were offended.”
He goes on to explain his poisons regarding gay marriage, and state’s rights. The full apology can be read here.
But the words have already been spoken, and they have firmly dug themselves into the minds of millions of Americans. Ben Carson has officially Todd Akin-ed himself.
For those of you unfamiliar with the reference, Todd Akin was a United States Congressman, who, in 2012, while attempting to unseat Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, had an extraordinary fall from grace. During an interview just two, and a half months prior to the election, when Akin was asked a question regarding whether abortion is acceptable in cases of rape, he replied:
“It seems to be, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, it’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down…But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”
Akin subsequently drowned in a sea of media criticism, and lost his bid for Senate. Akin’s comment was tactless, and poorly worded, regardless of the legitimacy of his opinion about abortion. Despite having been a seasoned politician, he didn’t have the savvy to answer the question without making himself look like an idiot in the process. And now Ben Carson has Akin-ed himself out of any serious consideration.
Perhaps it was kismet, but today, a friend sent me a text, asking me my belief regarding homosexuality, and what I was raised to believe. I asked him if he was questioning me because of what Ben Carson said, and he replied that he had no idea who Carson was. I answered anyway.
To answer a question about the nature of homosexuality, one must walk with a certain amount of purposeful uncertainty. The following was my answer to my friend:
“I wasn’t raised to believe that homosexual attraction is a choice. What I was raised to believe is that homosexual behavior is. There is a critical difference. Certainly, science has shown that homosexuality is not wholly genetic, as sets of identical twins have been observed in which one is gay, and the other is not. Were homosexuality entirely determined by genetics, this would not be the case. That being said, while it is not entirely genetic, there is possibly a genetic component. Following that, development in utero—both hormonal, and otherwise—could have an effect on the development of same-sex attraction. There are also environmental factors in early childhood development that could lead to such attraction being hardwired into the brain. So, I don’t believe that same-sex attraction is a choice, but I do believe that acting upon it is—just as acting upon any desire is a choice, regardless of the origin of the desire itself.”
I answered my friend’s question thoroughly, and with a level of tact necessary to the conversation.
I’m not going too far out on a limb by saying that Ben Carson’s answer was not only tactless, and simplistic, but idiotic. His beliefs regarding gay marriage are certainly legitimate, and he has the right to believe whatever he wants regarding the origins of same-sex attraction, but to use the prison example was beyond stupid. PolitiFact got in on the debate, rating Carson’s claim false:
“Many inmates who identify as heterosexual change their sexual habits while in prison, possibly as a victim or perpetrator of abuse or due to lack of access to the opposite sex, said Christopher Hensley, a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga criminal justice professor. But a change in sexual behavior does not necessarily equate to a change in sexual orientation.”
“Additionally, Hensley said his research does not support Carson’s implication that prison behavior shows that a shift in sexual orientation is a choice. Prison sex culture is not analogous to the sex culture outside of prison.”
This is why non-politicians so rarely make it to the big leagues. Perhaps Carly Fiorina will fare better because of her background as a CEO—she has so far been brilliant—but as for Ben Carson, he sunk his own battleship with one stupid answer. Should Carson make it until next year, this single moment will be replayed over, and over again. He will never outrun it.
Savvy is not just an option, it’s a necessity.