Commentary

Saunders: Carson's slavery comment a leap too far

bsaunders@newsobserver.comOctober 13, 2013 

The only things missing were the leather jacket and the skis.

Oh, and the shark.

Just as surely as The Fonz “jumped the shark” in a notorious episode of “Happy Days” – thus adding that phrase to the lexicon to describe something or someone whose time has passed because it or he has become ridiculous – Dr. Benjamin Carson jumped the shark last week.

Carson stood before an audience at the Values Voters Summit in Washington on Friday and said “You know, Obamacare is really, I think, the worst thing that has happened in this country since slavery.”

Carson has long been able to shroud his lunacy in a cloak of respectability bestowed upon him by his status as a renowned surgeon. He also gets a pass on some of his absurdities because he speaks so softly, with apparent circumspection, and has a bunch of letters in front of and behind his name.

It is only when one actually listens to what proceedeth from his mouth that you realize this dude may be nuts, regardless of his medical and honorary degrees.

Ensuring that people with pre-existing conditions can't be turned down for insurance coverage is worse than Jim Crow laws, worse than the KKK – America’s own al-Qaida – worse than the polio outbreak that crippled tens of thousands of children each year before a vaccine was discovered, worse than thousands of Japanese citizens being imprisoned during World War II with no due process?

Oy.

Carson has a compelling, inspiring life story: being raised by a single mother, overcoming poverty, learning difficulties, academic indifference and anti-social behavior to become a world-famous neurosurgeon.

As much as he would like to pretend otherwise, though, his Horatio Alger rise would not have been possible without the same kinds of government assistance he now begrudges others.

By his own admission, he partook of government-assisted housing, ate his share of welfare victuals and saw the world in a whole new light – literally and figuratively – when the government gave him free eyeglasses.

Hyperbolic hypocrisy

The hyperbolic hypocrite now denounces people in the same position he once occupied and compares to slavery the plan to make health care affordable.

Check this out, Ben – and everyone else. Anytime you think about comparing anything to slavery or the genocide of Native Americans, or anyone to Hitler – don’t.

Of course, Carson is obviously no student of history. In that same absurdist speech in D.C., he cited this quote by Vladimir Lenin, the communist leader: “Socialized medicine is the keystone to the arch of the Socialized State.”

Obamacare, Carson added, echoing Lenin, “was never about health care; it was about control.”

Only problem is, there is no evidence that Lenin ever said what Carson said he said.

Even if he did, Louise McReynolds said, “Politics in 1917 Russia are rather different from those in the United States in 2013. So taking a Lenin quote out of context serves no one.”

Responding Sunday morning from St. Petersburg, Russia, McReynolds, a professor of Russian history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told me she has “heard that quote bandied about, but never seen it in the original. Of course, I've never looked.”

Lenin quote ‘an old lie’

I have looked, though, and found nothing to attribute it to Lenin.

Paul Starr, a Princeton sociologist and author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning book on American medicine, has also looked, and he told me Sunday “the quote is completely fabricated. ... It’s an old lie that travels in the closed circuits of right-wing media.”

It was trotted out when Roosevelt proposed Social Security – many Republican legislators opposed that, remember? – and when Truman sought to expand health care coverage. Wow.

You can disagree on government’s role in facilitating health care for its citizens. But to compare Obamacare to the “peculiar institution,” to the worst thing ever in this country?

By doing so, Carson has forfeited his credibility. So exit stage right, Benji, and watch out for that shark, because dude, your 15 minutes are up.

bsaunders@newsobserver or 919-656-4365

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