A little over a week ago, renowned pediatric surgeon Ben Carson electrified the Right by giving a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast that was widely deemed a critique of President Obama’s agenda on health care, taxation, and stimulus spending. Some in the media, including conservative columnist Cal Thomas, objected that Carson had violated an unspoken rule of the National Prayer Breakfast tradition to steer clear of partisan politics. The Right has gleefully fought back, celebrating Carson for allegedly speaking truth to power and rejecting any idea that there should be any muzzle on speech in such a forum. Carson is now being touted as a possible presidential contender in 2016, despite his own protestations to the contrary.
Carson is unquestionably impressive and was so during that speech. I recently had the opportunity to observe him in person during a taping of a Sean Hannity special in which he was the featured guest. He is superbly articulate and magisterially calm, and is an unapologetic and persuasive exponent of personal responsibility, free enterprise, and limited government (with one odd exception for food stamps). His contempt for redistributive politics is exhilirating and it would be a boon for the country if he had a wider platform. (Sadly, however, Carson’s arguments have been made before in the political realm, sometimes as compellingly, yet they failed to win a sufficient number of converts. The problem is not the messenger, but the message, I am increasingly coming to believe, pace conservative wishful thinking.)
With regards to the Prayer Breakfast protocol, however, the Right might have had a case if there were any chance that it wouldn’t make the identical argument if the roles were reversed. Imagine if a liberal cleric giving the Breakfast keynote had objected to the Iraq War during President Bush’s realm, or had criticized Republicans for hurting the poor. The Right would have howled with protest.
Showing a similar oblivion to neutral principle, U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn objected on CSPAN’s Washington Journal this morning to Obama’s declared intention to act on certain policy matters if Congress didn’t give him his way. Few on the Right objected to Bush’s expansionist view of the executive war powers, which dismissed any Congressional check on his power. One despairs at the lack of self-awareness.