Jamil Smith: After Scapegoating African-Americans for Years, GOP Faces "Black Bogeyman" Ben Carson

November 11, 2015


Jamil Smith

senior editor at The New Republic. He is also the host of Intersection, a podcast about race, gender and identity. His most recent piece at The New Republic is headlined "The Black Bogeyman Cometh."

Neurosurgeon Ben Carson remains a leading Republican candidate despite questions over whether he’s embellished multiple aspects of his life story. At Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee, Carson was questioned about recent news reports questioning the accuracy of his biographical record. We discuss Carson and the GOP with The New Republic’s Jamil Smith. "The complex of the 'black bogeyman' within Republican politics has not gone away," Smith says. "Just because Willie Horton is in prison doesn’t mean they haven’t gone searching in this particular election cycle — they [unsuccessfully] tried with Black Lives Matter. ... I recommend that they look internally, because they really need to deal with Ben Carson, who is presenting this false narrative of himself."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to stick with Ben Carson for a minute. You have written extensively about him. At the debate, Dr. Ben Carson was questioned about recent news reports questioning the accuracy of his biographical record.

NEIL CAVUTO: Dr. Carson, to you, you recently railed against the double standard in the media, sir, that seems obsessed with inconsistencies and potential exaggerations in your life story, but looked the other way when it came to then-Senator Barack Obama’s. Still, as a candidate whose brand has always been trust, are you worried your campaign, which you’ve always said, sir, is bigger than you, is now being hurt by you?

DR. BEN CARSON: Well, first of all, thank you for not asking me what I said in the 10th grade. I appreciate that. But—

NEIL CAVUTO: I’ll just forget that follow-up there.

DR. BEN CARSON: The fact of the matter is, you know, what we—we should vet all candidates. I have no problem with being vetted. What I do have a problem with is being lied about and then putting that out there as truth.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Dr. Ben Carson. Jamil Smith, you’ve been writing a lot about Ben Carson. Talk about his biography and the controversy around it.

JAMIL SMITH: I think that it’s interesting that you see a Wall Street Journal logo right behind Ben Carson as he was speaking there, because The Wall Street Journal published one of the most damning reports in the last week concerning untruths, you know, in his—not only in his biography, Gifted Hands, but also in speeches that he’s given over the years. And, you know, it’s all part of painting this picture of Ben Carson as somebody who has achieved amazing, wonderful things, when—achieved the American dream, when, in fact—

AMY GOODMAN: From Detroit, in poverty—

JAMIL SMITH: From—right.

AMY GOODMAN: —to being a leading neurosurgeon in this country.

JAMIL SMITH: Exactly, exactly. And so, what I think is, it’s all part of, you know, building up the legend of Ben Carson, which he has now put in danger, frankly, by running for president. I think what you see here is a man who, you know, has achieved great things in the medical field, but is now trying to take his legend to another level by running for president. And, I mean, whether it’s to sell books or to actually win the White House, I’m not—I can’t say for certain. I’m not inside the man’s head. But I think what you have—

AMY GOODMAN: Both Donald Trump and Ben Carson are on book tours—


AMY GOODMAN: —and just launched their books.

JAMIL SMITH: So, what you see there is, you know, it’s sort of like this—you know, the Republican—this Republican-profit complex that you have, when you have people running for office and then ending up with Fox News contributorships and book deals. I honestly think that that’s going to end—you know, what it’s going to end up for, for Ben Carson. I don’t think, obviously, that the party would be so foolish as to nominate him for president. But I think what you have in those stories that are coming out is—you know, I’ve been there. I was a black nerd, too. And I get the idea that you want to, you know, present yourself as more than you are. And there’s a real temptation for that. But I think that he has slipped into—you know, that he’s fallen victim to the temptation to buttress his personal narrative at the expense of the truth.

AMY GOODMAN: Your piece is called "The Black Bogeyman Cometh: A year away from the election, Republicans are looking for a new Willie Horton. But they have to deal with Ben Carson first." Explain.

JAMIL SMITH: So, I think that we’ve seen throughout the—you know, since the inception of the Southern Strategy, and really it peaked in 1988 when George H.W. Bush ran for president, and Lee Atwater and George H.W. Bush’s team ran the infamous ad about Willie Horton, the Massachusetts inmate who was on furlough under Michael Dukakis and, when he was on furlough, raped a woman twice and then, you know, never returned to prison. He was caught about a year later and is now serving a life sentence—and still is serving a life sentence.

But what you have there is, you know, the complex of the black bogeyman within Republican politics has not gone away. Just because Willie Horton is in prison doesn’t mean that they’ve gone searching—they haven’t gone searching in this particular election cycle. They tried to make Black Lives Matter the bogeymen and bogeywomen of this election. I think what you have there is, you know, a failure to really make that stick, because Black Lives Matter has not actually advocated, as Chris Christie has said, for any cops to be murdered. I mean, it’s very easily researchable. And I think in the digital era, I think it’s actually hurting them. Facts are a lot more at people’s fingertips than they were in the 1980s. And what you have is—they’ve already tried it also with the Mexican immigrant who murdered a woman in San Francisco. That didn’t really take hold in the news cycle.

But when you talk—I, actually, in my piece, recommend that they look internally, because they really need to deal with Ben Carson. They have their own problematic black man, you know, on their hands, so to speak. And so, you have Ben Carson, who is presenting this false narrative of himself. And granted, yes, I mean, some of these stories that have come out are a little bit sloppy. The Politico story was presented in a pretty sloppy way, which has given him an opening to say they’re lying, and what have you, and offer the rebuttal that he did last night. But overall, there’s an underlying narrative of untruth in his campaign. And I think, you know, should they be unfortunate enough to actually nominate this guy, I don’t think that it’s going to play very well in the general election.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Jamil Smith, senior editor at The New Republic. We’ll go to break and come back, as we bring you more clips and highlights of the debate and talk with Ann Louise Bardach about two of the leading presidential candidates in the Republican Party, interestingly both Cuban-American. Stay with us.

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