(The Root) — If William F. Buckley Jr.'s definition of a conservative was someone who "stands athwart history yelling, 'Stop'," maybe Dr. Ben Carson's idea of conservatism is standing athwart the present saying "slavery" as many times as he can.
And if so, it's a good way to grab headlines for himself. But it's also a pretty good way to make sure that voters of color continue to shun the GOP.
Because when Carson riffs — as he did Friday in Washington, D.C., at the Values Voter Summit — that Obamacare is "the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery," he's not only guilty of the worst kind of political hyperbole; he's also saying to minority voters that it's not quite time yet to reconsider the Republican Party.
Even as the party tries, in theory, to convince those same voters that it wants to earn their votes.
So, if they're serious about putting a dent in the 93 percent of black, 71 percent of Latino and 73 percent of Asian-American votes that went to President Barack Obama and Democrats in the last election cycle, Republicans ought to be righteously indignant at Carson's willingness to resort to such a worn-out trope just to throw out an easy applause line to an apparently receptive hard-right audience to whom he's become a hero.
It's not just that Carson's slavery claim is way off historically — Jim Crow, the Zoot Suit riots and the wartime internment of Japanese Americans immediately come to mind as episodes far worse than Obamacare — but also that he'll nonchalantly compare lifelong forced, unpaid manual labor to a government-mandated requirement that citizens carry health insurance.
The implication is an affront to those who were slaves, and it weakens the case that Carson and other Obamacare opponents might otherwise make.
After all, there's no guarantee that in the long run, the Affordable Care Act will be the answer that solves the nation's health care issues. But it's almost certain that as long as political figures like Carson resort to cheap shots instead of reasonable arguments, they're going to repel more people than they attract to their political point of view.
And, clearly, he's capable of making a better argument.
In his book, America the Beautiful: Rediscovering What Made This Nation Great, Carson argues that health care needs fixing, but that in his view, the solution lies with providers and consumers, not the government — and as a successful medical practitioner, he knows a thing or two about it.
But after earning considerable trust as a trailblazing neurosurgeon and philanthropist, Carson has propelled his political second act by filling the role of provocateur — specializing in verbally tweaking the president — rather than using his cred to painstakingly and logically explain why he believes that the same coverage plan that worked for Gov. Mitt Romney in Massachusetts is now a nonstarter for the Republican Party that put Romney forward as its standard-bearer a year ago.
It's an approach that's earned Carson gigs as a Fox News analyst and Washington Times columnist — jobs at which he excels. But in the process, Dr. Carson, who's one of America's smartest, has lined himself up with "conservatives" like former Rep. Allen West and a litany of lesser-known personalities who are quick to reach for the "slavery" or "plantation" analogy when they want to separate themselves from a more Democratic-leaning electorate.
And the result, of course, is completely predictable.
Most voters — of any color — won't support a movement that insults their intelligence. And while Carson skewers Obama, he's also helping to turn minority voters — not to mention white voters who are also put off — away from the party of Abraham Lincoln, Jack Kemp and Ed Brooke.
He successfully turned himself into a conservative fixture. And he's also hurting the GOP brand.
David Swerdlick is a contributing editor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.
David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.