Students attend a Defund Obamacare rally in Tennessee. (Luke Sharrett for The Washington Post)
Students attend a Defund Obamacare rally in Tennessee. (Luke Sharrett for The Washington Post)

The far right-wing has gotten into the bad habit of latching onto sharp-tongued ideologues peddling one-liners and decrying the political system, which just happens to make them rich and/or famous. That is how you get Hermann Cain’s few weeks of fame and everyone from Christine O’Donnell to Joe the Plumber. The flash in the pan, the unwise and unthoughtful are now part of a stable of weird political stars.

Even the previously esteemed Americans among us can wind up in the political vaudeville of the far right. Take brilliant neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson. He rose to fame politically speaking by being rude during a prayer breakfast when he directed his biting remarks to the president. I spare the president no criticism, but his office deserves respect and its occupants should be encouraged to supposedly apolitical expressions of communal faith. Anyway, Dr. Carson became an overnight sensation, not recognizing or caring that one can be a brilliant surgeon and know next to nothing about politics.

Dr. Carson’s mostly harmless fame-getting exploits took a nasty turn at the Values Voter Summit just concluded. During the doctor’s speech he declared: “You know Obamacare is really I think the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery. . . And it is in a way, it is slavery in a way, because it is making all of us subservient to the government, and it was never about health care. It was about control.” And no one booed or exclaimed, “What?!”

And worse still, when queried on Meet the Press, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) couldn’t bring himself to criticize the remarks, or even show the least bit of concern about the patently untrue and entirely inflammatory rhetoric.

Think about that for a moment. In any sense is any liberal welfare program equivalent to the enslavement of human beings? It’s a bizarrely stupid thing to say. Off the top of my head I can come up with a whole bunch of things worse than Obamacare, from a purely conservative perspective. Let’s look at a sample: The growth of  the liberal welfare state before Obamacare; several mismanaged wars; collapse of American power now and in the 1970s; abortion on demand via an activist Supreme Court; the collapse of the American family; the degeneration of public schools and the sorry state of popular culture. Obamacare can’t raise a candle to any or all of those.

The desire to make whatever political opponents are doing not only wrongheaded but evil, the worst-thing-since-whenever and the product of hidden desires to undermine America, is one of the most destructive habits in contemporary politics. It makes political spats into battles to the (political) death and it flies in the face of a central precept of democracies — the toleration of dissent and of the opposition. It might in fact be one of those things worse than Obamacare that came along since slavery.

It would have been nice had Sen. Portman had the gumption to say he disagreed with Dr. Carson’s comments and found them unhelpful. (But then Portman felt obliged to genuflect toward the right wing in his vote against cloture way back when on the continuing resolution on the House effort to defund Obamacare that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) tried to block (that is, after Cruz insisted the House come up with it). The way in which the rhetoric and the political antics that accompany it ends is when grown-ups in the electorate, in campaigns, in office and in the misbehaving ideologues side of the political spectrum denounce it.

As for the Values Voter Summit, it is an American value and a Judeo-Christian one to be honest and to respect fellow members of our community, whether we disagree with them or not. Next time it would be nice if the Values Voter audience set an example rather than celebrating the disintegration of political comity.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.