Ben Carson's presidential delusion: Why Republicans are overestimating his appeal

The doctor is highly accomplished -- but here's why he won't be able to change Dems' dominance with black voters

Published December 15, 2014 1:30PM (EST)

  (Jeffery Malet,
(Jeffery Malet,

Following the tragic events and aftermath in Ferguson, Missouri, a town that's become associated with the prevalence of systemic racism in the United States, Dr. Ben Carson appeared on American Family Radio to blame feminists and a lack of fathers, rather than the actual oppression that faces the black community. His words echo a common theme among the political right about black Americans and a supposed lack of personal responsibility. This would be less remarkable were Carson not seriously mulling a run for the highest office in the country.

When President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, he netted 95 percent of the black vote. Conservative pundits immediately began hand-wringing. Racism permeated their discussion as the black vote percentage became part of their Obama legend. His election was cast by many on the right as a race vote. Now, many right-wing voices are hoping to undermine the Democratic Party's relationship with black voters through the emergence of Carson. The problem: Their assumption about African-American voters is wrong.

It was announced last month that Fox News had “cut ties” with Dr. Ben Carson after ABC News broke the story that a documentary titled “A Breath of Fresh Air: A New Prescription for America” would be airing in 22 states. The video serves as Carson’s introduction into the 2016 presidential race. Conservatives have been clamoring for the rising political star to cast his hat into the ring. He possesses a more appealing nature than his GOP counterparts, coupled with a résumé few in either party could match.

Dr. Ben Carson earned international recognition in the 1980s for significant contribution to medicines. He led a surgical team of 50 to successfully separate craniopagus twins. Carson also played a major role in the honing of a procedure called hemispherectomy. The surgery is performed on children to relieve the symptoms of pediatric epilepsy.

Decades later, the gifted surgeon now has an impressive slew of honors. Dr. Carson received the highest civilian honor when he was bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush in 2008. He also has nearly 40 honorary doctorates in addition to his 2010 election into the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine.

But rumblings of Carson’s bizarre worldview lurked just beneath the surface in the 1990s, when he wrote an essay that seemed to criticize affirmative action while acknowledging his own personal benefit from the practice. He suggested we should “change it and call it something else” before settling on the patronizing “compassionate action.”

His worldview is informed by an odd sort of underhanded theocracy. In 2006, the doctor made a stunning admission by telling an audience that he doesn’t have enough “faith” to accept the consensus theory of evolution. Carson’s religious perspective even permeates his approach to the U.S. economy. He went as far as to suggest that the U.S. should embrace a flat tax, drawing inspiration from the concept of biblical tithing. While conceptually absurd from any reasonable economic viewpoint, he quite seriously advocated for the “Proportional Tax.”

Unlike his fire-breathing Fox News compatriots, Carson manages to cloak his extremism. After attacking gay marriage by comparing LGBT people to those who engage in bestiality, he tried to claim that his remarks were taken “out of context.” Speaking on the same issue he made a statement reflective of an ability to defy basic logic: “I certainly believe gay people should have all the rights anyone else has. I was trying to say that as far as marriage was concerned, it has traditionally been between a man and a woman and no one should be able to change that.”

Cynical Republicans fail to comprehend that Dr. Carson's agenda has more in common with that of the Koch brothers and the Republican establishment than of the overwhelming majority of African-American voters. He drew cheers from the right when he used the National Prayer Breakfast as an opportunity to undermine the president’s agenda, advocating an economic plan that, aside from its laughable lack of realism, would do nothing but increase the burden on many lower-income African-American families who are still fighting to emerge from the worst economic crisis of our generation.

His opposition to the easing of drug laws and silence on major civil rights issues only further cements his place as a shill for the establishment. He’s spent more time on Ken Ham-style intelligent design talk than he has on astronomical incarceration rates and the recent rash of police brutality. Conversely, Republican superstar Rand Paul has done more to court the African-American community in recent months than Dr. Carson has in his entire political career.

The Republican establishment is seeking to turn back the trend toward minority empowerment that’s grown under the current administration. They’ve ridden a wave of success nationwide as many white voters have expressed displeasure with our first African-American commander in chief. What they don't seem to realize is that any cynical attempt to win black votes by pushing the same conservative agenda, even if delivered by a prominent African-American, is destined to fail.

By Chris Sosa

Chris Sosa is a managing editor at AlterNet. His work also appears in Mic, Salon, Care2, Huffington Post and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisSosa.

MORE FROM Chris Sosa