Dr. Ben Carson: Obamacare and Slavery

Hearing an African American presidential candidate compare the mild health care reform provisions of the Affordable Care Act to slavery is hyperbole that is worth paying attention to.
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Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson makes a point during a campaign stop, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015, in Lakewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson makes a point during a campaign stop, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015, in Lakewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The whining on the part of the Republican presidential candidates, the RNC, and right-wing radio hosts about CNBC's "gotcha" questions at the last debate ignores the free pass the "liberal media" have already bestowed upon their clownish candidates.

The Republicans' have denounced the "unfairness" of CNBC, canceled a scheduled debate with NBC out of spite, and locked in a new set of strict guidelines governing the next debate.

Their ire against CNBC is ironic since it was this same hyper-capitalist business channel that birthed the "Tea Party" phenomenon in the first place when Rick Santelli launched his infamous and mean-spirited rant against the victims of the mortgage bubble, which he delivered with an "every-man" appeal on CNBC from the Chicago mercantile exchange.

Now that the corporate media's most unabashed cheerleader for the perks and privileges of the Chamber of Commerce and the richest one percent has become too "left-wing" to host the Republican debates it reveals just how far off into crazyville the GOP has shifted during the Obama years.

Enter Doctor Ben Carson.

While addressing the "Values Voter Summit" in Washington, Carson told a rapt audience of supporters:

"You know Obamacare is really I think the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery. And it is in a way, it is slavery in a way, because it is making all of us subservient to the government, and it was never about health care. It was about control."

Carson subsequently sort of walked back his original statement. Yet hearing an African American presidential candidate compare the mild health care reform provisions of the Affordable Care Act to slavery is hyperbole that is worth paying attention to.

Perhaps Carson should read the account of the Middle Passage by Olaudah Equiano (ca. 1745-1797) who was captured and sold into slavery in what is today eastern Nigeria at eleven years of age. He was taken to Barbados, then to Virginia, and renamed Gustavus Vassa.

"When I looked around the ship ... I saw a large furnace of copper boiling, and a multitude of black people of every description chained together, every one of our countenances expressing dejection and sorrow, I no longer doubted my fate; and, quite overpowered with horror and anguish, I fell motionless on the deck and fainted. ...

"The stench of the hold while we were on the coast was so intolerably loathsome, that it was dangerous to remain there for any time ... The closeness of the place, and the heat of the climate, added to the number in the ship, which was so crowded that each had scarcely room to turn himself suffocated us. ...

"This wretched situation was again aggravated by the galling of the chains, now become unsupportable; and the filth of the necessary tubs, into which the children often fell, and were almost suffocated. The shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying, rendered the whole scene of horror almost inconceivable .... I remember in the vessel in which I was brought over, in the men's apartment, there were several brothers who, in the sale, were sold in different lots; and it was very moving on this occasion to see and hear their cries of parting."

(From Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African New York, 1791)

Or maybe Ben Carson should read the account of Solomon Northrup (1808-1863), who was a free black man from New York who was kidnapped in 1841 and sold into slavery where he worked for the next twelve years on cotton plantations in the Red River region of central Louisiana.

"The day's work over in the field, the baskets are 'toted,' or in other words, carried to the gin-house, where the cotton is weighed. ... [A] slave never approaches the gin-house with his basket of cotton without fear. If it falls short in weight - if he has not performed the full task appointed him, he knows he must suffer. And if he has exceeded it by ten or twenty pounds, in all probability his master will measure the next day's task accordingly. So, whether he has too little or too much, his approach to the gin-house is always with fear and trembling. ... After weighing, follow the whippings....

An hour before daylight the horn is blown. Then the slaves arouse . . . [i]t is an offense invariably followed by a flogging, to be found at the quarters after daybreak. Then the fears and labors of another day begin; and until its close there is no such thing as rest."

