Compared to politics, separating babies conjoined at the head in a 22-hour-long surgical procedure is nothing. I wonder if Dr. Ben Carson is thinking that right about now.
Carson has had a pretty rough time lately. The pediatric neurosurgeon studied hard and worked his way out of rough circumstances to make a name for himself at the top of his field. Today that name is being pummeled, and all because he opened his mouth.
Carson knows who to blame for the metaphorical beating he’s taking, though. White liberals. “They’re the most racist people there are,” he told radio host Mark Levin on Monday. “Because they put you in a little category, a box: ‘You have to think this way, how could you dare come off the plantation?’”
That was a quick turnaround.
After Carson disagreed with President Obama’s tax and health care policies– in front of Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast– it was all moonlight and roses for the doctor in conservative circles. “Ben Carson for President,” an opinion column in the Wall Street Journal proclaimed. But when you make the headlines, people start paying closer attention to what you’re saying.
Did Carson think the path to the presidency was going to be smooth?
Argue against same-sex marriage by saying, “No group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA [the North American Man/Boy Love Association], be they people who believe in bestiality, it doesn’t matter what they are. They don’t get to change the definition,” and you will be criticized.
And then you will have to quickly backtrack and apologize, as Carson has.
Express doubts about evolution and a belief in creationist theory to explain the Earth’s beginnings, and many scientists will take issue with that position.
I would imagine being the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital is a pretty top-down position, with an awful lot of people saying “Yes, doctor.” Politics doesn’t work that way, and the man who admirably overcame a lot, who is rightly credited with his perseverance and philanthropy, should be able to take some pushback.
Before he embarks on a difficult surgical procedure, I’m sure Carson studies up. That’s why I’m surprised he wasn’t more prepared for battleground Washington. I understand his annoyance with what he terms “white liberals.” I’ve tweaked members of the group myself at times for an expectation of loyalty from political allies when they fail to return the favor.
But does Carson really think the liberal overlords he imagines are any less tolerant of dissenting views than organizers of the Conservative Political Action Conference who left off their guests list members of the Republican Party who strayed from conservative orthodoxy? Republican Colin Powell earned nothing but condescension and rebuke for his independence.
And why are some conservative African Americans so fond of slavery imagery as a default defense? “Plantation”? Really?
Herman Cain, who was briefly a GOP presidential hopeful, has said he “left the Democrat plantation a long time ago.” Former congressman Allen West (R-Fla.) said he’s “the guy that got off their 21st-century plantation.”
Going back a few years, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas described his treatment at his confirmation hearing as akin to “a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves.” In fact, a Cain ad linked the two brothers in aggrievement.
It’s insulting to the black men, women and children who were actually slaves, who endured far more than verbal pushback or questions from a few senators. Invoking their memory and sacrifice seems self-pitying and shameful.
It’s also insulting to African Americans who happen to be Democrats because just maybe they agree with a majority of the party’s platform. If Carson is off the plantation, does that mean they are on it? Members of the Congressional Black Caucus don’t hesitate to criticize the Democratic Party or the president, most recently for failing to appoint more African Americans to high-level positions in the administration. And the last time I looked, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who survived beatings, batons and worse as a civil rights activist, was nobody’s slave.
Instead of feeling outraged by the slights of white liberals, Carson should appreciate the fact that his every word is scrutinized. That doesn’t mean he’s being treated differently as a conservative black man. It proves that when it comes to politics he’s just like everybody else.
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3