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Ben Carson's bizarre obsession with "political correctness": What his crusade is really about

The neurosurgeon-turned-presidential hopeful seems to be running against an idea as anything else


Luke Brinker
February 17, 2015 8:58PM (UTC)

Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon-turned-conservative rabble-rouser and potential 2016 presidential candidate,made headlinesover the holiday weekend after he declared, as any good authoritarian would, that there should be no rules governing America's wartime conduct.

"[O]ur military needs to know that they're not going to be prosecuted when they come back because somebody has said you did something that was politically incorrect," Carson said Monday on Fox News. (Where else?) "There's no such thing as a politically correct war. We need to grow up. We need to mature. If you're going to have rules for war, you should just have a rule that says no war. Other than that, we have to win. Our life depends on it," he added.

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Of course, as a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, the U.S. is bound by international standards during war, although it's not as if that has always stopped us. Beyond the brazen disregard for international law, however, what's most notable about Carson's remarks is his fixation on "political correctness." This hardly separates Carson from his fellow conservatives, many of whom are committed to the narrative that we live in an age of censorship and fear, enforced by the agents of a politically correct reign of terror.

Turn on your television, read a newspaper, or read the comments at Breitbart.com, however, and you'll find that "politically incorrect" (i.e., Islamophobic, homophobic, sexist, racist, etc.) speech remains as prevalent as ever. As Oliver Burkeman argues, conservatives really take issue not with constraints on such speech, but with a changing society in which one is liable to encounter objections to bigoted utterances.

Still, Carson's nascent 2016 bid seems to be as much a campaign against political correctness as it is an effort in opposition to Hillary Clinton or his prospective Republican rivals -- let alone an affirmative campaign about his vision for the country. Appearing on "The O'Reilly Factor" after the Southern Poverty Law Center briefly included him on a list of right-wing extremists, Carson proclaimed that political correctness is "destroying our nation," imperiling the constitutional framework laid by America's founders.

Carson sees himself as a fearless champion of that framework, a lonely prophet of moral truth and reason amid a culture of obfuscation and politically correct hysteria -- hence his apparent conviction, despite never having sought nor held political office, that his is a necessary voice in the 2016 presidential contest.

Since bursting onto the political scene with a fiercely anti-Obamacare speech at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast -- during which he proclaimed that political correctness was "muzzl[ing]" free speech -- Carson has carved out a role for himself as the most relentless critic of political correctness, which he blames for a plethora of woes beyond the radical notion that America shouldn't commit war crimes.

Michael Brown's death? Blame political correctness, not the overzealousness of a racist law enforcement system. Last year, Carson asserted that political correctness masked "real problems" like teen pregnancy and fatherless homes, which result in children who "don’t know how to respond to authority and end up being killed like Michael Brown.”

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The collapse of the Roman empire? Chalk that up to political correctness, too. Warning that the U.S. was headed down the same path, Carson last year linked Rome's fall to a politically correct cultural climate. "They were extremely powerful. There was no way anybody could overcome them. But these philosophers, with the long flowing white robes and the long white beards, they could wax eloquently on every subject, but nothing was right and nothing was wrong. They soon completely lost sight of who they were,” he told Bloomberg News.

For Carson, standing against political correctness means never having to apologize for bigoted or intemperate remarks. No fan of gay rights -- Carson has compared homosexuality with pedophilia, bestiality, and murder -- he has refused to back down from those comparisons, saying that doing so would represent capitulation to the "PC police." Similarly, he stands by his incendiary comparison of the U.S. with Nazi Germany, explaining that while he's come under withering criticism for it, "I don't care about political correctness."

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Like so many conservatives, Carson is engaged in one of the oldest exercises in public discourse -- the search for a higher justification for insensitivity. In his crusade for political incorrectness, he thinks he's found it.


Luke Brinker

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