The power of Ben Carson's humility

Story highlights

  • Alex Castellanos: The mystery of Ben Carson's ascendancy will continue to baffle people
  • Carson's life is a testament to humility and selfless service, he says

Alex Castellanos, a Republican strategist, is the founder of Purple Strategies and Follow him on Twitter @alexcast. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)"All streams flow to the sea because it is lower than they are. Humility gives it its power. If you want to govern the people, you must place yourself below them." ― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

The third GOP presidential debate was a unifying event for Republicans, thanks to the ineptitude of CNBC and its moderators. Only President Obama has done more to bring Republicans together. CNBC should be complimented that it will now be lumped with the mainstream media, considering its feeble ratings.
Dr. Ben Carson performed as he has before, when he has climbed surprisingly in post-debate polls. After this debate, we should expect nothing different.
    Alex Castellanos
    In the debate's aftermath, the mystery of Ben Carson's ascendancy will continue to baffle both the Washington and news media establishments. Stunned by Carson's rise, our governing elite will keep scurrying about like alien scientists in a 50s sci-fi movie, unable to explain the phenomenon earthlings call "love," even with the power of their advanced microscopes.
    They will tell us Carson did not meet the debate's standard. They will say he displayed a tenuous grasp of the issues and of a president's responsibilities.
    They'll wonder if the simple people in flyover America are contented with the good doctor's niceness, in vivid contrast with the vicious politics of the moment. Or could his appeal be that he speaks softly, which makes him sound learned and serious?
    Perhaps the simple people have found an oracle that satisfies them on an uncomplicated level, much like an inspirational poster that young girls have on their walls? "Whenever you find yourself doubting how far you can go, remember how far you have come!" or another dumb pleasantry, says the poster for Carson for President they envision.
    Branding experts will again be brought to the political morning shows to admit that, even as brilliant and all knowing as they are, they just don't get it. Carson is given no more respect than a throat lozenge that makes people feel better when the media knows we need serious medicine.
    The little people don't seem to understand that the presidency requires vast skill managing large organizations and profound knowledge of political issues. Where would we be today if we had not been led by politicians with such skills?
    The breathtaking presumption of superiority in this discussion is, in fact, the fuel for Carson's candidacy. How disconnected from the American people can our ruling elite possibly get?
    Washington still doesn't understand his candidacy, but the secret to the Carson phenomenon shouldn't be news to anyone who has run political campaigns.
    When I was younger, helping direct races for governor, senator and president, I often ran into the candidate who was willing to make the great sacrifice required to serve the common man, the unwashed American voter.
    Sometimes, the candidate came from a privileged political family. Often, he was a CEO enamored with his own nonpareil gifts. These candidates usually sought the ultimate recognition of their superiority: They wanted to "give back" to the little people, their unfortunate lessers, who had proved incapable of accumulating similar fruits of success.
    Regularly, the candidate who thought most of himself in public was the most insecure about his abilities in private. The monkey that roars the loudest, science tells us, is often the least capable.
    Other times, the candidate who could not conceal his superiority was a young whiz convinced only he could invent the light bulb. Understandably, he could not deny the country his vast leadership skills and charisma.
    Occasionally, the candidate was a good man who had simply been in office too long. I vividly remember the complaints of one congressman, weary of family time lost forever, fatiguing commutes and low pay. Tired of begging for money and votes, only to benefit ordinary lives, not his own, he moaned, "Don't these people know the sacrifices I've made for them?"
    We see the same today in candidates who tell us campaigning for the presidency is a miserable experience, or they hate serving in the U.S. Senate.
    Often, I found it was the candidates, not the voters, whom a simple story most helped. Many times I shared this parable with a candidate who had lost his way:
    Long ago, a young Chinese prince wanted to be a great and powerful ruler for his people. So he sought out the wisest man in all of China and asked him, "Old man, how do I become the most powerful ruler in the world?"
    The wise man answered, "Young prince, what is the most powerful body of water in the world?" The young prince replied, "It is the ocean!"
    "Correct," said the wise man! "Young prince, what flows to the ocean?" The young prince replied, "The rivers flow to the ocean!" And the wise man said, "Correct! Young prince, why do the rivers flow to the ocean?"
    The young prince paused to answer; "Because the ocean is lower than the rivers."
    The wise man whispered, "Correct! Young prince, if you would be as powerful as the ocean and have the people flowing to you like the rivers, you must be lower than people you serve!"
    Voters in both political parties today have been promised the moon, stars and the sun by the political leaders they have chosen, yet we find ourselves submerged in doubt and darkness. A stagnant economy. A world of threats, circling closer. Politicians who inflate themselves with promises that come to nothing and a self-indulgent elite that has us dancing perilously close to the edge.
    Nothing grows for the average Joe except his fear that he is losing his country. The game, he's come to think, is rigged against him in a corrupt casino where only the privileged are allowed to win.
    And on the bright screens of celebrity and success, they see the very same impotent politicians who promised to save them. They've become rock stars despite never having a hit.
    In relief comes Dr. Ben Carson, whose life is a testament to humility and selfless service. He is the very opposite of the vainglorious politician whose re-election is his only accomplishment. Unlike a Donald Trump, his success comes from serving others, not from taking from them.
    The greatest mass movements in history have been built, not on vaporous political promises, but on the twin pillars of humility and selfless service. Treat your neighbor as yourself. Do unto others what you would have them do unto you. "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve."
    Washington stands dumb in front of this power. It looks up, unrecognizing, at the man who stoops to help others and then stands taller because he serves.
    A friend who knows more about religion than I do tells me "Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his friends," doesn't mean what I think it does. It doesn't mean we have to die to demonstrate our love for our neighbors. We "lay down our lives" in all we do, big and small, when we put someone else's needs ahead of our own.
    "We lay down our lives," he told me, "through service. Then, we get much more than we give."
    Service to others is Carson's strength. Humility alone is his power. He will remain a mystery to the self-serving Washington political machinery that will likely grind him down to meal and devour him as an unqualified pretender.
    Until then, despite his debate performances, the people flow to him as the rivers, and he becomes as powerful as the ocean because he is lower than the people he serves.