My struggle with Ben Carson

May 14th, 2015

Ben Carson lost my support as a presidential candidate over 20 years ago when he was the guest speaker at the Emmanuel-Brinklow SDA Church in Ashton, Maryland. 

Initially, I looked forward to the sermon. What I knew of Carson in those days was all positive: world-renowned neurosurgeon, African-American role model with an amazing story of overcoming childhood challenges to become enormously successful. Since I was also a visitor that day, I thought I was in for an especially unexpected blessing. 

Instead, what I recall is that Carson’s opening remarks were so full of right-wing propaganda that I walked out. Carson was certainly entitled to his point of view. But I wasn’t obligated to sit through it. 

The experts say that we church-going blacks tend to be social conservatives. I’m sure that’s true for many of us, even though I am socially, politically and theologically liberal. But even the most socially conservative African-American Christians likely still have a strong connection to the civil rights movement’s motivations and values, which include viewpoints on equity and justice that Carson and other black political conservatives tend to de-emphasize or even reject, as his recent visit with some Baltimore leaders showed.

The GOP seems to hope that Carson will draw blacks into the party while deflecting the constant criticism of it as the party of white male privilege. But even John Philip Sousa IV, the founder of the National Draft Ben Carson for President Campaign Committee Super PAC, has low expectations about Carson’s impact on the racial divide in voting.

He told CNN last year that Carson would get at least 17 percent of the black vote. He based that on two facts: first, Carson is black; two, polling done by Herman Cain’s campaign – the lone black Republican during the last presidential cycle – projected that Cain would get 17 percent of the black vote.

Sousa and the Cain campaign have underestimated the loyalty of African-Americans to Obama. His presidency is powerfully symbolic. Even we who disagree with the president on some issues — for me, his administration’s disregard for certain civil liberties has been disturbing — nevertheless appreciate the overall competency, class and positive impact of his leadership. I believe history will not only vindicate most of his agenda, it will document how the Obama presidency moved our nation forward on race relations.

If he were eligible for a third term, I’d vote for him again despite my concerns. I suspect that far more than the 83 percent the Cain campaign ceded to Obama would do the same. 

Besides, Carson went way over the top when he said the Affordable Health Care Act is worse than slavery. Not only was the comparison offensive, it showed how out of sync he is with black people. A Pew Research-USA Today survey found that African-American support for the AHCA jumped from 50 to 91 percent between 2009 and 2013. 

Carson is entitled to his own opinion about the AHCA, just as the rest of America is. But the political optics aren’t good when the only potential African-American presidential candidate has been so hostile toward the signature legislation of America’s first African-American president.

Sousa’s first point — Carson’s blackness guarantees him a certain percentage of the African-American vote — feels like a cavalier underestimation of the discernment of black people. We aren’t duped by political minstrelsy. Putting a black face on policies and philosophies that disenfranchise the poor and people of color and undercut or remove legitimate opportunities for them while falsely characterizing them as subscribing to victimology, makes the policies no less palatable. 

Commonalities matter, but they aren’t conclusive. Not when it comes to race. And certainly not when it comes to faith.

comments powered by Disqus