By any measure Ben Carson is at the top of his field. The renowned surgeon has established a clear and irrefutable legacy in medicine. His life-altering surgical procedures are the stuff of legend, and the fact that he is an African-American male in a profession where Blacks comprise just 4 percent of practitioners is all the more impressive. I first became aware of Carson during my years in Baltimore as he made news at the Mecca of medical research, Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Now, Carson is making news not for his medical exploits but for his foray into the world of partisan politics. The surgeon has declared himself an unabashed conservative and has become the latest Black darling of the political right. Every so often, we hear a Black voice being elevated by the far right in an attempt to neutralize racial claims in political discourse while actually inflaming the passions of the overwhelming majority of Blacks who see through the charade.
We’ve seen the likes of Alan Keyes emerge, as he ran for every office with the exception of dogcatcher and seemed to appear everywhere when race was at the center of the debate. Even the left-leaning cable TV outpost MSNBC got in on the fun and gave Keyes a show to promote his idiocy on the airwaves. Then there was Florida congressman and Tea Party darling Allan West who was so far on the extreme right that he became a caricature of a Black conservative caricature. And who can forget Herman Cain, the former corporate pizza pusher, a political simpleton whose ignorance convinced the former CEO that he could run for the presidency and made thinking Republicans blush. The dark side of the far right is truly an intellectual wasteland.
What makes Carson stand out is his professional pedigree. He was seen as the epitome of Black success, a true rags-to-riches story, having overcome challenges in his youth to rise to a place of prominence through hard work, determination, and sheer brilliance. He might not have earned a place on the wall in Black households beside John, Martin, and Jesus (and soon Obama), but his name was certainly held in great esteem by Black parents who wanted to provide their children with a role model to emulate.
At least until Carson voices his political beliefs.
The famed surgeon has become a stalker, attacking the Affordable Health Care Act every chance he gets to stand behind a podium or make a television appearance. Carson uses his credibility in the medical profession to assault Obamacare and by effect, disparage the nation’s first African-American president.
His vitriol has earned him the admiration of the GOP’s right flank and given him ‘most favored Black son’ status with the conservative propagandist tool, the Fox News Network. Carson gives conservatives a convenient race-shield, a Black person who can carry their water and deliver messages that are racially codified but cannot be charged with being a racist due to his race. And unlike the silent assassin on the United States Supreme Court, Ben Carson usually doesn’t look like a buffoon when he engages in buffoonery.
It’s not just Carson’s critique of health care reform that is earning him rave reviews from the political right. At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), he gave the salivating crowd something to devour. He played upon the pseudo-religiosity of the CPAC audience when he declared, “I hate political correctness. I will continue to defy the p.c. police when they try and shut me up. I still believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.” That’s good stuff for that crowd. By attacking the president and gay marriage, Carson solidified his conservative credentials.
The mistake Carson and his fans make, as has others before him, is confusing his fame in his chosen field with competency in public policy. And they fool themselves into believing that most Blacks and thinking other folks don’t know the difference. The reason why the likes of Ben Carson, Allan West, Clarence Thomas, and Alan Keyes never gain traction among Black voters and mainstream White voters, Republican or Democrat, is that they’re too easy to deconstruct.
There is no intellectual depth, no substance when they share their thoughts on matters of policy. We know the difference between real and pretend because we have experience with Black Republicans who gained our respect with their thoughtful analysis.
Whether it was E. Frederic Morrow in the Eisenhower White House; former Massachusetts Sen. Ed Brooke; Arthur Fletcher; or William Coleman Jr., the first Black Secretary of Transportation, we have witnessed Black Republicans who put the interest of their community before the extreme views of the fringe of their party.
History informs us that Blacks like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Hiram Revels, and Sojourner Truth only allied with the Republican Party because it stood on the side of Black liberation and has nothing to do with the present day iteration of the GOP. What we see today in the Republican Party is nothing short of minstrelsy, Black faces in Black face.
Walter L. Fields Jr. is executive editor of NorthStar News.com