Jackie Lee, Unwitting Ben Carson Apologist

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Within the past year, I have thrice found myself in the untenable position of defending Ben Carson on Facebook. The first time, I was in a lengthy Facebook argument about how colleges should not be allowed to see an incoming student’s behavior records. I defended my position by citing Ben Carson as an example:

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I still think I’m right. People do all kinds of crazy, irrational things when they’re young. A child’s behavior doesn’t necessarily predict whether that child, once an adult, will hit the moving target called “success.”

I thought that would be the last time I’d defend Ben Carson. On the one hand, respect for his skill as a neurosurgeon, his long career, and the efforts he’s made to save people’s lives. He has a lot of good karma. But when it comes to Ben Carson, I’m usually on offense. I’ve laughed at that homoerotic painting he has in which he and Jesus are sitting around in bathrobes. I have shaken my head at his assertion that the pyramids, in which archaeologists found and extensively documented the tombs of kings, were built by Joseph to store grain. Even while defending him, I called him a human coma.

This week, I once again found myself defending Doctor-turned-Secretary Ben Carson in a Facebook thread. Our bumbling hero, in his initial speech as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, equated slavery—in which people were kidnapped; stuffed into the compartment of a ship without adequate food, water, and sanitation; sold once they arrived in America; and forced to labor for their owners, and often to watch their children become slaves for those same people, for the rest of their lives—to someone deciding to leave their country to seek a better life in America.

This reaction from Professor Eddie Glaude, Jr., Chair of the Department of African American studies at Princeton, says it all:

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The same Facebook acquaintance in whose thread I’d defended Ben Carson ended up being the same person from whom I learned this news. My first reaction was, “What the fresh hell.” My second reaction was to—wait for it—defend Ben Carson:

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Ben Carson should never be allowed to make an impromptu speech. A competent administration would never have allowed him to ad lib without a teleprompter. Unfortunately, Ben Carson doesn’t serve in a competent administration. I’m arguing here that he’s a terrible extemporaneous speaker and quite possibly crazy, not a conniving racist.

Two days later, someone responded to my comment:

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Which led me to defend Ben Carson again: “With respect, Ben Carson is a nut, but he’s not Pol Pot.” And then, the cock crowed, for I had defended Ben Carson three times.

Here’s the Thing

These days, when there’s so much to be outraged about, I have to ration my dismay. My two outrage priorities are as follows:

  • The piece of garbage put forth as a replacement for the Affordable Care Act. This affects me personally because I’m self-employed and thus need to purchase an individual policy.
  • The fact that my president appears to have no grip on reality and we are all flying, out of control, in a plane with no pilot.

The fact that Ben Carson bumbled onto a stage, assumed a job for which he is not qualified, and spewed forth verbal diarrhea? That’s just an ordinary Monday in this shit show.

Plus, regarding this whole Ben Carson outrage machine, I want to say something about leftists in general: we are too eager to cannibalize our own. It’s making us ineffective in combating the budding autocracy.

Look at the recent election for DNC chair. Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who is about as progressive as they come and who has a track record of getting results, defeated Rep. Keith Ellison, who had been endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders. Rep. Ellison had some baggage from his youth (in my opinion forgivable, like Dr. Carson’s—what the hell! I did it again!). But it was baggage that he wasn’t articulate about defending, which made it questionable, in this political environment, whether or not he was the right person to bring wayward voters back to the Democratic Party.

Bernie Twitter erupted when Ellison lost, saying that they were leaving the Democratic Party for good, even though I’d wager Chairman Perez agrees with them 99 percent of the time. Since that day, I’ve been thinking about how this constant demand for ideological purity, outrage at every offense, and correcting the grammar of everyone who makes an argument contrary to what we believe could become the means by which we eviscerate our own cause.

Mathematically Speaking

At some point, the quest for ideological (and grammatical) purity becomes asymptotic. As the value of x approaches zero in this example, the value of increases dramatically. The line moves microscopically rightward infinitesimally, but it never reaches zero.

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At x = -3, it’s worth doing some work to move the line closer to zero. However, by the time you get to x = -1/4, the line is pretty close to zero, and it’s not going to get much closer without a lot of micromanagement. How much effort do we want to expend getting closer to zero when we’re already pretty darn close? How much good will, friendship, and national unity do we want to burn up to move millimeters closer to a target we’ll never hit?

