Uncle Ben

There are those who insist that the Washington Redskins change their name. The Cleveland Indians’ name is fine. That’s generic. The Atlanta Braves’ name is a compliment. In college football, the Florida Seminoles’ name is regionally and historically descriptive. But calling someone a “redskin” is a slur – that’s like calling someone a nigger – not that it matters. The owners of the Washington Redskins aren’t changing the name.

Why should they? No one is petitioning the Quaker Oats Company to rename their Aunt Jemima brand of pancake mix and syrup and whatnot – even if the woman in the trademark logo is a stock blackface character from the old minstrel shows. No one is petitioning the Mars candy and consumer-good conglomerate to rename Uncle Ben’s Rice – even if “Uncle” was used in the South to refer to older male black slaves or servants, the kindly old harmless ones, the ones who never made trouble. They’d even dance with Shirley Temple in the movies. That’s the generic face in their trademark logo – such a nice man – but black activists in the sixties called those who said slow down and don’t make trouble Uncle Toms. They knew what that word “uncle” meant. Worried white folks, however, liked those uncles, and they probably bought a lot of Uncle Ben’s Rice back then. The name was comforting. The name is also problematic.

Given that, it’s only appropriate that the Republicans have found their own Uncle Ben – Ben Carson, the former neurosurgeon and motivational speaker, and the only black man or woman officially seeking the Republican nomination. He’s harmless and nice – one of the “good” ones – and drawing even with Donald Trump in many of the polls, even if no one has noticed yet. Were Shirley Temple still around – she was a lifelong Republican – Richard Nixon made her our United Nations ambassador – Ben Carson would dance with her. Well, maybe not, but he is that nice man on the small box of rice.

Obama won’t do, as seen in the new Public Policy Polling results:

Our new poll finds that Trump is benefiting from a GOP electorate that thinks Barack Obama is a Muslim and was born in another country, and that immigrant children should be deported. 66% of Trump’s supporters believe that Obama is a Muslim to just 12% that grant he’s a Christian. 61% think Obama was not born in the United States to only 21% who accept that he was. And 63% want to amend the Constitution to eliminate birthright citizenship, to only 20% who want to keep things the way they are.

Trump’s beliefs represent the consensus among the GOP electorate. 51% overall want to eliminate birthright citizenship. 54% think President Obama is a Muslim. And only 29% grant that President Obama was born in the United States. That’s less than the 40% who think Canadian born Ted Cruz was born in the United States.

That’s a bit alarming, but the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza says calm down:

It’s no secret that the public is deeply divided about Obama as he enters the final year of his presidency. Democrats generally like him. Republicans, almost uniformly, do not. So when Republicans – and this PPP poll asked only Republicans the Muslim question – are given the chance to say something negative (or even untrue) about Obama, they will take it.

Remember back in February, when almost seven in 10 Republicans in an online YouGov poll said that Obama doesn’t love America? What we wrote then still holds true today: It’s easy to get people who already don’t like someone to say or believe something bad about them. Some of those people truly hold those beliefs; most of the others are really just saying “I don’t like Obama.”

That is, of course, not super newsy.

It only means this:

Yes, there are a decent number of GOPers who say that Obama is a Muslim. But when presented with LOTS of options – Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu etc. – the number of Republicans who say Obama is a Muslim is FAR less than a majority.

None of the above is meant to discount the fact that there exists a strain of thinking primarily prevalent in the GOP that views Obama as exotic and different – and not in a good way. My only point is that by using poll numbers like these from PPP, we over-simplify negative views of Obama and, in so doing, dumb down a national political conversation that is on shaky ground as it is.

That’s a useful corrective – the bulk of Cillizza’s column covers his objections to specific poll questions and general methodology – but that doesn’t change the basic dynamic here. Obama is exotic and different and certainly not harmless. Obama has been inflaming racial tensions since the very first day he took office, telling the blacks to rise up against the whites, hasn’t he? No one else sees that, but the angry right does. Obama is no uncle.

Ben Carson is, and he is doing well:

The spotlight rarely found Ben Carson this summer. While other presidential candidates shot flaming arrows at rivals and sometimes the news media, the soft-spoken Mr. Carson seemed to struggle to be noticed. “Well, thank you,” he told moderators in the first Republican debate. “I wasn’t sure if I would get to speak again.”

But while almost all Republicans were upstaged by the bombast of Donald J. Trump in recent months, Mr. Carson, a retired neurosurgeon whose low-key personality and celebrated medical career are the antithesis of a politician’s usual path, gained ground as few seemed to notice.

A recent Quinnipiac University national poll showed him in second place in the Republican field, and a Monmouth University survey of Iowa Republicans released on Monday had him tied with Mr. Trump. Another Iowa poll, by The Des Moines Register and Bloomberg, had the two candidates running closely within the poll’s margin of sampling error.

No one expected this, but he’s not Obama, and he’s certainly not Donald Trump:

He is almost professorial, where Mr. Trump is loud, combative and unfiltered.

“At the end of the day, I attribute it to the power of nice,” said Rob Taylor, a chairman of Mr. Carson’s campaign in Iowa, reflecting on the rise of his candidate.

