Carson and the Content of His Conspiracy Theories

At the New Yorker, Jelani Cobb offers the best take I’ve seen on Ben Carson’s fundamentla appeal: he’s not just a black guy willing to embrace traditional conservatism, thus protecting its adherents from accusations of racism, like, say, Herman Cain in 2012. No, he’s heir to a more particular conservative tradition:

Carson is heir to the tradition of people like Manning Johnson and George Schuyler, the black conservative who defended Joseph McCarthy even after McCarthy’s fellow Senate Republicans rejected his conspiratorial canards. To the broad public, Carson’s crackpottery—his argument that the sexual behavior of prisoners proves that homosexuality is a choice, his contention that Obamacare is the biggest travesty to befall the nation since slavery, his theory that Obama may declare martial law and cancel the 2016 elections—disqualifies him from being taken seriously. But, for the small segment of the population that he is concerned with, those statements are assurances that they are not monochromatically white. Carson is a black representative and standard-bearer, not for conservatives but for paranoid Americans.

Hah! Guess my judgment of Carson as “the closest thing we’ll ever see to the perfect Glenn Beck candidate for president” wasn’t far off.

The most relevant comparison for Carson isn’t to Cain but to Michele Bachmann, the last Presidential aspirant who, despite membership in a group with a history as targets of discrimination, came to represent the twitchy ideals of American panic. Carson has written of his youth, “Many of the whites in those days found ways to rationalize their unjust treatment of fellow human beings, arguing that they were not racists but rather protectors of traditional values.” Carson’s presence as a potential Presidential candidate represents a triumph, albeit a cynical one, over those rationalizations. He’s moved the country one step closer to that moment when we will be measured not by the color of our skin but by the content of our conspiracy theories.

That’s funny, but also spot-on.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.