Ben Carson And The Alan Keyes Cautionary Tale

The Republican and mainstream media's pathetically forced Carson/Obama symmetry brings to mind the 2004 Senate contest between the future president and political activist, author and former diplomat Alan Keyes.
Ben Carson

In February of 2013, author and retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Ben Carson gave President Barack Obama a piece of his mind on issues ranging from health care to political correctness, during the National Prayer Breakfast. And a Republican star was born. Earlier this month in a column entitled The Soft Bigotry of Ben Carson, New York Times Op-Ed writer Charles Blow offered this assessment of the confrontation:

“It’s not that others have not criticized the president before or since, but it was the particularity of the racial imagery of Carson’s critique — one smart, accomplished black man undressing another in public — that gave it particular power. It insulated the attack from racial characterization. He said things from the lips of a black conservative that roiled the minds of white ones. And it represented a prominent breaking of ranks, a slicing off of black solidarity from not only Democratic loyalty but also from fidelity with this president.”

The accomplished, soft-spoken Carson currently sits just five points below 2016 Republican front-runner Donald Trump in a recent release from Public Policy Polling. That is a sentence I’d never thought I’d write in my lifetime, but I digress. Carson may be a brilliant physician but as my sister Jennifer recently and astutely observed, he’s also “frankly, one of the smartest dumb dudes alive.”

In a 2016 Republican primary campaign depressingly rife with distortions, inflammatory hate speech and blatant cynicism, Carson has not been the voice of class and reason for which many undecideds hoped. No matter how accomplished his resume or soft his tenor, the good doctor has disqualified himself over and again for the nation’s highest office – even as “progressive” Republicans and conservative media pundits enjoy their latest mainstream alienating love affair.

I’m quite sure the party’s base would love him to go on talking. Because no matter how outrageous the right has grown in its free political ignorance, as Blow highlights, there are still things white candidates (Donald Trump notwithstanding) can’t allow themselves to say. Such as these gems from the Sunday, September 20 edition of NBC’s Meet the Press:

“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

“Congress is a different story, but it depends on who that Muslim is and what their policies are, just like it depends on what anybody else is. If there’s somebody who is of any faith but they say things and their life has been consistent with things that will elevate this nation and make it possible for everybody to succeed and bring peace and harmony, then I’m with them.”

To quote Bart Simpson, Ay caramba. This was not gotcha journalism (my thoughts on the investigative dereliction of Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd will be happily shared another time). This is an unqualified, racist crackpot speaking with the authority and support (silent or otherwise) of his partymates, trying to convince the rest of us that he is wizened and thoughtful enough to lead a nation of disparate peoples.

23 percent of Muslim Americans identify as black. Most of the remainder are other persons of color. Carson is a person of color, therefore untouchable no matter how hurtful and discriminatory his statements. An ironic carte blanche. See Carson shoot up the polls.

The only qualification Ben Carson seems to possess as a legitimate politician is the ability to talk (or mumble) out of both sides of his mouth. He wants everyone to succeed, peace and harmony for all, but he also wants to exclude an entire group of citizens from the White House against explicit Constitutional decree. Because 9/11 y’all. MD and skin color aside, Carson’s neck is just as red as Mike Huckabee’s.

As a longtime Illinois resident, the Republican and mainstream media’s pathetically forced Carson/Obama symmetry brings to mind the 2004 Senate contest between the future president and political activist, author and former diplomat Alan Keyes. Keyes, an African-American, demonstrated to his party’s caucus that being educated and black was far from enough to counteract Obama’s stride to Washington. The Free Republic reported at the time:

“He’s alienated almost all of the Republican party operatives throughout the state, starting with his wild-eyed rhetoric about Barack Obama’s pro-abortion stance (the ‘slaveholders’ position, similar to a terrorist, etc) and his attack on Dick Cheney’s gay daughter (Keyes called Mary Cheney a ‘selfish hedonist’).”

One has to talk a lot of crazy to alienate the Cheney family. 11 years later, Keyes exists as a frightening, if somewhat humorous political footnote. I eagerly await Carson’s similar recession from the public consciousness.

Becky Sarwate is the current President of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association, founded in 1885, as well as Recording Secretary for the National Federation of Press Women. She is a national award-winning journalist, blogger, newsletter editor and theater critic. Becky lives in Chicago with her partner Bob and their menagerie of pets. Keep up with her at
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