Dr. Ben Carson is one of the world’s leading medical professionals whose brilliance stands out among his peers.
A distinguished neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Carson, who hails from Detroit, has an incredible story that every struggling child in the inner cities of America can identify with.
He grew up poor, raised by a single mother. At age 33, he became the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University Hospital, the beginning of a meteoric rise for a man who came out of Detroit to command the global stage in scientific research in medicine.
A recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Carson is the quintessential American success story and just like the story of President Obama, Carson’s life also reflects “the audacity of hope.”
But as Carson retires from one of the world’s most prestigious medical institutions, it appears that he is departing with a different kind of mark.
He is leaving labeled as the newly minted right wing darling who in an interview with TheBlaze, founded by the conservative firebrand Glenn Beck, said African American support for President Obama has little to do with vetting the president’s actual policies, but rather the roots of oppression of Blacks.
“It’s created by a long history of oppression and they’re very proud (of Obama) and that pride trumps rational thinking. I totally understand it, but I’m hoping at some point a more rational thought process will take over,” Carson said of Black voters.
Those remarks seem to suggest that Carson believes that support for Obama by Black voters was not based on the competence, ability and qualification of the president, but rather Obama’s connection to the Black vote by blood and ancestry.
While it is true that the history of the African American pilgrimage inspires pride among Blacks regarding the Obama presidency, it is insulting and condescending to suggest that Obama was only supported because he is Black. That is a narrative that’s recently been the bane of argument from those who are not imaginative or creative enough to find ways to make the Republican Party more appealing to Black voters.
Michael Steele, the 64th chairman of the Republican National Committee and its first African American leader, tried but got kicked out before he created any major changes at the helm of the GOP.
Does Carson believe that the 2012 GOP presidential nominee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was more qualified and had better policies than Obama?
Does Carson believe that Romney had better policies for women’s advancement, including support for reproductive rights and equal pay in the workplace than Obama?
Does Carson believe that in 2008, Sen. John McCain was more competent than then-Sen. Obama on the issues both men campaigned on for president?
For a man with sterling credentials and a medical pioneer to all of a sudden descend to the same level of gutter thinking of political operatives and hacks while at the same time denouncing “political correctness” is shocking.
Does Carson also believe that Obama won because, according to Romney, the president promised gifts to certain segments of the electorate who voted for him since they could not think for themselves?
But Carson’s sudden transformation from being a star in the medical world to becoming a divisive political figure did not stop with insulting Black voters.
In an interview with Fox News, Carson compared gay marriage to bestiality and pedophilia. He tried to take back his remarks but it was too late and the damage had been done.
“My thoughts are that marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s 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,” Carson said.
The outcry against his remarks about gay marriage has been unending. In fact, it forced Carson to not only apologize but voluntarily withdraw as the 2013 commencement speaker for Johns Hopkins Medical School. Many of the students protested his remarks which the school dean, Paul Rothman, described as inconsistent with the values of the institution, while acknowledging Carson’s right to free speech.
But the rapid controversial issues with Carson did not start there. It began with his harsh and unmerited criticism of President Obama’s policies at the National Prayer Breakfast in February, during which he took Obama, who was sitting with Michelle Obama a few feet away, to task on issues such as health care and taxes.
As the headline speaker at the annual breakfast, Carson politicized his speech at the National Cathedral, setting up the stage for obvious mass support from ultra-conservative activists and major conservative figures alike, extremely excited that finally another highly accomplished African American male can take the first Black president to task to his face on a prominent platform. Watching the entire religious ceremony, it appeared Carson came to church to fight with President Obama.
Denouncing the notion of taxing the wealthy at the highest rate, Carson, proposed a flat tax, citing tithing in the Bible. Without specifically mentioning the Affordable Health Care Act, he said the best health reform would be to give every child a health savings card at birth.
“Here’s my solution: When a person is born, give him a birth certificate, an electronic medical record, and a health savings account to which money can be contributed — pretax — from the time you’re born ’til the time you die,” Carson said at the National Cathedral.
Since his criticism of Obama’s key policy accomplishment at the 61st Annual Prayer Breakfast and his crude and senseless remarks about gay marriage, Carson has become the Marco Rubio for Black conservatives and a hero in the recovering conservative movement whose hopes were dashed by Obama’s 2012 overwhelming reelection.