Do You Want to Be Right, or Do You Want to Win People Over?

Plenty of non-racist, caring people, with varying levels of grammar and spelling mastery, agree with progressives about the ACA. They just don’t want to be drummed over the head, in their Facebook feeds, about the ongoing state of white privilege. Plenty of people have a “live and let live” view about transgender issues and bathroom usage. They just don’t want to be told they’re filled with hate for not wanting to learn eight new pronouns to accommodate people who need to specify in great detail where they see themselves on the gender identity spectrum.

In a perfect world, we’d all recognize where we fall on the privilege continuum and acknowledge that others face challenges we don’t. Heck, we’d all learn the pronouns in an ideal universe. But in 2017, do we want to be right, or do we want to win? Do we want to keep losing, forcing our neighbors who are members of minority groups to continue to fear for their safety? Or can we soften our communication strategy (not our values) and stop feasting on each other’s flesh, even if means we’re not perfectly pure?

Evil vs. Bumbling Fool

One of the best devices I’ve found for thinking about our current situation is Hanlon’s razor, paraphrased as such: never attribute actions to malice that can be just as easily explained by incompetence. Yes, Ben Carson said something unambiguously dumb, but I attribute it not to an evil intent to rewrite history, but to incoherence. Does it warrant top-flight outrage when we have much bigger concerns? Is our constant stream of outrage alienating voters who might otherwise vote to save the ACA, and perhaps, in a couple of years, democracy itself?

If we’re going into high gear at every perceived offense, we won’t be able to vote for a new president in four years. We’ll either be dead from a stress-related illness or too mentally ravaged to get to a polling station. Steve Bannon doesn’t have to forcefully deconstruct the administrative state. He’s watching it deconstruct itself, through the mental incompetence of the man he plotted to elect, the Heritage Foundation puppets he’s put on autopilot, and the infighting of two political parties powerless to seize control of this airship of state.

Expecting Ben Carson to say something sensible is like expecting a chicken to roller skate. Let him bumble into the oblivion of history. Leave Ben Carson alone.

I’ve now officially defended him five times in this blog post. FML. And if you find a video of a chicken roller skating on YouTube, or if you teach your chickens to roller skate just to prove that it can be done, leave your video in the comments.

Image courtesy of Marc Nozell from Flickr Creative Commons

Healthcare and Other Forms of Mortal Combat

Some of the most unpleasant arguments I’ve ever had with people have involved books. Many years ago, my old college roommate sent me an email warning that the book The Purpose Driven Life was evil. Now, I had read the book, and she had not. I didn’t think Rick Warren’s insights were particularly deep or life-changing, but I disagreed with her that Rick Warren was a minion of Satan. So I responded and essentially said, “Maybe you should read it before you make up your mind.” She hasn’t spoken to me in seven years…all over a stupid book.

I also got the silent treatment from a close relative once after I asked him to stop sending me anti-Obama emails. You know, the kind that said that President Obama was Muslim and that he wanted all women to wear burkas. The final straw was when he sent me a picture of Obama holding a book called The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria. My relative said that the book was evidence that candidate Obama wanted America to ooze into decline. I said (because The Post-American World is an intelligent and thought-provoking book by a talented writer), “Maybe you should read the book so that you know what it’s actually about.” He wrote back that I had called him a stupid redneck…which I didn’t…and didn’t speak to me for about three months.

It’s so interesting that you can say things to people and that they hear something completely different from what you said. It’s also interesting how discussions about politics and religion rip the covers off of people’s worst thoughts and impulses. I made the mistake of posting about Obamacare on Facebook today. I knew my enthusiasm for healthcare reform might provoke people. Talk about walking into a virtual minefield. For the most part, the people in my circle acquitted themselves well. I read passionate and sensible defenses of Obamacare and equally well-reasoned arguments against the law.

And then there were other people. Some were friends, some were friends’ friends. Some people said things that were just kind of ignorant. A guy that I vaguely knew in high school posted something about universal healthcare being cheaper and easier in Norway because everyone rides a bike and eats healthy food and never has a health problem. Um, okay. Some people posted that they were moving to Canada…a country that has universal healthcare. Well, whatever, I told myself. I’ve said stupid things before. We’ve all made ignorant statements because we feel passionate about something.

