Trumpeting Ben Carson With John Philip Sousa IV

John Philip Sousa IV, super PAC star

John Phillip Sousa, November 3, 1922. 
National Journal
Marin Cogan
July 18, 2014, 1 a.m.

A little more than a year ago, John Philip Sousa IV, the great-grand­son of the Amer­ic­an March King, was sit­ting around with his polit­ic­ally like-minded friends when they began to hatch a plan. In 2012, Sousa and com­pany had star­ted Amer­ic­ans for Sher­iff Joe, a polit­ic­al ac­tion com­mit­tee aimed at help­ing con­tro­ver­sial Ari­zona Sher­iff Joe Arpaio — bane of im­mig­ra­tion re­formers, hero of bor­der-fence hard-liners — win reelec­tion and battle a re­call fight. Sousa and friends had raised $1 mil­lion for the cause. Now they were un­sure what to do next.

“Someone said, ‘Do you re­mem­ber that Na­tion­al Pray­er Break­fast a hand­ful of months ago and that doc­tor — what was his name?’ ” Sousa re­calls. They were re­fer­ring to Ben Car­son, the re­spec­ted Johns Hop­kins neurosur­geon who had be­come an overnight cause célèbre among con­ser­vat­ives after he railed against polit­ic­al cor­rect­ness at a pray­er break­fast last year while Pres­id­ent Obama sat a few seats away. Sousa and friends did their home­work on Car­son, and they liked what they saw. “If I had more time, I’d stalk the guy, just to listen to him talk. He’s so in­spir­ing and so smart,” Sousa gushes.

In­stead of stalk­ing, Sousa be­came chair of the Na­tion­al Draft Ben Car­son for Pres­id­ent Com­mit­tee — which has proved a wildly suc­cess­ful un­der­tak­ing. So far this year, the or­gan­iz­a­tion ranks in the top ten for su­per PAC fun­drais­ing, ac­cord­ing to data com­piled by the Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics. A spokes­man for the com­mit­tee says the group has raised $7.2 mil­lion; its Face­book page cur­rently has more than 152,000 likes. Sousa says there are “15,000 act­ive vo­lun­teers” for the or­gan­iz­a­tion who might show up at polit­ic­al con­ven­tions to stump for the not-yet-de­clared can­did­ate or turn out to greet him at his book sign­ings.

Car­son and Sousa are not bud­dies. In Sousa’s telling, the two have met just once, last year, at a con­fer­ence in Wash­ing­ton. Still, “he’s very cog­niz­ant of who we are and what we’re do­ing,” Sousa says. “He gets asked about us every oth­er day in the me­dia.” Car­son, for his part, told Greta Van Suster­en last year that he was “not go­ing to in­ter­fere one way or an­oth­er” with the ef­forts of the draft move­ment.

Sousa, 66, first fell in love with polit­ics after vo­lun­teer­ing on his aunt’s cam­paign for a spot on a com­munity-col­lege board of trust­ees in 1971. Three years later, he took his own shot at high­er of­fice. “I was 24, and I was un­em­ployed and pretty broke, and my land­lord came up to my door and said, ‘The con­gress­man isn’t run­ning for reelec­tion, why don’t you run?’ ” Sousa re­calls. “I said, ‘Great idea, I need a job.’ ” But this was the height of the Wa­ter­gate era, and Sousa was run­ning as a Re­pub­lic­an in Cali­for­nia. “Not the smartest thing I have ever done,” he says, “but it was one of the best ex­per­i­ences in my life.”

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After his failed bid for Con­gress, he began a ca­reer as a fin­an­cial con­sult­ant. It took him longer to get in touch with his fam­ous roots. Sousa’s par­ents sep­ar­ated when he was a kid; he and his moth­er moved to Cali­for­nia, far from his fath­er. Bey­ond a few ce­re­mo­ni­al hon­ors — when he was 11, Sousa was in­vited to dir­ect the Mar­ine Corps Band on the Cap­it­ol steps — he didn’t know much about his great-grand­fath­er un­til later in life. “It sounds ter­rible to say,” Sousa says, “but I was in my early 50s be­fore I really star­ted to grasp who and what my great-grand­fath­er is and was.”

