The civility and good manners crowd is attempting to destroy Ben Carson, but so far it isn’t working. He said something about Muslim presidential candidates that was harsh but a mile this side of over-the-top, and instead of a ride out of town on a rusty rail he watched his numbers spike.
Being nice to others is always a good thing — it’s about time that someone stood up for manners — but the doc has rights, too. Free speech is one of them.
What he actually said about whether he could support a Muslim candidate for president has been lost in the noisy uproar over a quiet and measured observation about reality in America and the world. If he had actually said that Muslims should not be allowed to run for president, as he has been widely quoted as saying, he would deserve criticism and perhaps even demands that he quit the race. But he didn’t say that.
In such an uproar, promoted by those who can’t be bothered by looking and listening to what the man actually said, only the narrative is important. Facts, like the Confederate flag, deserve to be thrown into the dustbin.
A reporter asked Mr. Carson whether he thinks Shariah law, the governing legal code set down in the Koran, the holy book of Muslims worldwide, is consistent with the U.S. Constitution. “No,” he said, “I do not.” That’s the answer that almost any jackleg lawyer or jackleg judge would have said to anyone who asks.
Then he was asked whether he would have any objection to a practicing Muslim, submitting to Shariah law, serving as president. He said, with neither heat nor bombast, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”
The denizens of the media, who would rarely admit to having ever gone to church or synagogue (or even a mosque) and who know less about religious doctrine than a pig knows about quantum physics (or brain surgery), went into a typical frenzy. Criticism of Islam, unlike contempt for the doctrines of the Christian faith, is the new third rail of American politics. Touch it, and you die.
Ben Carson is not a patsy for the civility and manners crowd. He doubled down the next day, explaining to an interviewer on Fox News (which had harangued him earlier) with the care that a neurosurgeon with a sharp knife takes in his exploration of gray matter, that his answer to a provocative question stands.
“We don’t put people at the head of our country whose faith might interfere with them carrying out the duties of the Constitution,” he said. “If you’re a Christian and you’re running for president and you want to make this [country] into a theocracy, I’m not going to support you. I’m not going to advocate you being the president.
“Now if someone has a Muslim background, and they’re willing to reject those tenets of Shariah law and to accept the way of life that we have, and clearly will swear to place our Constitution above their religion, then of course they will be considered infidels and heretics, but at least I would be quite willing to support them.”
This would hardly be controversial anywhere but on the left, where radical Islam is regarded with tender compassion because anyone who’s contemptuous of America the Beautiful can’t be all bad. But in their eagerness to get on the good side of Allah, certain pundits join certain Republican candidates, eager to be on the good side of civil and mannerly voters, with novel interpretations of the Constitution. This was something Jefferson had not foreseen, an effete yeomanry (apologies to Charles Portis, who first identified the effete yeoman in an unrelated context).
One such pundit concedes that Ben Carson meant no legal disqualification of a Muslim presidential candidate, but that’s not good enough. “That defense misses the point,” says the erudite and usually unflappable Charles Krauthammer. “The Constitution is not just a legal document,” he writes. “It is a didactic one [intended to teach a moral lesson]. It doesn’t just set limits to power. It expresses a moral ethic. It doesn’t just tell you what you’re not allowed to do; it also suggests what you shouldn’t want to do.”
Civility and good manners enshrined in the Constitution. Who knew?
Mr. Carson was asked, as a voter, about his voting preference. How difficult is that to understand? He has the right, as we all do — religious zealot, unbeliever, infidel or atheist — to vote for or against any candidate, Baptist, Methodist or Hottentot, for any reason, and to tell everyone he pleases about it. It’s called the American way.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Washington Times.