Retired neurologist and GOP presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson is under attack this morning for remarks he made during a Sunday appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press.
Following an interview with GOP front-runner Donald Trump, Carson appeared briefly to answer questions on a host of issues including: Taxes, ISIS and the political and military situation in Syria.
As the conversation with host Chuck Todd steered toward religion, Todd inquired: “Should a President’s faith matter? Should your faith matter to voters?”
Carson responded: “Well, I guess it depends on what that faith is. If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. If it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution, I’ve no problem.”
Todd followed: “Do you believe Islam is consistent with the Constitution?”
Carson explained: “No, I do not. I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”
The Carson campaign responded to clarify on Sunday afternoon: Carson believes strongly in the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom, but he also believes that the American people are far from ready to accept a Muslim as President in our Judeo-Christian society.”
Muslim groups were swift to respond with the Council on American-Islamic Relation’s (CAIR) spokesperson Ibrahim Hooper demanding Carson pull out of the race. “It’s beyond the pale and he should withdraw,” said Hooper.
One could surmise paranoia had gotten the better of Mr. Carson or in a moment of weakness he had uttered some deeply-held, disquieting secret. However, the 2016 race is not the first time religion has become an issue. Carson was likely answering the question, in part, peering through the prism of the War on Terror and its effects on the political climate in the United States.
John Kennedy’s Catholicism was viewed with great suspicion during the election of 1960; some critics charged the election of a Catholic would create a White House taking commands directly from the Vatican. Kennedy deftly addressed criticism similarly to Carson; he emphasized that he sought the Oval Office and his commitment to the Constitution and the citizens of the United States superseded his personal religious beliefs.
Questions persisted about former vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman: Lieberman, an observant Jew, was quizzed about his capacity to fulfill his duties if elected during Shabbat when Jews are prohibited from a wide range of activities from dusk on Friday to early evening on Saturday in observance of mitzvoth (Jewish commandments).
Although Kennedy and Lieberman are inexact comparisons to Mr. Carson’s remarks, they certainly reflect legitimate historical concerns or reservations held by the electorate. In both cases, fortunately, the voters accepted each man on merits.
Criticisms from Council on American-Islamic Relations and its calls for Carson to drop out of the race are not to be taken seriously in face of their undeniable links to Hamas.
While a candidate’s religious convictions no doubt influence decisions, unless either major party decides to nominate a hardened Jihadist veteran of the Iraq war, I think we are in fairly good shape with our current political structure and the sensibility of voters to choose responsible candidates for office.
[Reuters] [NBC News] [Counterterrorismblog.org] [Photo courtesy NBC News]