In 2000, the head mu­si­co­lo­gist at the Lib­rary of Con­gress in­vited him to Wash­ing­ton for a per­form­ance of his great-grand­fath­er’s mu­sic. When Sousa got there, the dir­ect­or handed him a nar­ra­tion to read dur­ing the event. “While I’m sure I ab­so­lutely sucked, the audi­ence really seemed to en­joy this,” he says. He star­ted meet­ing oth­er band dir­ect­ors around the coun­try; now he nar­rates 10 to 15 con­certs a year. The nar­ra­tions sparked his in­terest, and soon he was de­liv­er­ing talks to schools and com­munity groups, ask­ing wheth­er John Philip Sousa was Amer­ica’s first rock star. (In the es­tim­a­tion of many Sousa ex­perts, he was.) That in­spired a book of his­tory, John Philip Sousa’s Amer­ica, which John Philip Sousa IV cowrote and re­leased in 2012.

“It sounds ter­rible to say, but I was in my early 50s be­fore I really star­ted to grasp who and what my great-grand­fath­er is and was.”

Some Sousa schol­ars pre­sume he was a Re­pub­lic­an, but he wasn’t a brazen par­tis­an; he man­aged his im­age in a way that was ap­peal­ing to the main­stream. He was cer­tainly fiercely pat­ri­ot­ic, and he took his role as an am­bas­sad­or of Amer­ic­an cul­ture far too ser­i­ously to have been any­thing less than sin­cere. In his auto­bi­o­graphy, March­ing Along, he wrote of his be­lief in the su­prem­acy of Amer­ica over Europe. Europe, he wrote, had come up with the “tal­low candle, but like grate­ful chil­dren we sent in re­turn the elec­tric light; Europe gave us the prim­it­ive hand-power print­ing press of Guten­berg and in our simple-hearted way we showed her the Goss per­fect­ing press “¦ Europe put the bare needle in our fin­gers and we re­cip­roc­ate with the mod­ern sew­ing ma­chine.”

His mu­si­cian­ship, mean­while, seems to have en­cour­aged a be­lief in self-re­li­ance. “If a mu­si­cian, a writer, or a paint­er, has any­thing in him, he will dig it out of him­self, if the State will only let him starve long enough,” he wrote. Ac­cord­ing to his­tor­i­an Neil Har­ris, Sousa once told a news­pa­per re­port­er that “bo­hemi­an­ism has ruined more great minds then any one oth­er thing in the world.”

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Sousa the IV is cer­tain his great-grand­fath­er would be mor­ti­fied by the cur­rent state of the na­tion. “Polit­ic­al cor­rect­ness — in my view, and in Dr. Car­son’s view, be­cause he’s said so 1,000 times — has run amok today. It’s just stu­pid. It really in­fringes upon free­dom of speech, be­cause people are afraid to say things, and they shouldn’t be,” he says. “I think Great-Grand­fath­er is prob­ably not rolling over in his grave — he’s prob­ably spin­ning in his grave.”

“I’ve nev­er heard so many people call so many oth­er people a ra­cist since Barack Obama got elec­ted in­to of­fice, and he doesn’t do any­thing about it,” Sousa says. In his telling, the me­dia is no help. “The me­dia was all over Tim Te­bow be­cause he was a Chris­ti­an, and he got down on one knee after a play — they couldn’t stand it! And they were fawn­ing all over this gay NFL play­er like it was the most won­der­ful thing in the world! I don’t care if the guy is gay, but let’s bal­ance it out a little!”

On his Face­book page, Sousa, a pro­lif­ic poster, does his best to bal­ance it out a little. Re­cently, he wrote of the 52,000 un­ac­com­pan­ied minors liv­ing in Texas: “What a hor­ror story, tens of thou­sands of kids (with per­haps 300,000 more on the way), kids with highly con­ta­gious ill­nesses, gang mem­bers anxious to rape and pil­lage throughout the US.” Re­fer­ring to Obama, he ad­ded, “As usu­al, so pissed “¦ so very pissed at what this clown is do­ing to our coun­try.” It’s not ex­actly the ro­mantic, earn­est pat­ri­ot­ism we tend to as­so­ci­ate with the ori­gin­al John Philip Sousa. But his great-grand­son seems con­vinced that, if he were alive today, the two of them would be march­ing to the same beat.

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