Blacks see two sides to Car­son

Lesotho Times - - International -

FLORIDA — Ayauna King-baker loved Ben Car­son’s “Gifted Hands” mem­oir so much that she made her daugh­ter Shaliya read it. So when Car­son showed up in town to sign copies of his new book, King-baker dragged the gig­gly 13-year-old along to the book­store so they could both meet him.

To King-baker, Car­son’s “up-by-your-boot­straps” life story makes him a gen­uine celebrity worth em­u­lat­ing in the African-amer­i­can com­mu­nity. But she’s also a Pom­pano Beach Demo­crat watch­ing Car­son rise in the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial polls.

For King-baker and many other AfricanAmer­i­cans, the vast ma­jor­ity of whom are Democrats, there are two Car­sons: One is a ge­nius doc­tor and in­spi­ra­tional speaker and writer who talks of lim­it­less hori­zons; the other is a White House can­di­date who pushes con­ser­va­tive pol­i­tics and wishes to “de-em­pha­size race.”

How they rec­on­cile the two may help de­ter­mine whether Repub­li­cans can dent the solid sup­port Democrats have en­joyed in the black com­mu­nity for decades.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama won 95 per­cent of the black vote in 2008 and 93 per­cent in 2012. Car­son wasn’t im­mune to the ex­cite­ment of see­ing the US elect its first black pres­i­dent.

“I don’t think there were any black peo­ple in the coun­try that weren’t thrilled that that hap­pened — in­clud­ing me,” Car­son told The As­so­ci­ated Press in a re­cent in­ter­view when asked about Obama’s first vic­tory.

“Ev­ery­one had hope this would be some­thing dif­fer­ent. It was nice hav­ing that hope for a lit­tle while.”

Car­son has since be­come an ag­gres­sive critic of Obama. Car­son rose to promi­nence in the tea party move­ment af­ter re­pu­di­at­ing the pres­i­dent’s health­care law in front of Obama dur­ing the 2013 Na­tional Prayer Break­fast. To­day, Car­son charges that Obama’s per­for­mance has ac­tu­ally set black can­di­dates back.

“I don’t think he’s made my path any eas­ier,” he said. “So many peo­ple said there’d never be an­other black pres­i­dent for 100 years af­ter this.”

Car­son has not gone out of his way to court black vot­ers this year. He in­sists he won’t change his mes­sage to at­tract spe­cific au­di­ences, al­though his cam­paign tried a rap­filled ad this month.

He al­ready has one con­vert — King-baker. She says she plans to change her reg­is­tra­tion to vote for the doc­tor in the Florida pri­mary.

“He has the mo­men­tum, he has the con­ver­sa­tion, he’s very se­ri­ous, he’s speak­ing to the peo­ple, and I just think he would be a very good pres­i­dent,” she said.

None of this will mat­ter un­less Car­son sur­vives the pri­maries, where he’s been lead­ing in early pref­er­ence polls.

Black votes aren’t a ma­jor fac­tor in GOP pri­maries. Only about 16 per­cent of AfricanAmer­i­can vot­ers af­fil­i­ated with the Repub­li­can Party in 2012. But they will be a fac­tor in the Novem­ber gen­eral elec­tion.

African-amer­i­can vot­ers are one of the few grow­ing seg­ments of the vot­ing pub­lic. The per­cent­age of black vot­ers eclipsed the per­cent­age of whites for the first time in 2012, when 66 per­cent of blacks voted, com­pared with 64 per­cent of non-his­pan­ics whites and about 48 per­cent of His­pan­ics and Asians.

Ca­role Bell, a pro­fes­sor of com­mu­ni­ca­tion stud­ies at North­east­ern Univer­sity, es­ti­mates that Car­son could at­tract as much as 25 per­cent of the African-amer­i­can vote if he’s the GOP can­di­date. “That would be a tremen­dous ac­com­plish­ment for the GOP at this stage,” she said.

Car­son is bet­ter known by African-amer­i­can vot­ers than were other black Repub­li­cans who ran for pres­i­dent, such as busi­ness­man Her­man Cain, who achieved pass­ing promi­nence in the 2012 race, and for­mer am­bas­sador Alan Keyes be­fore him.

Car­son was a cel­e­brated fig­ure be­fore he en­tered pol­i­tics be­cause of his work as a neu­ro­sur­geon.

Car­son led a team that suc­cess­fully sep­a­rated con­joined twins, which led to movie ap­pear­ances, best-sell­ing books, a tele­vi­sion bi­og­ra­phy and a mo­ti­va­tional speak­ing ca­reer that crossed racial lines.

“Black peo­ple were proud that Car­son had be­come a fa­mous sur­geon and had ac­com­plished what no one else ever had in sep­a­rat­ing the twins,” said Fredrick Har­ris, di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for Re­search in African-amer­i­can Stud­ies at Columbia Univer­sity.

That’s part of his ap­peal, said Re­becca Britt, 43, a reg­is­tered Demo­crat who also came to see Car­son in Fort Laud­erdale and buy his most re­cent book. “He’s one of the he­roes in our com­mu­nity, with what he’s been able to ac­com­plish in the med­i­cal field,” she said.

But can that trans­late into many black votes?

Car­son has said he would not sup­port a Mus­lim for pres­i­dent, a po­si­tion his cam­paign says helped him raise money and at­tract con­ser­va­tive sup­port.

He’s been crit­i­cal of the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment, which drew its name from protests that fol­lowed the death of an un­armed black 18-year-old, Michael Brown.

The re­tired neu­ro­sur­geon told the AP that Amer­i­cans should take the fo­cus off of race dur­ing a re­cent trip to Brown’s home­town, Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri.

Car­son may draw sup­port from con­ser­va­tive African-amer­i­cans and those al­ready in the GOP, but it’s un­likely that he would make ma­jor in­roads in the Demo­cratic Party’s dom­i­nance among blacks in a gen­eral elec­tion, said D’an­dra Orey, a political sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Jack­son State Univer­sity in Jack­son, Mis­sis­sippi.

Given the GOP’S fraught his­tory with African-amer­i­cans, it could be “nearly im­pos­si­ble for blacks to sup­port a Repub­li­can who es­pouses what they deem to be racially con­ser­va­tive rhetoric,” Orey said. “Put short, it’s an up­hill bat­tle for any Repub­li­can who seeks out the black vote.”

Bell, the North­east­ern pro­fes­sor, said Car­son’s celebrity may have helped him at the be­gin­ning of his can­di­dacy, but that shine may have worn off.

“He had tremen­dous pos­i­tives be­fore he started speak­ing as a po­ten­tial can­di­date,” Bell said, “but the more he speaks, the more there’s op­por­tu­ni­ties to sort of re­ally show there’s a gulf be­tween him and a lot of African-amer­i­cans.” —

US Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial as­pi­rant Ben Car­son.

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