Bob Ray Sanders: From world-famous surgeon to Republican political pawn?
Ben Carson is one of my heroes, based on his incredible life story of having been raised in a poor family, and not letting that fact keep him from becoming one of the country's most celebrated neurosurgeons.
Ben Carson is also a great disappointment to me, because he's allowed himself to become a tool of the right-wing Republican malcontents whose major sport is to take denigrating shots at the president of the United States.
It was in 1987 that I first became aware of this phenomenal physician, just as the rest of the world was taking note. He had led a team of 70 medical professionals at Johns Hopkins Hospital in a 22-hour surgery to separate conjoined twins connected at the head, a feat hailed then as the first such successful operation.
His book a few years later, "Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story," gave a moving account of a young boy growing up with anger issues, being raised by a single mother who had divorced his father. That mother worked hard to support her children and always stressed the importance of education.
Carson would go on to graduate from Yale, receive a medical degree from the University of Michigan and eventually become director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, an amazing accomplishment at the young age of 33.
The doctor toured the country telling his story, speaking of his faith and trying to inspire young African-Americans in particular that if he could succeed, so could they.
In 2008, President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, just one in a long list of honors Carson collected as his medical career flourished and his fame continued to spread.
Recently the surgeon has drifted more toward the political arena than the operating room, especially since his highly publicized comments during last year's National Prayer Breakfast where President Obama was in attendance and where Carson articulated his disapproval of a long list of things in the country, from tax policy to educational outcomes to health care.
The speech instantly made him a darling of the conservative radio/TV talk shows and, while to his credit he didn't say everything people tried to force-feed him, many of his uncoached comments were just as offensive.
For example, he called the Affordable Care Act "the worst thing that has happened in this country since slavery."
It's been paying off for him as he's has been making the rounds of conservative organizations, spewing right-wing dogma on a number of subjects, including gay marriage.
Carson has become "the great black hope" of at least some in the Republican Party, so much so that there is a campaign to draft him to run for president in 2016.
The "Run Ben Run!" effort is part of The National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee, which is already running some radio ads that begin with a hospital page bell-tone and an announcer saying, "Calling Dr. Ben Carson. Calling Dr. Ben Carson. You're needed in the White House."
The organization's website says you can help in several ways, among them: pray, sign the petition, call others, write letters to the editor and, of course, donate money.
Obviously some Republicans feel Carson, a successful black conservative who disses the president at will, offers the GOP its best chance to defeat Hillary Clinton in the next election.
In recent interviews, when asked about the possibility of running for president, the now retired neurosurgeon has hinted that he's considering it.
That's a good tactic. It keeps the hype going, keeps him at the center of attention and it keeps the money coming in.
Of course, he has every right to run for office if that's what he wants to do. I just wish he would not allow himself to be used in such a degrading way.
He's still my hero — just a disappointing one.
Bob Ray Sanders is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.