One Nation cover
SENTINEL BOOKS

Where does Dr. Ben Carson go next?

On NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday, he told David Gregory that he still doesn’t have plans for a White House run—but only after he edged in ever so slightly last week, suggesting to the Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes that he’s “starting to feel it.”

It’s the sort of careful phrasing you’d expect from a guy who's become a sort of Tony Robbins-esque sage on the patriotically correct right, about whether or not he has loftier ambitions.

If he does run, though, he’ll have already laid part of the groundwork with his new book, One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future, which comes out on Tuesday. And while Carson has already written several books, this one works perfectly as the now almost mandatory prepresidential manifesto that every contender—from nominees like Mitt Romney to also-rans like Tim Pawlenty—typically writes.

Regular readers of The Root know that I’ve been pretty critical of Carson over the last couple of years—just read here, here and here—but if you want a view into what’s bubbling up in national politics, I’d have to say that One Nation is worth the read.

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In it, Carson outlines his views on everything from same-sex marriage (“One can choose God’s word or the gay marriage agenda”), corporate taxes (they’re too high), Miley Cyrus (not a role model) and whether or not we are our brother’s keeper (via private charity, yes; by way of government, no).

And in a trim 256 pages, he lays out a fairly wide-ranging vision of the America that he’d like to see, beginning each chapter with a biblical proverb and ending each chapter with a list of four bullet-point recommendations.

Tighter policy details aren’t really there, but in one chapter he’s fairly expansive on the subject of health care, laying out his case against Obamacare and for Health Savings Accounts, saying: “With each person owning his own HSA in the United States, most people would become interested in saving by shopping for the most cost-effective high-quality health care plans available.”

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When he writes that “the HSA could be populated with funds supplied by an employer, the owner, relatives, friends, and governmental sources,” he makes a less-than-satisfying move away from where the money comes from now, but Carson does outline a plan for allowing individual HSA balances to be inherited and for individuals to transfer money into their HSA accounts into those of family members.

Carson addresses some of the same topics that he did in America the Beautiful, but this book is conspicuously tuned for a wider audience. Even the photo on the jacket dispenses with the pensive, bespectacled doctor we’ve often seen and replaces him with the upright, flag-pin-adorned pundit.

His Achilles heel, though, may be his clear sensitivity about being seen as partisan.

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Carson often hedges—portraying himself as an observer detached from the rough edges of day-to-day politics. He writes, for instance, about scaling back welfare programs: “Some liberals would say that is mean and heartless, but some conservatives would say that continuing to sustain people in a dependent position with meager welfare payments is what is really cruel.” You know—what some say.

And he’s clearly stung by the pushback on some of his more infamous sound bites—trying to clean up, early on in the book, his “be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality” riff on same-sex marriage. But when he suggests that if he’d only known at the time how gays and lesbians would react, he “would have avoided the topic, since the last thing I wanted to do was cause unnecessary offense,” it’s a bit difficult to take him seriously. He’s either chagrined, in hindsight, that he got called out for saying something foul, or seriously out of touch with the culture wars of the last 20 years.

I’d guess that his desire to appear above the fray is only natural after enjoying, throughout his medical career, almost universal admiration. But it’s not a great index of leadership when someone is willing to grab headlines by making obnoxious statements and then is less willing to take the heat that comes from making them.

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Carson has a lot of ground to cover before anyone should take him seriously as a presidential contender. But since his candidacy is a distinct possibility, One Nation offers, almost two years out, a useful glimpse into what that campaign might look like.

David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

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David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.