Mr. Carson has worked hard to tame his habit of making highly provocative statements, often on homosexuality, a move that advisers said had saved his campaign after it nearly derailed amid negative early headlines. They predicted that Mr. Trump’s own tendency toward such statements, whether directed at illegal immigrants or in personal attacks on Twitter, could undermine his headline-grabbing run.

“We’ve been there and realize no matter how much the base will love you for it, people will not think it’s presidential,” said Armstrong Williams, a close adviser to Mr. Carson.

Be that harmless uncle:

A little-known figure to most voters before the first Republican debate in Cleveland on Aug. 6, Mr. Carson clearly benefited from the huge number of viewers who tuned in because of Mr. Trump’s flamboyance.

Mr. Carson spoke of separating conjoined twins and removing half a brain as qualifications for the Oval Office in his closing statement – made off the cuff, his advisers say. Many commentators shrugged, but social media lit up. Polling, before and after the debate, showed Carson with one of the biggest upticks.

His favorable rating among likely Republican caucus-goers in Iowa was a towering 81 percent in the Monmouth University poll, with only 6 percent holding an unfavorable view.

Mr. Carson tied with Mr. Trump for the top spot in the poll at 23 percent, and pulled ahead of him with female voters and evangelical Christians.

On the other hand, he has said some odd things:

On whether being gay is a choice: “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.”

On political correctness: “I mean, [our society is] very much like Nazi Germany. And I know you’re not supposed to say ‘Nazi Germany,’ but I don’t care about political correctness. You know, you had a government using its tools to intimidate the population. We now live in a society where people are afraid to say what they actually believe.”

On the IRS: “You know, we live in a Gestapo age, people don’t realize it.”

On Advanced Placement history class: “I think most people, when they finish that course, they’d be ready to go sign up for ISIS.”

On veterans dying waiting for medical care from the Department of Veterans Affairs: “I think what’s happening with the veterans is a gift from God to show us what happens when you take layers and layers of bureaucracy and place them between the patients and the health care provider. And if we can’t get it right, with the relatively small number of veterans, how in the world are you going to do it with the entire population?”

On Obamacare: “You know, Obamacare is really, I think, the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery. And it is, in a way it is slavery in a way because it is making all of us subservient to the government.”

On Obama’s appearance: When a colleague said the president “looks clean. Shirt’s white. The tie. He looks elegant,” Carson responded: “Like most psychopaths. That’s why they’re successful. That’s the way they look. They all look great.” He later said: “But he knows he’s telling a lie! He’s trying to sell what he thinks is not true! He’s sitting there saying, ‘These Americans are so stupid I can tell them anything.'”

On similarities between the Founding Fathers, who were “willing to die for what they believed,” and ISIS: “They’ve [ISIS] got the wrong philosophy, but they’re willing to die for what they believe, while we’re busily giving away every value and every belief for the sake of political correctness.”

None of that is very “nice” but it may not matter:

Carson, an African-American man raised by a single mother in Detroit who went on to become the head of pediatric neurosurgery at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital, is something of a triple threat, says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.

Firstly, “he’s viewed as principled,” Mr. O’Connell told the Christian Science Monitor’s Linda Feldmann. “Second, he’s widely seen as likeable. And third, he doesn’t talk like a politician. Any time voters hear something that sounds like political double talk, they tune out.”

Is his likability enough to outpace the less-likable Trump?

No one knows. But consider this: When Trump visited Phoenix for a rally last month, some 5,000 supporters were there to greet him. When Carson visited Phoenix last week, he was overwhelmed to find an estimated 12,000 supporters cheering him on.

Something is up. The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart explains it this way:

For a party in thrall to a natural showman with little known allegiance to Republican ideology, what explains the rise of an otherwise boring doctor who made a name for himself telling off President Obama at the prayer breakfast in 2013?

“Trump satisfies the id. Carson satisfies the superego,” said Rick Wilson, a Republican ad maker and strategist told me in an e-mail. “Trump feeds the nationalist, isolationist, sometimes revanchist sentiment of a lost working and lower middle class overcome by change and economic dislocation. He’s the avatar of their anger, even if he asks them to look past all their conservative values to support him.”

As for Carson, Wilson said, “Carson is the aspirational story that fills people’s hearts and makes them look at a miracle that could only happen here. Evidently brilliant mindfully, but firmly conservative, in for the country not just for his ego…”

Uncle Ben is such a nice man:

Carson is the antithesis of Trump. The neurosurgeon mumbles. The builder bellows. The demeanor of the man known as “Gifted Hands” is painfully humble compared with the swagger of the Manhattan real estate mogul. Trump is loud, obnoxious and tells you how great he is whether you want to hear it or not – whether you truly care or not. He’s so high-octane that anyone else is “low-energy.” But Carson is the very definition of low-energy. You could practicality hear crickets chirping every time he spoke at the first Republican debate.

He’s the man on the rice box, but Slate’s Jim Newell sees something else:

Iowa Republicans have spent the summer watching seventeen presidential candidates sport blue jeans and eat fried sugar-lard in order to secure their support. After all of it, the overriding feeling right now appears to be: If you’ve held political office before, then these are lean times.