(Solomon Northrup, Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northrup, Auburn, NY 1853)

Or Dr. Carson might read the October 1842 speech by Lewis G. Clarke, the son of a white man and a mulatto slave woman, who fled slavery in his native Kentucky the year before.

"I had a pretty sister; she was whiter than I am, for she took more after her father. When she was sixteen years old, her master sent for her. When he sent for her again, she cried, and did not want to go. She told her mother her troubles, and she tried to encourage her to be decent, and hold up her head above such things, if she could. Her master was so mad, to think she complained to her mother, that he sold her right off to Louisiana; and we heard afterward that she died there of hard usage....

"I suppose you know they have patter rollers [patrols] to go round o' nights, to see that the slaves are all in, and not planning any mischief? ... If a slave don't open his door to them, at any time of night, they break it down. They steal his money, if they can find it, and act just as they please with his wives and daughters. If a husband dares to say a word, or even look as if he wasn't quite satisfied, they tie him up and give him thirty-nine lashes.

"If there's any likely young girls in the slave's hut, they're mighty apt to have business there, especially if they think any colored young man takes a fancy to any of 'em.... [If] the patter rollers break in and find him, they'll abuse the girl as bad as they can on purpose to provoke him. If he looks cross they'll give him a flogging, tear up his pass, turn him out of doors, and then take up and whip him for being without a pass.... having a parcel of low, dirty, swearing, drunk patter rollers let loose among [the women and girls] like so many hogs. This breaks down their spirits dreadfully, and makes 'em wish they were dead."

(Signal of Liberty, Ann Arbor, Mich. 23 January 1843)

In today's academic parlance, I suppose Dr. Ben Carson embodies a kind of "intersectionality": He's a nonthreatening African American conservative male, highly educated, soft-spoken, wealthy, and an "outsider" to Washington politics all wrapped in one package.

But when he's asked any question about a substantive policy issue Carson emits word salads that are every bit as indecipherable as anything that comes out of Sarah Palin's mouth. When challenged, Carson simply restates a few broad slogans that are easy to remember about America's decline under Obama followed by promises to restore America's "greatness." It's not surprising he is among those who are most upset with CNBC's "gotcha" questions. Carson's race more than any other factor allows him to play the unique role among Republican candidates as the anti-Obama.

Recently, when the gun control debate reared up following yet another mass shooting, Carson, like all the other Republican candidates, naturally came to the defense of the NRA. He told CNN: "I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed. There's a reason these dictatorial people take the guns first." His statement was widely condemned by groups like the Anti-Defamation League.

On this score, perhaps Dr. Carson should read an obituary that appeared in the New York Times on Tuesday November 3, 2015 of Thomas Blatt (who died at age 88) who had escaped a death camp as a teenager.

"Mr. Blatt was 16 on October 14, 1943, when he and several hundred other prisoners staged an uprising against Nazi SS officers and the Ukrainian guards at the Sobibor extermination camp. His parents and younger brother had been gassed there six months earlier.

"Searchers captured and killed about 150 of the escapees. Mr. Blatt, who was shot in the jaw by a Polish farmer after his escape, was one of only about 50 who survived for nearly a year, until advancing Russian troops routed the Germans.

"His family was sent to a ghetto in 1942 after the Germans invaded, then deported to Sobibor, southeast of Warsaw, where his parents and 10-year-old brother, Henryk, were immediately killed....

"Exactly why he was singled out for survival by a guard was unclear.... he was put to work fixing fences, burning documents, sorting victims' belongings. 'I recognized my mother's clothes, and I realized my parents were no longer alive,' he said. 'Sobibor was a death factory.'" (NYT, November 3, 2015, pg. A25)

When Dr. Ben Carson makes bogus comparisons between the Affordable Care Act and the human suffering of slavery or flippant suggestions shilling for the NRA (saying if European Jews had guns there'd be no genocide), he is essentially disqualifying himself from any serious contention for the highest office in the land.

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