The Emptiness of a Politicized Life

Ben Carson receives medal from great American painter (right) (AP)

Ben Carson receives medal from great American painter (right) (AP)

This may sound odd coming from someone who has spent his life working in political reporting, but I find it extremely sad when people can’t separate politics from the rest of their lives. I’m not talking about people getting worked up about politicians; we live in divided times, so things are bound to get heated when talking about elected officials. I’m talking about people who say “I want nothing to do with [Person X] because he is a conservative/liberal/Republican/Democrat in his personal life.”

This is why I find the Orson Scott Card thing so frustrating. The fact that a large group of people think it’s fine to blacklist an artist for political views that are entirely unrelated to his art strikes me as not only a remarkably bad thing for society but also a horribly empty way to go through life. Why deprive yourself of art or of heroes or of mentors simply because they disagree with you about who to vote for?

I’d like to think I’m more tolerant about this sort of thing because I’m a conservative who loves pop culture. If I had to boycott every artist I disagreed with, well, my iPod would be pretty empty and my DVD shelves would be bare. Being tolerant of differing opinions is a defense mechanism, in a way: without tolerance for those I disagree with, I’d go nuts.

I wonder if so many liberals have failed to develop a similar tolerance because they’ve never had to confront their idols disagreeing with them. The entertainment industry and the media are almost uniformly liberal and far more frequently left-liberal than center-right. It comes as a shock that their ideological bubble has been penetrated by the enemy. And when the enemy penetrates your bubble he must be destroyed.

Enter this essay by Kevin Blackwell on Dr. Ben Carson, in which the author has decided to throw a hero of his overboard because, gasp, he believes in lower taxes and doesn’t support affirmative action! And he said so at CPAC! Quelle horreur! A taste:

Today I am in mourning. I’m not an emotional dude—so that really is saying a lot. I’m mourning one of my most prized childhood role models, famous pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson. …

Don’t get me wrong. I love Jay-Z and LeBron—but I love Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West far more. Enter Dr. Ben Carson. The famed pediatric neurosurgeon and author of the bestselling autobiography Gifted Hands occupied an esteemed position in my heart and mind until this past Saturday. …

I’m in mourning because like [noted liberal Juan] Williams, Dr. Carson is an accomplished, black intellectual who we thought we could proudly claim. Unfortunately, I have strict rules prohibiting me from claiming rich dudes (of any race) who complain about high taxes, deny the reality of food insecurity for poor and working people, and/or disagree that all people are entitled to healthcare.

Let’s just unpack the intolerance here. The author admits to thinking of the “famed pediatric neurosurgeon” as a hero, loved his autobiography, etc. But then the dastardly doctor went rogue on poor Mr. Blackwell. Carson dared to believe something different than him! What, how, who … there must be an explanation for this! Don’t worry, Blackwell has figured it out: Carson is a craven opportunist just doing a dance for the white establishment:

Like with Juan Williams, I have to chalk this up to ego. If you are a black conservative you instantly move to the front of the line. You are treated like a rock star. Your earning potential skyrockets. Black liberal media personalities or candidates have to put in their dues and prove themselves like everyone else. Black conservative media personalities just have to show up to the studio relatively sober. And conservatives supposedly oppose affirmative action!

So, to recap, in a few short days our intrepid essayist has gone from respecting a man for his intellectual achievements to denigrating him as little more than a puppet allowing his strings to be pulled for some filthy lucre and the adoration of idiots. After all, there’s no way this obviously intelligent and accomplished man could have supported the policies he supports because, well, he thinks they’re right. No! Never! It’s just a hustle, a dodge, a sham to get a big TV deal and your book sold by the conservative clubs. Follow the money, man!

There’s something deeply sick and deeply sad at work here. It’s not just the dumping of a hero because his policy preferences differ from your own: it’s the assumption of bad faith, the assumption that there is literally no legitimate reason to support policies opposite your own. If our society is broken—if it is hopelessly fractious and utterly divided and in dire need of healing—we’d be better served considering the mindset of the Kevin Blackwells of the world than the activities of the Fox Newses and MSNBCs of the world.