On the other hand, some people really went where they shouldn’t have. One liberal friend of a friend said that another guy who called Obamacare “bondage” was making a racist statement, which I thought was unnecessary. Back to the Norway post, someone (I’m assuming a non-supporter of Obamacare) said that Norway would be a better place to live because they didn’t have “a certain element” while another poster said that Norway had “a lot of Muslims.” I don’t think Norway is a cultural Mecca—consider the guy who’s currently on trial in Norway for murdering over 70 teenagers in the name of Aryanism. I’m also not sure what “a certain element” meant, but I didn’t like the implication.

We tend to avoid discussions about politics and religion in this country because we are so polarized. Unfortunately, because we don’t communicate, the polarization continues to deepen. At the end of the day, both those who loved Obamacare and those who didn’t logged out of Facebook and prepared dinner. People who liked Obamacare because they thought it reflected the values of Christianity or social justice held fast to their convictions, while those who felt that Obamacare was poor stewardship of God’s or America’s resources also clung to their beliefs. We all sat down at our tables and talked to our kids and looked into their eyes wanting them to have a better world that the one we have now.

Is Facebook the place for religious and political discourse? That’s debatable. It’s too much to ask that all of our opinions be well-reasoned and well-articulated, particularly when you’re typing furiously into a little white rectangular box. One Facebook friend weighed in on Obamacare and then took his post down. However, I do remember that at the end of what he’d written, he’d said, “You can all go back to posting pictures of your dinner now.”

Maybe my friend is right. Maybe we should reserve Facebook for the shallow end of the pool. But I do think that we have to wade into the deep end every now and then to keep the dialogue open. I dare you to start a reasonable conversation with someone about Obamacare and to do it face-to-face. If the discussion helps you to see a real person behind the rhetoric, then the discomfort that you both feel will be worth it.

Let Him Who Is Without Sin…

I watched with amazement this weekend as the large majority of evangelical Christians in South Carolina voted for Newt Gingrich. On NPR (that station run by liberal pigs), I heard a woman say that she was as yet undecided, but that she planned to vote “as God led her.” I always thought that God was about as interested in presidential politics as he was in Denver Broncos football. Apparently, I was wrong. And apparently, the Holy Ghost brakes for Newt.

Newt Gingrich. The guy who cheated on his first wife when she had cancer, and the guy who asked his second wife for an open marriage after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Newt Gingrich. The guy who once paid $300,000 for conduct that he agreed “did not reflect creditably on the House of Representatives.” Newt Gingrich. The guy who once said that Spanish was “the language of living in the ghetto.” Newt Gingrich. The guy who even mild-mannered Jimmy Carter says “knows the subtle words to use to appeal to a racist group.”

Yeah. That guy. Apparently South Carolina evangelicals love him. Jerry Falwell, the former head of the Moral Majority who is now whispering in the ears of God Himself, apparently told Tim LaHaye that he supported Newt Gingrich as a presidential candidate (hopefully, before he left the mortal coil). The three-fold platform of Falwell’s Moral Majority, back in 2008, was to ensure the confirmation of strict, constructionist pro-life judges, pass a constitutional Federal Marriage Amendment, and elect socially, fiscally and politically conservative presidents. So if this is your definition of morality, then I suppose Newt Gingrich may as well be your man.

Many in the evangelical community have managed to construct this strange hierarchy of sins. At the top, you have abortion, gay marriage and welfare. At the bottom, you have other things that don’t matter as much, like racism, greed and contempt for the poor. If you believe that the Bible contains a true account of the things that Jesus did and said, then you may note that Jesus spoke a great deal, in a negative tone, about greed and contempt for the poor. He said absolutely nothing about abortion or gay marriage.

I am increasingly uncomfortable with how much evangelical rhetoric is based on outright falsehood. For example, Mike Huckabee would have you believe that the United States was founded by Christians with a biblical agenda. Now, many people facing religious persecution in other countries have found freedom on American soil. If we’re talking about the Founding Fathers, however, this country was founded by deists who based the Declaration of Independence on the work of John Locke and who believed in the principles of the Enlightenment. John Adams said in 1797 that “the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” Rewriting history, or what the Lord may have referred to as “bearing false witness,” must fall somewhere on that hierarchy of sin. I guess it’s not as bad as thinking that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare,” as Bill Clinton once said, or that our government should not get involved in what goes on in the bedroom between consenting adults.

