As we've noted before, Ben Carson's turn as the GOP frontrunner has led the media to shine a spotlight on some of his quirkier viewpoints and tall tales from his biography.
But most recently, the abundance of this sort of coverage has inspired something of a backlash, fueled in part by Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, who complained on "Meet The Press" this weekend that the focus should be on Carson's proposals as a candidate. "I know it's a crazy idea," said Sanders, "but maybe we focus on the issues impacting the American people and what candidates are saying, rather than just spending so much time exploring their lives of 30 or 40 years ago.”
Many in the media share Sanders' viewpoint. As my colleague, Igor Bobic, wrote just yesterday, "What has gotten a little lost in the hoopla over whether [Carson] misrepresented certain details of his biography -- for instance, claims that he was offered a place at West Point and that he stabbed someone in his youth -- is what he would actually do as president."
But, as Bobic says, "The problem with moving on and focusing on his policy platform, which Carson urged on Sunday, is that he barely has one."
He's not alone in noting this. Amy Walter, national editor of The Cook Political Report, tweeted:
I understand where this is coming from, but I'd like to offer a counterpoint: To learn what Carson would actually do as president, we should pay more attention to his odd beliefs and biographical exaggerations. Why? Because it's clear that what Carson is promising to do is take America on a series of wild and zany adventures, and turn our lives into a phantasmagoric roller coaster ride of adrenaline-pumping action and experiences that would stagger the imaginations of our nation's founders.
This is the beauty that I see in Ben Carson, and I want everyone to be able to see it! With Ben Carson as a presidential candidate, we are at a crossroads. One path leads to the enunciation of boring policy plans, the rigamarole of delegate-collecting and nomination-winning and convention-having, and then the anti-climax of an election in which voters choose someone who'll either fail to deliver on promises or restrict their promises to a pitifully mediocre array of offerings. Then, we'll just go on, feeling hollow inside and waiting for the sweet relief of death's embrace.
Or. OR! Ben Carson will be elected, and we will set off on a fantastic thrill ride beyond the senses, limited only by our dreams and desires, each new day dawning into a magical kaleidoscope of mind-bending possibilities.
As a candidate, Ben Carson is just on another level entirely. It's high time we start judging the rest of the field by the standards he sets, instead of insisting that Carson dial back everything that makes him so incredible so that he more closely resembles the more earthbound GOP candidates for president.
To listen to the way the media covers Carson, you'd think that he's alone in being a "lunatic" or saying things that have "no basis in fact." But look at Marco Rubio's tax plan! It is pure and unadulterated Willy Wonka nonsense. And yet, as horsecrap as Rubio's numbers are, what's really lacking is his vision. Rubio might promise "revenues" and "growth," but what part of Rubio's tax plan gets a scholarship to West Point? What part of Rubio's tax plan stops a bear attack?
Nice tax plan, Rubio, but riddle me this, boy genius: If your tax plan is so great, how come I can't store any grain in it?
Gotcha, Marco. Check and mate.
Jeb Bush, meanwhile, says that he'd go back in time to kill baby Hitler:
“It could have a dangerous effect on everything else, but I’d do it -- I mean, Hitler,” Bush said with a shrug.
Leave it to low-energy Jeb to suck all of the enjoyment and excitement out of the precious gift that is the opportunity to travel back in time to murder a baby. Where did all the white-knuckle thrills in your life go to die, Jeb? Did you murder them, with your boringness?
You put this question to Ben Carson, and you can bet your bottom dollar that he'll come up with a plan that's exciting, challenging and completely unexpected. Going back in time to kill baby Hitler? That's for normal candidates. An extraordinary man like Ben Carson wouldn't merely go back in time to kill Hitler -- he'd go back in time to convert Hitler to Seventh-day Adventism and make him walk a righteous path. Carson would be the metaphoric belt buckle preventing Hitler from stabbing the Jewish people of Europe by turning Hitler's violence aside and making him run to the bathroom of his soul, to read a magical issue of Psychology Today and seek the wisdom necessary to become a better human being. (And then, with the help of time-traveling Michele Bachmann, they'd convert the Jewish people of Europe to Christianity, too.)
Look. It's true that Ben Carson doesn't have much in the way of conventional policy propositions. After the last debate, he was lampooned for not knowing the rate at which his own tax plan would tax people. But this is actually one of the things that makes Carson a strong candidate: his total disinterest in mere "plans" and "policies." There's a lot more to life than what can be slowly ground through the House Appropriations Committee. What I'd say to everyone who harps on Carson's lack of policy acumen as a reason to treat him as if he's not ready for primetime is: You are not looking at the Big Picture.
Because if you look at the Big Picture, you know what you would see? You would see Jesus, up in the corner, offering his smiling approval of Ben Carson. What other candidate can claim to have this kind of backing? This is a painting bombing from the Son of God Himself! But the so-called "mainstream media" wants you to believe that earning the endorsement of Sen. Cory Gardner is a big deal.
Don't you want to feel inspired again? This election is about your life. When the picture of your life is painted and mounted on a wall in your home, do you really want to see Cory Gardner in the background?
Come on, now.
The rest of the GOP field treats American exceptionalism as if it's some tatty museum exhibit -- some antiquity for academics to enclose in a glass box and leave inside some dusty, wood-paneled room, occasionally visited by wisdom-seekers who part from the experience feeling more diminished for having done so. Ben Carson is the only candidate who is loudly advocating for us to push beyond these self-imposed limits and start wielding the concept of American exceptionalism in the way that only a man who literally believes man and dinosaurs walked the earth together can.
Even Donald Trump, for all his big talk and gold leaf, can't compete with Carson in this regard. Trump wants to build a wall and get Mexico to pay for it? Carson would get Mexico to build it. And it would be armed with lasers, garlanded with wise and kindly dragons and inscribed with words of such surpassing wisdom that anyone who travels to the wall wouldn't need to cross the border of a nation to find opportunity waiting -- they'd instead come away armed with the knowledge necessary to cross the most important border of all: the border to personal greatness.
Who, then, would truly "make America great again?" The answer seems clear to me. But if we foolishly demand a pivot to Carson's "policies," we run the risk of missing the real promise of his candidacy -- the opportunity for this entire country to undertake a series of improbable and implausible thrill rides that push us beyond the boundaries of our mortal bodies and into the great wide yawning universe of experiences beyond perception.
This is the Dream Archipelago from which Carson has come into our lives, and to which he promises to take us. We need only to open our minds to him, and allow him to leave a sponge inside our minds.
A sponge soaked in LSD.
Jason Linkins edits "Eat The Press" for The Huffington Post, and co-hosts the HuffPost politics podcast, "So, That Happened." Listen to the latest episode below: