So there he was. Ben Carson was on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show last week in support of Donald Trump, and it was painful at best. Carson blamed the media for misconstruing his clumsy words. He was asked about the possibility of a brokered convention and stated there would be “major problems” (read, riots) if a candidate was nominated who was not currently up for the Republican nomination. He then went on to say that any nominating process must be “fair and apparent.” He really meant fair and transparent, I suppose.
Carson’s apparent lack of command for television interviews is troubling, but nothing new. He has made countless public comments that were questionable at best. His arguments that Egyptian pyramids were made to store grain (not bury pharaohs), that the Declaration of Independence was not signed by people with political experience, that Muslims should not be eligible for the U.S. presidency, or the infamous Fox and Friends interview where Carson stated victims of mass shootings should attack their attackers – implying the victims are partially at fault – for a neurosurgeon is pretty astonishing.
When Carson’s own presidential campaign ended, he went on to endorse Donald Trump. That endorsement has been deficient, to say the least. We got an awkward dance to “Stand By Me” (where the doctor could not get on beat), an assurance that if Trump was a bad president, “it would only be four years,” and a ridiculous defense of his statement that there were probably “better choices” for president than Trump (one of the most painful interviews to watch ever).
There is no question: the doctor has struggled mightily in the world of politics.
Carson has been stuck in a conservative bubble ever since his 2013 National Prayer Breakfast skewering of President Barack Obama’s health care policy that won him praise on the far right. Being stuck in that bubble served Carson poorly – it made him believe he was ready for prime time, nowhere close to reality.
That brings us to the very sad part of this story.
Carson, whose story of rags to riches, is the quintessential example of what conservatives should be about. If anyone, poor or rich, black or white, is given the right opportunity they can go from the streets of Detroit to the head of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins. Carson is a rarity – before his failed venture into presidential politics–he had credibility in both the African-American community and with conservatives. As Robert Samuels of the Washington Post put it, his autobiography Gifted Hands was a “rite of passage” with some African-Americans, but recently many African-American community leaders stopped promoting his book.
Imagine if Carson had focused on promoting conservatism with African-Americans. What if Carson had used his appeal to not only persuade blacks, but also chastise conservative whites into really embracing African-Americans in actions, not just empty political autopsies and useless rhetoric?
As a black conservative, I see a lost opportunity. Carson chose to mollify the worst side of conservatism instead of challenging it. His comments comparing Obamacare (a bill designed to give Americans health care who could not otherwise afford it) to slavery (the worst human tragedy in American history) serves a clear purpose. For those who want us to forget the injustices of slavery, it lessens that injustice by comparing it to our normal political discourse today.
What if Carson had used his popularity and personal story to challenge white conservatives to be more empathetic to the needs of African-Americans? What if Carson had rebuked Trump for failing to denounce an unrepentant racist in David Duke?
If the right is ever going to appeal to African-Americans, African-American conservatives will need to challenge other conservatives to think differently. To care when Michael Brown is gunned down in the street. To want African-Americans to enjoy the American dream, just like whites.
Ben Carson could have been a big part of the answer. What a waste.
An economic conservative till the end, Hughey strongly believes in the power of self-empowerment as the solution to many of society's problems. He is a business consultant for a management advisory firm in the Washington DC area and a contributor to Project 21, a black conservative organization. He also appears on television as a political and policy commentator on TVOne and RT. A graduate of Stanford Univeristy and Harvard Business School, Hughey believes that education and economic awareness are the keys to empower Americans to take back our nation.