Barack Obama has never claimed that his political opponents were motivated by racism. Others may have occasionally made that argument on his behalf, but Obama himself has never done so. However, his conservative opponents love to condemn him for it anyway.
Ben Carson, the black neurosurgeon from Baltimore who has become the latest conservative flavor of the month, clearly doesn’t hesitate to play the race card. In a radio interview Tuesday, he claimed that liberals who criticized his recent comments on gay marriage “are the most racist people there are because they put you in a little category, a box. ‘How could you dare come off the plantation?’”
“They want to shut us up completely, and that’s why the attacks against me have been so vicious,” Carson said in a talk radio interview. “I represent an existential threat to them. They need to shut me up, they need to get rid of me, they can’t find anything else to delegitimize me, so they take my words, misinterpret them, and try to make it seem that I’m a bigot.”
His self-aggrandizement aside, Carson poses an existential threat to nobody in politics but himself. As impressive as he is as a neurosurgeon, he is no more qualified for high public office than he is to play center field for the Baltimore Orioles. In fact, Carson is more interesting because of what his sudden Fox-driven popularity tells us about the conservative movement than he is as a political neophyte with no future.
Take, for example, his comments on gay marriage. As Carson put it:
“(Marriage) is a well-established fundamental pillar of society. And no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality — it doesn’t matter what they are. They don’t get to change the definition.”
Now, there is certainly a market for people in public life willing to equate gay Americans to child sex abusers or to those who have sex with animals. However, that market is not large enough to make a person a serious or even marginal candidate for president, and in fact that market is shrinking by the day.
There is also a small market for politicians — and that’s what Carson is acting like — who say silly and stupid things and then play victim when they’re called on it. Sarah Palin is one example; Herman Cain is another. Such behavior plays into a conservative world view that holds that their failure to dominate the political world can be explained only by a liberal media out to get them, by an ACORN-led voting conspiracy, by a 47 percent bought and paid for by the government, by the fact the sun got in their eyes, etc.
Their real problem is the silly things they do and say, but that explanation isn’t to be considered –ironic, given their rhetorical emphasis on taking personal responsibility.
To cite another example, let’s look at Carson’s suggested alternative to invading Afghanistan in the wake of Sept. 11. According to the neurosurgeon, President Bush should not have responded militarily back in 2001 but instead should have made a speech in which he promised to wean the United States from foreign oil within a decade.
As Carson put it:
“And that would’ve been much more effective than going to war because, first of all, the moderate Arab states would’ve been terrified. And they would’ve handed over Osama Bin Laden and anybody else we wanted on a silver platter to keep us from doing that.”
Now maybe I’m a racist. Maybe I’m just trying to shut Carson up because he poses “an existential threat” to liberal policies. But in the wake of Sept. 11, I do not believe that a speech on oil imports would have been a sufficient response by President Bush. I think it reflects a startling naivete.
Carson has also said that of course he supports giving illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship, because “that’s the only humane and reasonable thing to do.” I happen to agree with him on that issue, but the fact that many conservatives either do not know where he stands or do not care — they’re more excited about the validation he offers to them as victims — says a lot about how seriously to take him as a political leader.
– Jay Bookman