Sometimes, a hackneyed, unoriginal argument still has a virtue: in this case, capturing the left’s laziness and mendacity in such an unabashed manner that it provides the perfect occasion for rebuttal. So, consider Ta-Nehisi Coates’ take-down of Ben Carson in the New York Times.
Coates’ theory is that Carson is the latest phase of an eight year initiative, “a Republican plan”, to locate a black conservative to counter Barack Obama. As evidence, the existence of four black men who have flickered in and out of the spotlight during Obama’s ascension: Alan Keyes, Michael Steele, Allen West, and Herman Cain. In pulling together these loose strands, Coates overlooks an array of inconvenient facts—that only one of them, Steele, emerged as the product of any sort of party-wide process; that West openly complains that national Republicans ignored him during his failed congressional reelection; that Cain was about as much a product of a grand Republican strategy as Michelle Bachman, who surged for about as long as Cain did; and that Keyes was not so much hand-picked, more a self anointed sacrifice with a history of parachuting into quixotic races.
The only vague line connecting all four, much less all four and Carson, is their sharing of the same skin color. Coates takes that and runs with it, with the very same snide cynicism that he charges conservatives have practiced in elevating these “Black Hopes of the moment.” It is the left’s usual penchant for dismissing conservatives, with the underlying innuendo that a black conservative’s advancement is a fraud that could never transpire without conspiracy or the hand-out of affirmative action. In other words, the same poison that Coates’ writings routinely suggest is at the root of any right-winger’s skepticism of black accomplishment, from Obama all the way down to the corner office.
I have no doubt that a part of Carson’s appeal is that he is vivid proof that not every black embraces an activist, expanding government. But at the risk of upsetting both Coates’ and Sean Hannity’s narratives, I see Carson more in the vein of, say, a Bill Gates or a Mark Zuckerberg, spectacularly successful achievers whose run of success earns them a public policy stage. That makes Carson not a race pawn, but the beneficiary of a common American archetype of making all purpose experts and role models out of gifted people.
There is sadness in Coates, an African American, not seeing a Gates in Carson, and the hypocrisy of slagging the conservatives who stress Carson’s race while Coates paints with the same insultingly broad brush. This is no apologia for Carson, whom I wish would acknowledge more often that his rise is hardly a readily available pathway; that it is the exception that reminds how many unearthed black talents are languishing in failed schools and fatherless families; and whose stature gives him the burden of taking seriously the dignity of people even when he rejects their moral authority. But have the decency to evaluate Ben Carson the thinker, not Ben Carson the black man.
This article also appeared on Ricochet.com on April 4, 2013.