Liberal media have again shown that they can be just as self-righteous and intolerant as their ardent conservative adversaries.
How else to account for the recent furor over views expressed by a world-renowned pediatric surgeon, neurologist and medical scholar? Baltimore's Dr. Benjamin Carson, an eminent Johns Hopkins Hospital figure long admired by people of all political stripes, including many liberals, is now being derided as a turncoat or doddering fool. His invitation to speak at a Hopkins commencement might be withdrawn.
Upon announcing his impending retirement from medical practice, Dr. Carson has begun to air his concerns over contemporary issues. He has advocated the occasional use of spanking to discipline children and a flat tax for all citizens. At this year's National Prayer Breakfast, with President Barack Obama sitting nearby, Dr. Carson outlined serious reservations with the president's policies on health care. And most contentious has been his assertion that marriage is by definition limited to one man and one woman.
These are fairly common perspectives. When articulated by Dr. Carson, though, liberals seem to have discovered the clay feet of a fallen hero. He has been denounced as a biblical conservative, a believer in antiquated or irrational principles — even an Uncle Tom for Fox News. These ad hominems thwart rather than nourish the democratic dialogue Dr. Carson says he yearns for.
Consider his points. Children have been spanked for centuries. A slap on the hand, for instance, is sometimes the best way parents can convey their disapproval to an unruly toddler. To label this as "corporal punishment" is an inept response to Dr. Carson's view. As he relies on biblical passages and criticism of Dr. Benjamin Spock's theory of raising children, liberals would be advised to highlight where Dr. Carson has possibly misinterpreted Scripture or Dr. Spock.
Dr. Carson also cites biblical support for a flat tax. Yes, such a position can be easily mocked, as has been done by at least one local pundit. But if liberal pundits took some effort to research rather than offer flippant quips, they would find in Dr. Carson's recent book, "Take the Risk," a more thorough account of his thinking. There he reflects on how many wealthy people he has met who pay very little in taxes. They can elude the IRS by hiding their personal income in arcane corporate shells, loopholes in tax laws, or banks outside the country, such as the Cayman Islands, where they simply avoid taxes altogether. End all those benefits, writes Dr. Carson, and a flat tax would actually make the very wealthy pay more taxes. Again, he may be wrong, but his newfound critics should point out where and how instead of attacking him.
The most vociferous outrage has been over marriage. In a recent interview, Dr. Carson stated that marriage has always been between one man and one woman — presumably, as the wedding vows proclaim, "until death do you part." While this definition is historically misleading, it does preclude marriages between gays or lesbians. Dr. Carson then added that advocates of NAMBLA (an organization promoting sex between men and boys) or bestiality cannot redefine marriage. It was a stupid comment for which he later apologized.
But suppose Dr. Carson meant the following: If we allow gays and lesbians to marry, then on what basis do we accept or deny future proposals for expanding the definition? Perhaps the laws prohibiting siblings will be soon challenged. Maybe the prohibition on 15-year-olds marrying is an obsolescent form of age discrimination. If these are closer to Dr. Carson's real concerns, then the burden is on us liberals to evaluate these possibilities.
From my angle, any Baltimorean who has lived among gays and lesbians knows that they are productive citizens, wonderful neighbors and devoted parents. In this light, any objection to their being married seems groundless. Perhaps this view is mistaken; if so, Dr. Carson's rejoinder deserves a hearing. After all, his is hardly a fringe view; tens of millions of Americans agree with him.
The extreme liberal backlash (a column in another local paper suggests that Dr. Carson's next surgery should be on his own brain) is another case of intellectual arrogance. It echoes the hubris of their malicious brethren on the conservative flanks. It sees the opponent as so brainwashed, biased by media and self-deluded that he or she is simply not capable of understanding or thinking through the issues.
Elected officials and media critics like to point out that the enemies of democracy reside in foreign lands, potential terrorists and fundamentalists who despise us. What is clear is that, as exemplified by the furor over Benjamin Carson, the real enemies of democracy also dwell in this country.
Alexander E. Hooke is a professor of philosophy at Stevenson University. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.