When you meet new people and tell them your job, there’s always one response you know you’ll eventually get. Doctors wait for a shoe to drop and someone to say, “Can you tell me what this thing on my foot is?” Lawyers expect people to try to weasel free legal advice. Journalists get lectures about issues people think are covered incorrectly. So it was weird to find myself at a wedding two weeks ago and instead have almost everyone ask me a question: “Is Ben Carson out of his goddamn mind?”
For once, the correct answer might come from actor Troy McClure: He’s not crazy, just ignorant!
After all, Thursday Carson denied that longtime friend Armstrong Williams has anything to do with his campaign, despite the fact that Williams is his business manager and has spoken as a representative for his campaign many times. In fact, just this week Williams downplayed former Iran-Contra ghoul Duane Clarridge’s role in advising Carson after Clarridge told the New York Times that “nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East.” And on Tuesday his campaign tweeted out his anti-refugee vow, “I am standing with the 31 Governors who are fighting to keep our nation safe,” along with a map of the United States that looks like someone played Tetris with New England, blocked it up on the right side of New York somehow, then lost the game.
And yet, in spite of his demi-euphoric rolling-on-X demeanor, he’s still managed to keep his hand at the controls of the sort of brute animal hatred driving the Republican primary. Carson recently compared Syrian refugees to rabid dogs, calling for another layer of refugee screening, despite an already arduous, expensive and long process that people fleeing a civil war and religious zealots will have difficulty complying with.
Lest you think the dog comments were off the cuff, they represented another analogy put atop something else from this week, when Time ran a “Carson”-penned op-ed demanding that America stop being so politically correct about Syrian refugees and terrorism. It was a low point for a magazine that once had higher callings, like making Hitler Man of the Year or trying to hound State Department liberals into retirement because they “lost China” and made Luce-family bridge partners Monsieur and Madame Chiang hightail it to Formosa for a quarter century of dictatorial pouting.
It begins with the contention that Barack Obama is weak on terrorism because he uses the wrong nouns: “In the war against Islamic extremism, the President cannot even bring himself to confront the enemy by its name.” This idea gets thrown around a lot, often by Marco Rubio, to suggest that people who use the right terminology not only have more courage but better strategy, and that this simple step is already transformative. At best, this is the Beetlejuice theory of military policy: Say their name three times, ISIS will go away! Oh no, they changed their name to Nilbog! Quick, read it backwards!