Here’s something you may not know: Dr. Ben Carson is black.
Of course, I’m being a little cute here. The only way you wouldn’t know he’s black is if you were blind and only listened to the news.
For instance, on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” — a program that often serves as a kind of artisanal boutique of inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom — host Joe Scarborough expressed consternation over Carson’s popularity. “I just don’t get it,” Scarborough said more than once. Remarking on some Carson ad he didn’t like, Scarborough said, “This guy is up 20 points in Iowa? . . . It’s baffling.”
Co-host Mika Brzezinski kept saying, “I just don’t get the Ben Carson . . .” before trailing off into in articulate exasperation.
Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson took a plausible stab at why Carson is popular. “They like him, they like him,” he repeated, referring to conservatives in Iowa and elsewhere who admire Carson’s dignified and soft-spoken demeanor.
True enough; Carson has the highest favorables of any candidate in the GOP field.
But what’s remarkable is that at no point in this conversation did anyone call attention to the fact that Carson is an African-American. Indeed, most analysis of Carson’s popularity from pundits focuses on his likable personality and his sincere Christian faith. But it’s intriguingly rare to hear people talk about the fact that he’s black.
One could argue he’s even more authentically African-American than Barack Obama, given that Obama’s mother was white, and he was raised in part by his white grandparents. In his autobiography, Obama writes at length about how he grew up outside the traditional African-American experience — in Hawaii and Indonesia — and how he consciously chose to adopt a black identity when he was in college.
Meanwhile, Carson grew up in Detroit, the son of a very poor, very hardworking single mother. His tale of rising from poverty to become the head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital is one of the most inspiring rags-to-riches stories of the last half-century. (Cuba Gooding Jr. played Carson in the movie about his life.) He was a towering figure in the black community in Baltimore and nationally — at least until he became a Republican politician.
And that probably explains why his race seems to be such a non-issue for the media. The New York Times is even reluctant to refer to him as a doctor. The Federalist reports that Jill Biden, who has a doctorate in education, is three times more likely to be referred to as “Dr.” in the Times as brain surgeon Carson. If the Times did that to a black Democrat, charges of racism would be thick in the air.
Or consider the aforementioned Eugene Robinson, who routinely sees racial bias in Republicans. “I can’t say that the people holding ‘Take Back Our Country’ signs were racists,” he wrote in 2014, recalling a tea party rally four years earlier, “but I know this rallying cry arose after the first African-American family moved into the White House.”
Wrong. Howard Dean, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry all used the slogan incessantly when George W. Bush was in office.
How strange it must be for people who comfort themselves with the slander that the GOP is a cult of organized racial hatred that the most popular politician among conservatives is a black man. Better to ignore the elephant in the room than account for such an inconvenient fact. The race card is just too valuable politically and psychologically for liberals who need to believe that their political opponents are evil.
Carson’s popularity isn’t solely derived from his race, but it is a factor. The vast majority of conservatives resent the fact that Democrats glibly and shamelessly accuse Republicans of bigotry — against blacks, Hispanics and women — simply because they disagree with liberal policies (which most conservatives believe hurt minorities).
Yet conservatives also refuse to adopt those liberal policies just to prove they aren’t bigots. Carson — not to mention Carly Fiorina and Hispanics Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio — demonstrates that there’s no inherent contradiction between being a minority (or a woman) and supporting conservative principles. And that fact is just too terrible for some liberals to contemplate.