If You're Paying Attention to the Words People Use, You're Obviously a Racist

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 2 2013 9:41 AM

If You're Paying Attention to the Words People Use, You're Obviously a Racist

carson hannit

FOX/Media Matters

In a pinch, some conservatives deploy a rhetorical trick that makes a lot of sense to them and no one else. If a black conservative/Republican is criticized, they assume that the left is revealing its deep-seated hatred of black people. The left laughs this off—yes, obviously, 90 percent of black people vote Democratic because they're dupes intent to stay "on the plantation." Keep telling them that, it'll win 'em over!

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

But it's a safety blanket of an argument, and it's been getting cuddled ever since aspiring political thinker/activist Dr. Ben Carson said that marriage shouldn't be redefined by gays nor by "NAMBLA" or "people who believe in bestiality." It was enough of a gaffe—a classic gaffe, describing what the gaffe-meister really thought—that Carson backed down and apologized. (He was prodded by a mini-rebellion on the Johns Hopkins campus, students trying to kick him out of the 2013 commencement ceremony, where he's set to say goodbye to the school.) Sean Hannity, whose lazy questioning led Carson into the trap, condemned the backlash without actually repeating Carson's answer. It was "deemed controversial, it wasn't politically correct." And why?

The left just has daggers out for him. You can't be African-American and conservative without breaking some liberal rule?
Advertisement

Speaking just for myself, as one of those white males who overpopulate the media, I think this is a little too cute. The romance between white conservatives and the small elite of black conservatives (you could call them "5 percenters," but that's taken) is a well-known thing. Just as Herman Cain became a conservative hero for debating Bill Clinton at a town hall meeting, Carson became a hero for lecturing President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast. Just as liberals didn't worry about Cain becoming president, they don't really worry about Carson. They're wistful for the "Gifted Hands" guy, whose book could inspire eighth graders to take science classes. I was interested in the story because 1) Carson was obviously on his way to conservative stardom, and 2) it's fascinating to watch people who've never been grilled by the media make their first-ever gaffes. When's the last time Ben Carson was asked about gay marriage?

But that "white liberals fear black conservative" meme is just too resilient. It guides John Nolte into a logic hole: Carson is "a threat to the left-leaning mainstream media’s attempted stranglehold on the Narrative," so they didn't even realize he was playing devil's advocate. Nolte suggests that the media ignored a question from Sonia Sotomayor that "raised the exact same kind of slippery-slope argument Carson did." Sotomayor:

If you say that marriage is a fundamental right, what State restrictions could ever exist? Meaning, what State restrictions with respect to the number of people, with respect to—that could get married—the incest laws, the mother and the child, assuming they are of age—I can—I can accept that the State has probably an overbearing interest on—on protecting the a child until they're of age to marry, but what's left?

Well, I pointed out that Sotomayor quote the day before Nolte did—sorry, Narrative. And isn't the difference between Carson and Sotomayor pretty obvious? Sotomayor was asking Ted Olson, the lawyer arguing for Prop 8 repeal, to explain why redefining marriage as between any two unrelated adults wouldn't lead inexorably to legal incest. Carson is describing what he actually believes. Several times, before the political media started paying attention to him, Carson has said that acceptance of homosexuality was destructive to civilization. Alex Seitz-Wald pulled a representative quote from Carson's 2009 book of self-help advice:

“How I feel and what I think isn’t just my opinion. God in his Word says very clearly that he considers homosexual acts to be an ‘abomination.’” Whenever I point out that God calls homosexual behavior a sin, I am usually quick to add that the Bible just as clearly calls a lot of other things wrong—lying, cheating, adultery, murder, gluttony—and I am not going to try to justify any those things in order to be politically correct either.

Carson thinks homosexuality is sinful and that gay marriage is comparable to man-on-animal marriage. Hey, lots of people think that! But if you're making excuses for him and pretending that he's not saying anything that liberals don't say, you're in intellectual retreat, and you're using identity politics to try and insulate the guy from criticism.

Correction, April 2, 2013: This post originally misspelled Johns Hopkins University.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Dec. 19 2014 4:15 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? Staff writer Lily Hay Newman shares what stories intrigued her at the magazine this week.