In fact, Carson has been mentioned not only as a potential 2016 presidential challenger but also as a possible GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate in Michigan, to replace the outgoing Sen. Carl Levin. We’ll see if that is just political fantasy or a real dream been pursued.
The Conservative National Journal wrote, “If conservatives are looking for a political outsider with an inspiring rags-to-riches story and who could effectively challenge President Obama’s policies on health care and taxes while also quoting Scripture and criticizing political correctness, look no further than Ben Carson.”
I have no issue with Carson criticizing the president. He should criticize constructively as any level-headed individual would do if he disagrees with certain public policy issues. He has every right to express his opposition and speak out against any proposal coming from the Obama administration or Democrats.
But I expected that as an intellectual and a brilliant doctor who solves medical issues all the time, Carson would take it upon himself to deliver similar balanced criticisms of the conservative movement whose ideas he now seeks to embody.
When Obama was faced with detractors questioning his faith, including prominent right wing evangelists like the Rev. Franklin Graham, coming out publicly and saying they were doubtful of the 44th president of the United States being a Christian, where was Carson?
Did he speak out against the “political correctness” and the silence by leaders within the conservative movement who disagreed with the further questioning of the president’s Christian faith by their own colleagues?
Where was Carson when the GOP leadership, after the first inauguration of Obama in 2009, vowed to not work with him and make Obama a one-term president?
To be a credible voice and an equalizer on either side of the political movement, it would behoove Carson to deliver stinging criticisms of the conservative movement as well when necessary.
His failure to do so renders him nothing more than a political hack who risks being judged by his remarks on gay marriage, criticizing Obama to his face, Blacks being irrational, instead of his tremendous accomplishments in the medical world, and that is a shame.
Carson needs to sit down with Gen. Colin Powell and learn from him about how to be an effective political voice while keeping your reputation intact. Since his decision to enter the political world by speaking at the CPAC-Conservative Political Action Committee Conference and addressing conservative audiences earnestly seeking new leaders and heroes, Carson has been a lightening rod but one whose remarks could very well work to undermine the different groups that he would need if he is seeking political office anywhere.
Alienating African Americans by linking their support for Obama to irrational thinking for a doctor who ought to engage in rational thinking, and comparing gay marriage to bestiality, is the wrong route for Carson to start in politics no matter how much money die-hard conservatives are willing to put behind him.
Gov. Romney learned that lesson the hard way, when he abandoned the civil and human rights legacy of his father, George Romney, former governor of Michigan, in search of extreme policies and statements revealing how little he understands the growing need for gender diversity when his only response to the need for women in leadership during his tenure as governor in Boston was to turn to “binders full of women.”
Gen. Powell, who from time to time calls his party to task, is very pragmatic about his support of any issue. Powell doesn’t belong to just one party, which is why his voice and endorsements are respected.
Carson’s challenge is whether he can measure up to Powell. He is already squandering that opportunity by the kind of remarks he thinks would make him likable by those who think and act like him politically.
Gutter politics and exploiting racial politics for the benefit of media coverage and brand positioning within a certain ideological spectrum do not belong anywhere near those who claim to rise above the fray.
Carson has created a narrow ideological space that now confines him to an anti-intellectual, anti-Black, anti-historical narrative of meaningless political discourse. He is becoming the new vehicle of a movement that was thrown into disarray by Obama’s reelection by the very groups that he is now insulting.
Engaging in pseudo intellectual discourse to replace historical facts to satisfy unjustifiable policies that undermine the advancement of Blacks and people of color, women, gays and lesbians will not pass the truth test.
In Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion, “for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction.” Dr. Ben Carson should know that no one has a monopoly over the facts and that for every attempt to distort the facts and the historical body of evidence there will be an equal reaction to correct the facts.
Bankole Thompson is editor of the Michigan Chronicle and the author of the forthcoming book “Rising From the Ashes: Engaging Detroit’s Future With Courage.” His book “Obama and Black Loyalty,” published in 2010, follows his recent book, “Obama and Christian Loyalty” with an epilogue by Bob Weiner, former White House spokesman. Thompson is a political news analyst at WDET-101.9FM (NPR affiliate) and a member of the weekly “Obama Watch” Sunday evening roundtable on WLIB-1190AM New York and simulcast in New Jersey and Connecticut. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his personal page at http://www.bankolethompson.com.