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“Sarah Palin All Over Again”: Ben Carson’s Fall Is A Damning Indictment Of Conservative Politics

Ben Carson’s popularity among conservatives has been marked by their imperviousness to questions about his honesty and fitness. Carson has made dozens of statements about federal policy that have transcended garden-variety conservative over-promising and reached the realm of Chauncey Gardner-esque absurdity. He has also faced serious questions about the veracity of stories he tells about his youth and young manhood. Through it all, conservatives have not only stuck by his side, but actually become more taken with him. They’ve brushed off scrutiny with glib mockery, accusing white liberals of “othering” a black man for having the temerity to leave the “thought plantation.”

That all likely changes now that Carson has confessed to fabricating a seminal story about having declined admission to West Point in his youth. When you’ve lost Breitbart, it stands to reason that you will also lose talk-radio fawning, viral email forwards, and all the other mysterious sources of conservative cult status.

But there is room for genuine doubt here: Could Carson’s supporters prove so uninterested in his genuine merits and demerits that they might look past this transgression? The very fact that this doubt exists incriminates both the conservative-entertainment complex and the nature of the Republican electorate.

Carson has been famous for years, and a political celebrity since February 2013, when he issued a meandering indictment of President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast while Obama sat next to him, silent and captive. The whole time, Carson has boasted of rejecting a “full scholarship” to West Point, an academy that actually pays people for their attendance. He thrust his deception into the public eye over and over and over again, and nobody questioned it until he became a poll leader in the Republican presidential primary.

This is not a great reflection on the media, I suppose—but it’s a worse reflection on the people who vaulted Carson to the summa of the conservative movement without bothering to investigate him. The price of entry into this realm of politics is so low that many, many successful people (Carson, but also Herman Cain and others) believe that the way they are perceived will protect them from their skeletons.

In this way, Carson’s rise is reminiscent of the McCain campaign’s decision to elevate Sarah Palin to vice presidential nominee after the most cursory vetting. Carson and Palin both paired reactionary politics with identities more closely associated with liberalism. Palin’s value was in her potential to undermine the historic nature of Obama’s candidacy. Carson’s is in his willingness to validate and absolve conservative racial politics. Republicans have pointed to Carson’s popularity as evidence of conservative enlightenment on racial issues, taking the superficial argumentative power of “some of my best friends are black” and applying it to a national ideological movement.

These phenonema were driven, to a large extent, by the idea that branding can eclipse structural political realities. What’s amazing and distressing is that, for millions of American conservatives, it absolutely can.


By: Brian Beutler, Senior Editor, The New Republic; November 9, 2015

November 10, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Conservatives, Sarah Palin | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Race Is Not An Intellectual Exercise”: The “Story Of Race In The Obama Years” Cannot Be Told In A Race-Neutral Way

I offered a preliminary take yesterday on Jonathan Chait’s vast New York piece on racial politics, and will probably take another run at the topic at TPMCafe tomorrow. But for now, I’ll suggest a reading of Jamelle Bouie’s tart response to Chait at Slate:

If I were outlining a racial history of the Obama administration, it would begin with policy: A housing collapse that destroyed black Americans’ wealth; a health care law attacked as “reparations” and crippled by a neo-Calhounite doctrine of “state sovereignty”; a broad assault on voting rights and access to the polls, concentrated in the states of the former Confederacy. Indeed, it would focus on the deep irony of the Obama era: That the first black president has presided over a declining status quo for many black Americans.

In short, it would treat race as a real force in public life that has real consequences for real people.

You should contrast this with Jonathan Chait’s most recent feature for New York magazine, where the story of race in the Obama administration is a story of mutual grievance between Americans on the left and right, with little interest in the lived experiences of racism from black Americans and other people of color. It’s a story, in other words, that treats race as an intellectual exercise—a low-stakes cocktail party argument between white liberals and white conservatives over their respective racial innocence….

What’s odd about the argument is that Chait clearly shows the extent to which conservatism—even if it isn’t “racist”—works to entrench racial inequality through “colorblindness” and pointed opposition to the activist state. But rather than take that to its conclusion, he asks us to look away: “Impressive though the historical, sociological, and psychological evidence undergirding this analysis may be, it also happens to be completely insane. Whatever Lee Atwater said, or meant to say, advocating tax cuts is not in any meaningful sense racist.”

Of course, it’s not accusing conservatives of “racism” to note that particular policies—say, tax cuts to defund the social safety net, or blocking the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act—have a disparate impact. That’s just reality. And it’s not tarring your opponents to note that race plays a huge part in building popular support for those policies. But again, for as much as this is interesting as a matter of political combat, it’s less important to telling the story of race in the Obama years than, for instance, the tremendous retrenchment of racial inequality during our five years of recession, recovery, and austerity.

I personally think part of the problem here is that Chait seems to regard “racism” as a subjective phenomenon and a moral blight; thus conservatives charged with promoting policies that have a disparate racial impact have every reason to feel aggrieved if they are (or perceive themselves to be) innocent of racist feelings. But that’s no excuse for pretending the “story of race in the Obama years” can be told in a race-neutral way.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, April 8, 2014

April 9, 2014 Posted by | Politics, Racism | , , , , , , | 3 Comments


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