Paging Dr. Ben Carson: report to the Republican Party intensive-care unit immediately. Your political career is about to go on life support.
A gifted neurosurgeon and conservative heartthrob, Carson on Thursday wandered into a minefield where even his most ardent supporters wouldn’t follow: he told an interviewer the 9/11 terrorist attacks, where nearly 3,000 people died and America went to war, weren’t as bad as free checkups and reduced medical premiums under Obamacare.
Given a chance by the reporter to clarify, Carson, like most good conservatives, unapologetically doubled down. The Affordable Care Act, he said, is worse because 9/11 was “an isolated incident” that harmed a few thousand people; by comparison, helping millions of Americans get and stay healthy, saving the nation billions of taxpayer dollars in the long run, is, well, tyranny.
Realizing that the good doctor was in political danger, Carson’s media adviser, journalist Armstrong Williams, immediately shut down the interview. Later, Carson issued a statement insisting putting the ACA next to 9/11 is crazy talk.
“I don’t think Obamacare is worse than 9/11,” he declared. “The two things aren’t comparable and I never intended to compare them.”
Except he did just that – and raised the stakes above his previous analogy for Obamacare: slavery, that brutal institution that treated his – and my – African American ancestors like chattel.
Besides being disrespectful, ignorant and just plain stupid, I wonder if Dr. Carson was, however indirectly, checking the pulse of his party – how crazy is too crazy? Yet in doing so, he revealed the symptoms of a larger Republican problem: race, Obamacare, and their weird impulse to use the former to condemn the latter.
Regarded as the GOP’s Great Black Hope and frequently mentioned as a short-list presidential contender, conservatives clearly long for Carson to be their Barack Obama, circa 2008.
Like the Democrats who encouraged Obama, Republicans on the far right see in Carson an accomplished, polished, successful African American whose image and up-from-poverty story can appeal to independent voters, but whose views resonate with the party faithful.
Only the GOP can’t have it both ways, mostly because it’s trapped between demographics showing the country is growing more diverse, mainstream voters who see its extremism as a turn-off and its older, hard-core white conservative base.
You know: the people who actually decide their presidential nominees.
But rather than the sleek, sophisticated Obama ‘08 model they desire, Carson seems closer to a ‘12 Herman “Shucky-Ducky” Cain – a clunky, defective, smoke-spewing lemon they probably should move off the lot as quickly as possible.
His amazing success story aside, Carson’s inappropriate statements and far-right views on issues ranging from gay rights to international diplomacy would make him tasty red meat for any campaign-trail reporter with a pulse. At the same time, given his political inexperience, I’d say he wouldn’t last five minutes in an interview with Wolf Blitzer, much less a debate against the likes of Hillary Clinton or even Elizabeth Warren.
Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder if – given his history of comparing Obamacare to slavery – Carson was trying to break away from the GOP pack by raising the ante with 9/11.
After a rocky initial rollout, the facts have shown Obamacare is on the road to recovery, and may even end up as the first step for the robust health of the American medical care system. Red states like Kentucky are seeing impressive signup numbers, national analysts declare that the healthcare cost curve is indeed bending and even some Republicans wonder if the system should be expanded.
And yet, many Republicans for some reason seem unable to help themselves from making the analogy to slavery; it’s hard to imagine exactly why they’re doing it (although I have my theories), and they don’t seem to care if it’s offensive or even accurate. Certainly, coming from the mouth of a black doctor who might be a legitimate presidential candidate, could theoretically lend it some street cred.
Ultimately, though, it might not matter in Carson’s case. The 9/11 comparison has done so much damage to his political ambitions that not even a stint in the GOP ICU – or his gifted surgeon’s hands – may be able to save it.