Dr. Benjamin Carson is black. Did you know this?
This fact has eluded many people, but it cannot be denied. In Ben Carson’s genome, the continent of Africa is being forcefully expressed. And yet amazingly, this new political media darling, whose name may well be forgotten three memes from now, is the newest hero not of the Democratic party, who will presumably one day found the United Federation of Planets, but of the Republicans, who would probably prefer the future envisioned in Gattaca, with its routine genetic purity tests (as long as they are performed by nice, sanitary corporations and not a federal bureaucracy).
What a difference two Novembers make! Obama’s re-election is now universally recognized as the triumph of demographics over race baiting, and the Intelligent Design of conservatism is being annihilated by census-driven Darwinism. It is time to adapt or die. Whether they are hyping Marco Rubio or Bobby Jindal (not to forget plucky pizza mogul Herman Cain), the Republicans are embarking on a full court press to make their cricket league look more like a basketball team, and Dr. Carson, the genial Christian neurosurgeon, is the latest draft pick for the Washington Elephants. (How’s that for an over-extended metaphor? Take a lesson, Tom Friedman!)
Carson has been around for a while. He has authored five books and inspired documentaries and movies about his life’s work in medicine, and advances what appears to be a convivial evangelism that nonetheless contains many of the tropes of the radical right. But his coming-out party was in February when he spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast. There, in an overexposed address, and with Barack Obama sitting mere feet away, Ben Carson politely rebuked some of the Democrats’ platform, while humping for the Republicans by telling the President that God Almighty wants a 10% flat tax.
Ben Carson has gone on dazzle the right wing press through one talk show love-in after another, touting his spitting and roasting of the President as a thumb in the eye to “political correctness” (what could be more politically correct, however, than Obama’s obligatory appearance at a national religious spectacle founded and run by fascists?).
But can Carson aid the GOP’s effort to re-brand itself as a political Snickers bar, becoming the chocolate coating on a pasty white interior wrapped around a core of nuts?
Despite being a celebrated surgeon who performed the first successful separation of conjoined twins joined at the head , the plain fact is that but for his skin color, Carson might rise to the heights of a keynote speaker at CPAC, but little higher. Intelligent and friendly, Carson’s contribution to the political dialogue at the national level is not awe-inspiring. Republicans, preferring as they do firebrands like Texas senator Ted Cruz (who recently endorsed skinning endangered lizards for which to make his boots) would be the first to toss mild-mannered Carson out with the soup bones if he didn’t serve a convenient role at this point in time, which is that he can wag his finger in Obama’s face and get away with it in a way that a blonde Arizona governor cannot.
If I sound like I am reducing Ben Carson to a piece of Machiavellian PR, then I am coming through clearly. No one can pretend that the biggest transformation happening in politics today isn’t the white power structure’s haphazzard attempts to share authority with those who came over on the Amistad and not the Mayflower (I’d include a vessel from the Mariel Boat Lift if I could name one). This is part of a long evolution in American politics to be sure, but Obama clearly upped the ante. Even black pop culture was dispirited about the chances for a black President in this century right up until Obama’s first nomination (all that “elected on a Friday/assassinated on a Saturday” jive). With the last hopes of the revanchist right and its billionaire generals exhausted by the 2010 Tea Party putsch that sabotaged Republican hopes of reclaiming the White House, the entire Republican party is in play. And the first honest wind to blow through their think tanks is the recognition that the day of racial reckoning has arrived.
Things had to get pretty FUBAR to inspire that brainwave, however. The public face of conservatism is now safely in the clutches of the Joe Arpaios and Donald Trumps, and new conservative media is caught in a vicious circle jerk where founding journals like National Review compete with upstarts like Breitbart.com to out nasty each other, all in service of scoring the most picayune victories over the middling Left. Meanwhile, Rome continues to burn, and establishment Republicans must find a way to work with establishment Dems to avoid the next blow to the nation which, as the Cyprus debacle shows, could arrive at any moment. All this while the plutonium of the of the GOP base continues its meltdown, burning ever hotter as it does.
So the GOP is not merely reevaluating itself, it is faced with a self-inflicted existential threat, and they realize it. But can the institutional GOP conduct a Renaissance while its conservatives continue their jihad?
Possibly. The GOP is too big to vaporize overnight, and if nothing else, they love a good gimmick. That is why they will continue to position men like Ben Carson front and center. He is their new Sarah Palin. Carson even tickles the Republicans balls with hints that he might run for president, a joke which everyone enjoys, and which lets the GOP remind itself that when they aren’t organizing nationwide efforts to discredit a black man’s birth certificate, they can toy with being progressive too.
Carson’s day in the sun as poster child for a self-reflective Republican party is complimented by RNC chairman Reince Priebus’ freshly minted $10 million dollar initiative for GOP outreach into previously untapped minority communities. But this effort is at least half a generation late, with half as many dollars being pledged as needed (Jesus, when you think of the $20 million alone that shrunken apple doll Sheldon Adelson dumped into Newt Gingrich’s campaign to keep that turd afloat…!), and with the wrong chairman in charge of the task (should Michael Steele not have been permitted to launch this effort rather than being forced to drop and give Rush Limbaugh 20?)
The Republicans have tried every trick in the book to make themselves look like the party of inclusivity instead of the party of Voter ID laws, all of them shams. Now the real heavy lifting begins. When it does–if it does– the Republicans will come face to face with the reality of school lunches and public housing and migrant labor, issues they have only observed from the owner’s box until now. Conservatism will confront the final limits of its rhetoric as it tries to sell bootstrapping door to door, and the Democrats will not feel the effects of this for some time. After all, when you ask a white Republican to name a black Republican, they list names like Colin Powell and Condi Rice, struggling for a moment before they come up with Alan Keyes. When you ask a white Democrat to name a black Democrat, they list their friends.