Maryland's Ben Carson may run for president in 2016. The conservative Republican ought to think better of it, pocket the royalties from increased sales of his book and stay out of the contest.

From his television appearances, the world-renowned Baltimore neurosurgeon seems like a smart, personable guy. His bootstrap personal story is compelling, and his surgical genius is unquestioned. All of which is well and good if one needs brain surgery or an extra dose of inspiration.


But with all due respect, nothing on Dr. Carson's resume qualifies him to be president, and it's too important of a job to trust to amateurs. To elect him president based on his neurosurgery expertise makes about as much sense as hiring me to perform brain surgery because I can spell medulla oblongata.

I realize many Americans are sick of Washington and its permanent ruling class. From government to Wall Street to the media, public confidence in American institutions is low. Dr. Carson would — medical metaphor alert! — offer a powerful antidote to a beltway full of career politicians.

But we should be wary of people who believe their successes in one field somehow transfer automatically to politics and public affairs. The truth is that successes rarely transfer across occupations.

Consider the greatest basketball player ever, Michael Jordan, who failed in his bid to play major league baseball and has mostly failed as a National Basketball Association executive. And these jobs were closely related to Mr. Jordan's primary expertise. Image if he decided his jump shot qualified him to be a hedge fund manager or world-class violinist.

Mr. Carson's ambitions remind me of a powerful essay about 2004 Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean penned by Marjorie Williams in December 2003.

At the time, Ms. Williams had been spending more time than she preferred with physicians: She was battling the liver cancer that took her life a year later, at age 46. Suddenly, she realized that Dr. Dean's medical background explained a lot about his political style.

"Where else but in medicine do you find men and women who never admit a mistake? Who talk more than they listen, and feel entitled to withhold crucial information?" Ms. Williams asked rhetorically.

I'm not suggesting Dr. Carson has a "god complex." Nor am I qualified to psychoanalyze Dr. Carson. (That's precisely the point of this column!)

But I am qualified to judge his public pronouncements. And what they reveal is an amateurish, even naïve understanding of how government works.

At the 2013 Conservative Political Action Committee conference in Baltimore, for example, Dr. Carson expressed support for a flat income tax.

But the allure of a simple flat tax — or the gimmicky "9-9-9" tax plan another political amateur, Herman Cain, touted last presidential cycle — is precisely the problem: It's an idea worthy of simpletons. American households differ in income, size, marital status, number of dependents and myriad other ways. Proposing a flat tax that removes the incentivizing power of various tax deductions and privileges is as intellectually lazy as proposing that people simplify their wardrobes by wearing the same clothes no matter the weather conditions.

Last month during his Iowa speech at the "Freedom Summit" co-hosted by Rep. Steve King and Citizens United, Dr. Carson did it again. His solution to a federal bureaucracy he thinks is too big? When federal employees retire, don't hire replacements.

The problem is that some of those retiring bureaucrats perform vital roles. Worse, Dr. Carson seems blithely unaware that public sector employment, which grew by 1.7 million workers during the eight years of the Bush Administration, has actually shrunk during the Obama presidency. Peddling top-of-the-head solutions to imagined problems is a tell-tale sign of an amateur politician.

Such ideas are like the classic Henny Youngman joke about the patient who tells the doctor that it hurts "when I do this," and the doctor replies, "Then don't do that."


That line was good for a laugh, but little more, which I suspect will be the fate of Dr. Carson's presidential candidacy, if he runs. A brain surgeon with a very impressive noggin of his own should know better. Stick to house calls, doc.

Thomas F. Schaller teaches political science at UMBC; his most recent book is "The Stronghold: How Republicans Captured Congress but Surrendered the White House." His column appears every other Wednesday. His email is schaller67@gmail.com. Twitter: @schaller67.