Neurosurgeon-turned-conservative icon Ben Carson said in a visit to the capital Wednesday that God's plan for him is to teach Americans that "our strength is in our unity and we need to stop fighting each other."
What a noble sentiment! And how much nobler it would be if Carson's time on the national stage hadn't been devoted to exactly the opposite.
In the 16 months since his speech to the National Prayer Breakfast made him an instant conservative celebrity, he has drawn a parallel between same-sex marriage, and pedophilia and bestiality; he has declared the United States "very much like Nazi Germany;" he has likened Obamacare to slavery; and he has called the veterans' health care scandal, in which some died while on waiting lists for medical appointments, "a gift from God" because it shows the ills of government health care.
Along the way, Carson has exhibited the demagogue's belief that those who don't agree with him aren't just wrong: They are un-American and dangerous.
On Wednesday, he was at a National Press Club luncheon attended by a couple hundred supporters, and he used the occasion to impugn the patriotism of journalists. He said that "slick politicians and dishonest media" are "in the process of destroying our nation." Carson said that "members of the press, just like members of political parties, have to stop and say, 'You know what, my loyalty is not to this party or that party; my loyalty is to America.' " (Apparently he isn't making such demands of Fox News Channel, which hired him as a contributor.)
He said that his demand for answers about the terrorist attacks in Benghazi and political targeting by the IRS "makes me an American who understands America and what freedom really is." So those who find Republicans' accusations on both matters overblown don't understand America or freedom? Likewise, Carson said the tea party is "anybody who cares about freedom in this nation." Everybody else must not care about freedom.
Scores of Carson's supporters rose from their seats to applaud his hint that he may join the 2016 Republican presidential race. (He had planned to play golf, "but it appears to me that perhaps God has a different plan for me.") Carson, 62, has a compelling story to tell about his rise from meager means. And he's a good storyteller: He enchanted his followers as he whispered into the microphone about restoring "one nation, under God, indivisible ..."
But Carson isn't famous because he can recite the Pledge of Allegiance. He's a celebrity because he drives the very divisions he claims to abhor. In his hourlong presentation, he invoked Karl Marx twice and Vladimir Lenin once to describe liberals -- "the enemies," he called them -- and their effort to stifle debate. "This stuff is straight out of the neo-Marxist liturgy. Saul Alinsky, one of his rules for radicals: Don't have a conversation."
Fine, let's have a conversation, doctor. Let's talk about the use of the term "Nazi Germany" to describe present-day America. "In a very appropriate context, I said most of those people in Nazi Germany did not believe in what Hitler was doing," Carson said Wednesday. "But did they open their mouths? No."
OK, but that's not what Carson actually said in February. "You know," he told Newsmax, "we live in a Gestapo age. People don't realize it." He cited an IRS audit of his finances.
Later, he elaborated to Breitbart News on what he meant by Gestapo age. "I mean very much like Nazi Germany. ... You know, you had a government using its tools to intimidate the population. We now live in a society where people are afraid to say what they actually believe. And it's because of the PC police."
Political correctness may be annoying, but it isn't genocide. A brilliant mind such as Carson's surely grasps that distinction. But Carson is also clever enough to know that subtlety won't bring him stardom. For that, he needs to stoke animosity and division.
Dana Milbank is a syndicated columnist.