Ben Carson, CNN, and the False Choices of Liberalism

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks to the media during a stop to sign his book at a Barnes and Noble store on November 5, 2015 in Fort Lauderdale Florida. Mr. Carson is leading the field in some of the recent polling for the Republican nomination contest.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Subsequent events may have loomed larger in Friday’s campaign diary for Dr. Ben Carson, but it’s worth taking a look at the exchange where he supposedly became “angry and combative” on CNN, as Mediate put it.

Anger is judged subjectively, and Ben Carson “angry” sounds about as ferocious as someone forced to use Splenda in his coffee because he ran out of sugar. It is fair to say he’s frustrated in this clip, and he explains exactly why:

The exchange begins with Carson making a joke about “many” Americans being “stupid,” which Camerota actually concedes was a joke before proceeding to grill him about it. It’s hard not to see much of what the media is throwing at Carson lately as a calculated effort to diminish his stratospheric ratings for empathy, honesty, and likability in the polls.

Carson’s response was solid:

All you have to do is look at what’s happened since the great society programs of Lyndon Johnson. We spent $19 trillion and we have ten times more people on food stamps, more people in poverty, more broken homes, out of wedlock births, crime, incarceration. Now everything is not only worse, it’s much worse. You have to be kind of stupid to look at that and not realize that that’s a failure and to say we just didn’t do enough of it. That’s what I call stupid.

What did Camerota pretend to get out of this? “So, just to be clear, people who support food stamps or Medicaid or welfare are stupid,” she began to ask, before Carson cut her off and accurately accused her of putting words in his mouth.

Camerota does not actually think Carson was calling supporters or recipients of Medicaid stupid. She understands perfectly well that he was criticizing a stupid system, and disingenuous politicians, that keeps pouring money into programs that have failed by their own metrics. To rattle Carson, she had to pretend she is herself mentally damaged, and incapable of understanding the basic point that the Great Society failed under its own standards, with horrific social consequences.

She’s also hitting Carson with something every Republican candidate should be ready for, as the 2016 campaign unfolds: the latest version of the classic False Choice of liberalism: Either you support all of the Left’s bloated failures one hundred percent, or you must be a callous monster who wants poor people to die. It’s either ObamaCare, or untreated plague victims left to rot in the sewers. It’s either an $80 billion food stamp program, or mass starvation.

Indeed, Carson’s comments about “stupidity” are a less-vicious form of the same hyperbole liberals including Barack Obama routinely indulge in, when they say Republicans who oppose their programs are sadistic monsters who enjoy suffering.

Another dose of this thinking was delivered moments later, when Camerota pretended to take Carson’s hyperbole about how “we’d be Cuba” without her old employers at Fox News. “You mean if Fox News didn’t exist, we would be a communist country?” she asked, in the same tone of voice Hillary Clinton used to ask if “wiping” an email server involved using some sort of cloth.

Hyperbole is a form of emotional argument, and only liberals are supposed to engage in those. Conservatives are forbidden from touching on emotional topics, such as illegal aliens murdering people in the streets of sanctuary cities, even when illegal aliens are demonstrably murdering people in the streets of sanctuary cities.

Conservatives are supposed to unilaterally disarm themselves of all emotional and moral appeals, while liberals have a field day questioning the very humanity of their opponents, and use coercive force to impose their moral standards.

If there’s a point to be made against Carson, it’s that politicians should generally resist being pulled off-message and into personal arguments. That’s not easy when you’re sincerely frustrated, and it’s especially difficult when you’re in the midst of an orchestrated media feeding frenzy. No doubt many viewers will feel Carson had the better of this exchange, as many feel the Republican candidates were helped by the appalling performance of CNBC’s moderators at the last debate.

However, there comes a point when winning wrestling matches with reporters isn’t enough to move a campaign forward, and the time spent on such battles quashes the message candidates really want to deliver. No matter how capably they handle biased reporters, the Republican presidential candidates will not be well-served if the rest of this campaign is nothing but one brawl with hostile reporters after another, while the media fills the front pages with stories about the “positive agenda” of their opponents.