What a sad contrast. We’ve been mesmerized by the visit from Pope Francis, who, within the limitations of Catholic doctrine, personifies tolerance and inclusion. He and his message are a momentary distraction from the relentless spewing of intolerance and exclusion we get from too many of those who seek to lead our country.
The latest is Ben Carson, with his declaration on “Meet the Press” that he’d oppose a Muslim aspiring to be president of the United States because his or her beliefs would not be “consistent with the Constitution,” ignoring the fact that the Constitution explicitly prohibits such a religious test. Happily, quite a few Americans went bananas over that one, particularly after he doubled down, blaming the uproar on our “politically correct culture.”
Of course, his position was rendered a bit shakier when Donald Trump weighed in. Trump, as we know, is openly running an entire campaign against political correctness, as evidenced by his nasty comments about anybody who crosses him. But even The Donald said he’d be cool with a Muslim president: “If properly vetted — the proper people properly vetted — going through an election, I think that anybody that is able to win an election will be absolutely fine.” Remember that this is coming from Donald Trump, the one who refused to correct a nutcase at his rally who declared that President Barack Obama is a Muslim. Let us also remember that Trump has been a leading “birther” voice through the years, yet even he was cautious compared with Carson.
In fact, several other GOP candidates weighed in against Carson, even Ted Cruz, himself a darling of those who would impose their version of Christianity into our laws. He’s a supporter, for instance, of Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refuses to certify same-sex marriage licenses. But it’s the good Dr. Carson who is now taking the mantle of religious wackiness with his attack on Muslims. By the way, that is hardly an unpopular position in the Republican Party. According to a Gallup poll, less than half of the respondents say they’d vote for a Muslim. So Carson is doing just fine amongst the bulk of Islamaphobes who make up his party. Of course, these people have a lot of other phobes too.
Apparently, he picks the right villains, as opposed to Scott Walker, who dropped out after basing his entire campaign on his battles against organized labor. He displayed an ignorance about nearly every other issue, and even though his virulent anti-unionism attracted tons of money from the oligarchs, he couldn’t overcome the impression that he wasn’t ready for prime-time programming — or even an infomercial. Rick Perry had a similar problem. He thought that just because he played well in the Texas league, the minors (for any of you non-baseball fans), he’d do just fine in the National or American leagues, the majors. To torture this metaphor, he’s been up to bat twice, and he’s struck out both times.
There are some others who should pack it in but probably won’t. It’s an interesting game (presidential politics, not baseball). One day you’re leading the lineup, a la Scott Walker, the next you’re slinking away. On the other hand, some of the front runners right now were back runners a few weeks ago. Carly Fiorina comes to mind. From the netherworld debate, she’s moved up demonstrated that by showing a steely demeanor against a buffoonish Donald Trump, then lying about her background, one can catapult to the top rungs.
For that matter, Ben Carson has revealed an amazing ability to sugarcoat his extremism with an aw-shucks demeanor. It’s worked wonders. He’s now one of the flavors of the month, just like Fiorina and, of course, Trump, who doesn’t sugarcoat anything. It’s ugly, particularly when we’re presented with a figure like Pope Francis, who epitomizes grace. It just reinforces a view that our political process can be a disgrace.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist including 20 years at CNN.