In this recent economic recession, many, many people lost their jobs. I don’t imagine that many of those who were eligible to collect unemployment, including unemployed evangelicals, decided not to take it because they didn’t want to accept handouts from the government. We as a society seem to agree that people who lose their jobs should get some financial support while they seek out other opportunities. Food stamps, on the contrary, are an unthinkable sin, especially to those who think that the poor should just pull themselves up by the bootstraps. As the Delaware Annual Conference Ministerial Institute recently said in an open letter to Mr. Gingrich, “It is impossible to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, and even more difficult when you have no boots to begin with.”

My purpose in ranting on this blog is not to characterize all evangelical Christians as hypocrites. Many, many evangelicals work very hard to live a morally upstanding life. I will say, however, that many of my evangelical neighbors have an interesting view of “family values.” And to choose Newt Gingrich as the candidate of moral rectitude is in a word, laughable.

So God votes for Newt, at least in South Carolina. But apparently, he doesn’t want the Denver Broncos to win the Super Bowl. I guess it’s a tough thing to pin down the mind of God. He has this way of keeping you guessing.

So Long, Pizza Man

When it comes to the news, I willfully choose ignorance.  I started dialing back my interest in the news when George W. Bush was president.  I didn’t want to hear any more about Iraq or Afghanistan, and the mere sound of his nasally Texas accent gave me ulcers.  Having kids also made me choose to ignore the news.  News about people who do terrible things to children or news about children dying in accidents is always disturbing.  However, the disturbance factor increases exponentially when you have children of your own.

These days, I get my news from David.  He obsessively watches Rachel Maddow, so my news bent is definitely left-wing.  I don’t read many articles.  I don’t listen to news on NPR or watch television.  Instead, I listen to David rant and rage about Republicans.  From him, I learn that a man who thought he was Jesus fired shots at the White House a couple of weeks ago.  I wonder why all of the faux Jesuses are always so violent.

At any rate, the president of the United States cannot afford to be willfully ignorant.  That’s why I cannot understand Americans who actually considered voting for Herman Cain.  Set aside the sexual harassment and affair charges—and those are large things to set aside—for just a moment.  This man knew absolutely nothing about foreign policy.  He said that he didn’t understand how foreign policy “creates jobs.”  Well, Mr. Cain, this is how.  President Obama went on a trip to the Far East to promote American exports.  More exports mean more manufacturing, and more manufacturing makes more jobs.  That’s how it works.  And I’m not running for president.

And did you even hear this man try to discuss NATO involvement in Libya?  He had no clue what America’s role was in that country.  And his take on the Middle East?  “When they ask who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan, I’m going to say, ‘You know, I don’t know. Do you know?’”  First of all, I’ve never heard of Ubeki-beki-beki-stan-stan. And second, how can you not consider it important to know the president of the country that hosts several air bases that support Operation Enduring Freedom?  You know, that operation we’ve been running in Afghanistan and Pakistan?  The one for which thousands of Americans have given their lives?

When Americans were asked why they supported Herman Cain, they tended to say, “He’s the candidate who’s the most like me.”  Wow.  Since when was that a good basis for choosing a president?  When I look at myself, I think I’d prefer that the president not be like me.  I’d prefer a president who watches the news.  I’d prefer a president with more self-discipline than me.  I’d prefer a president who didn’t have my temper.  In general, I think that the president should be the best and brightest person this country has to offer.

Is Herman Cain really like us?  If he is, then that’s a sad commentary on America today.  I appreciate Mr. Cain’s rise from poverty to penthouse (lower case penthouse, people.  Lower case).  I admire him for becoming CEO of Godfather’s and the National Restaurant Association.  However, I don’t admire his willful ignorance about foreign policy.  Do me a favor, former Herman Cain voters.  Vote for someone who’s not “just like you.”  Vote for the best person that this country has to offer.

That person should know at least a little something about Uzbekistan.