For many years, to many people, Dr. Ben Carson was a real-life American hero. A son of Detroit, Carson announced his candidacy for president on Monday in front of a hometown crowd in the Motor City, where he grew up and out of poverty to become the head of pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Maryland.
Choir singers opened the campaign kickoff event, first with an a capella version of Eminem's "Lose Yourself" before eventually arriving at the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." The brain surgeon-turned-conservative firebrand emerged moments later, first to introduce his family, then himself.
"I am Ben Carson," he said with a smile, as if embarrassed by the spectacle, "and I am a candidate for president of the United States."
Carson is, by any standard, a brilliant man. He was the first surgeon to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head. Now retired, he's become one of President Barack Obama's most spirited critics, a true believer operating on the fringes of Republican Party politics. (He once cited Obama's choice of ties as evidence the president was a "psychopath," for instance.)
There is no one in American politics today with a greater facility for laundering bizarre and dangerous ideas about government scheming than Carson. He left the Obama psychopath bit out of his pitch on Monday, but Carson has boogeymen to spare. Here are a few he took aim at in Detroit:
Carson began by addressing the "many people" who are critical of him for wanting "to get rid of all the safety nets and welfare programs." That accusation, he said, "is a blatant lie."
"I have strong desire to get rid of programs that create dependency in able-bodied people," Carson said, to applause. Then, adopting a kind of baby talk, he mimicked the government's message to poor people receiving aid.
"You poor little thing, we are going to take care of all your needs. You don't have to worry about anything," he said, before lowering his voice again and asking, "You know who else says stuff like that? Socialists."
2. The IRS
The Internal Revenue Service has never been an especially popular outfit. Tax collectors are not, historically, received with smiles. But Carson regards the IRS as one of the state's sharpest tools in their work as "purveyors of division."
"People are afraid to stand up for what they believe in, because they do not want to be called a name," he said.
Any other reason?
"They do not want an IRS audit."
The irony here is that, despite legitimate allegations the agency spent a disproportionate amount of time examining the finances of conservative groups, the IRS is among the most endangered government agencies, suffering from budget shortfalls that could, its commissioner said, force a partial shutdown this summer.
"Politicians do what is politically expedient, I am going to do what is right," Carson said, seconds after telling the audience "I am not a politician" and "I don't want to be a politician."
Perhaps as his political career progresses, Carson will come to understand that a politician never sounds more like a politician when declares he is not, in fact, a politician.
4. The deficit
Carson is concerned with the federal deficit. He is displeased with "representatives" who are pleased with slowing its growth and wants the members of Congress who vote to raise the debt ceiling — a mechanism that allows the Treasury Department to make good on its payment obligations — to be "thrown out of office."
One minor issue here: The federal budget deficit is falling. Even the conservative scribblers at the National Review acknowledge the simple math. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office agrees, and projects its fall to continue for at least another 10 years.
5. The radicals in the government
Carson has a preoccupation with "radicals." Generally, they operate under the auspices of the Democratic Party and want to do things like protect certain classes of people from harassment or discrimination.
But with Carson, the question is a bit more dire. "One of the rules for radicals [is] that you make the majority believe that what they believe is no longer relevant," he said. "They don't care if you don't believe what they they believe, as long as you keep your mouth shut."
Carson, who we can assume doesn't "believe" what the "radicals" do, continued speaking for another 23 minutes.
6. The people who calculate the unemployment rate
The current U.S. unemployment rate is 5.5%. But Carson does not believe it. Why not? Because, as he said in Detroit, "the economy would be humming" if that were true. But the economy is not humming, so it must be a lie fed to the American people by their disdainful government. Carson stakes his claim to a diminished labor force participation rate. His argument, in essence, is that because the jobless rate does not account for people who either cannot work or have given up looking for employment, that 5.5% is a misleading statistic.
But however one feels about the way the government measures unemployment, it remains among the most transparent and widely understood statistics in American life. Carson notes that participation is at a "37-year low," a number he came to by studying figures made available, to anyone who wants to see them, by the government.
The same government he is so very keen to take control of in 2017.