“Regardless of who you support,” the new Monmouth survey asks, “what do you think the country needs more in the next president: someone with government experience who knows how to get things done OR someone outside of government who can bring a new approach to Washington?” Twenty-three percent of Iowans preferred the former, 66 percent the latter – and Trump, Carson, and Fiorina, naturally, are soaking up those votes.

No past or present officeholders – whether they are perceived as establishment or anti-establishment candidates – are catching fire in Iowa. We can all agree that Cruz or Huckabee play up their anti-establishment credentials, but they’re not faring much better in Iowa than the likes of Jeb Bush or Sen. Marco Rubio. That isn’t the rift that matters right now. It’s between politicians and nonpoliticians.

The three candidates who have no idea how government works are the only ones doing well, and Donald Trump set this up:

His well-publicized rhetoric against “all talk, no action” politicians who are “stupid” and so on opened a great wide lane down which he, Carson, and Fiorina have been speeding. Anger-prone voters who once directed their rage at the GOP establishment still do that, but the Summer of Trump has now conditioned them to widen that circle to include all politicians.

This is what makes a strategic rethink like the one Scott Walker is attempting so irrelevant. Walker’s precipitous collapse in Iowa, where he had been leading just long enough to solidify expectations that he needed to win it, set off some bells on his team. It was time to retire “Fortress Walker,” the overprotected, monotonous black hole of charisma who’d been coasting off the inertia of a single, rousing speech in January. Trump had applied the necessary friction to slow Walker’s Iowa coronation, and Walker’s response would be to adopt a more “Trump-like” tone “in which he would take on the Republican establishment.”

But Trumpism, when harnessed by non-Trump actors, can badly misfire. It is a dark magic that takes control over its practitioner and leads him to a place where he’s describing the construction of a 5,000-plus-mile-long wall with Canada as a “legitimate” idea. And so on.

That misses the whole point:

Adopting a tone more “fiery,” “anti-establishment,” “confrontational,” or whatever other inexact term we use to describe a politician who’s made the decision to irrationally please base voters misdiagnoses the moment. Walker has been running for office since he was 22 years old and serving since he was 25. He is a career politician whether he likes it or not. It’s not a good look right now.

You can understand the temptation for Walker, Bush, or any other viable candidate to start smashing lamps or burning Chinese flags. But the best bet is still just to hold steady, not overreact, and wait for the nonpoliticians to crash. Heightened scrutiny and the compression of time typically serve as a career politician’s best friend. Pat Buchanan and Steve Forbes and Herman Cain had their moments, maybe even won a state, but in the end a majority of voters would not entrust them with the nuclear codes, the American military, and oversight of the vast federal bureaucracy.

This too will pass, unless it doesn’t. Trump could win the nomination. Carson could win the nomination. Each seems proud that they have no idea how government works, because it doesn’t work and they’ll do something different, although what that might be is unclear now. You’ll just have to trust them – and right now Uncle Ben seems more trustworthy. He’s a nice man.

Is that enough? Perhaps it is, and then there’s this:

Dan White, senior economist at Moody’s Analytics – Our Moody’s Analytics election model now predicts a Democratic electoral landslide in the 2016 presidential vote. A small change in the forecast data in August has swung the outcome from the statistical tie predicted in July, to a razor-edge ballot outcome that nevertheless gives the incumbent party 326 electoral votes to the Republican challenger’s 212.

But this is an economic model:

The primary factor driving the results further to the incumbent party in August is lower gasoline prices. Plummeting prices and changing dynamics in global energy markets from Chinese weakness and the Iranian nuclear deal have caused us to significantly lower our gasoline price forecast for the next several years. This variable is very significant to voter sentiment in the model, with lower prices favoring incumbents.

It is important to note that the model does not reflect results if an election were held today, but relies on Moody’s Analytics economic forecasts to determine what the world will look like in November 2016. Should gasoline prices rebound above the current baseline forecast by election time, the results of the model will move more in favor of the challenging Republicans. The forecast for house prices also accelerated moderately.

The election model’s other main drivers saw little to no change from the previous month. No new historical data were available for real personal income per household, though September’s quarterly update from the Bureau of Economic Analysis has potential to swing the model back toward the challengers if data come in weaker than forecast.

That’s it? It doesn’t matter if Donald Trump sneers his way into the hearts of all white Americans? It doesn’t matter that no one anywhere trusts Hillary Clinton on anything? It doesn’t matter than Uncle Ben is such a nice old man and so seemingly harmless? Apparently not:

The Moody’s Analytics Presidential Election model forecasts whether or not the incumbent party will maintain control over the White House using a mixture of economic, demographic and political data. The model successfully predicts every election back to 1980, including a perfect electoral vote prediction in the 2012 election.

Then what is all the fuss about? The Republican Party, which has now become the party of the South, now has their harmless “uncle” – who may snatch the nomination from the “huge” reality-show star – and the Democrats will never have another Obama – it’ll be careful evasive ordinary politicians from here on out – and it all comes down to the price of gasoline. Who knew?

But the rise of Ben Carson was a surprise.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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