Ben Carson: I wouldn't vote for a Christian who wanted a theocracy either

Like I said yesterday, for all the left’s self-congratulatory scolding over Carson’s comments on Muslims, they’re awfully quick to declare devoutly Christian Republicans unfit for office as budding theocrats. In fact, we’ve reached the point with abortion on the left where a pro-life Democrat would probably be DOA in a presidential primary even if he/she promised to follow the law and protect Roe v. Wade. Imagine how a Catholic Dem who promised to subvert the law once elected would do. Like Jonathan Last, I’m not sure why the thought of being governed by an observant, socially conservative Christian upsets the left but the thought of being governed by an observant, socially conservative Muslim is something we should loathe Carson for disdaining. Maybe it’s pure multiculturalism — a president from an underprivileged group is worth paying any social price for! — or maybe they just assume that any future Muslim president would necessarily be a Democrat and therefore would necessarily be socially liberal in order to get through the primaries. In other words, Ben Carson’s a crank for ruling out the sort of Muslim president whom the left itself would also rule out in an actual election, for precisely the same reasons as Carson. Terrific.

Still, Carson’s spin is a bit self-serving. Watch the first clip below, which was recorded this morning, and then his original answer on “Meet the Press” to Chuck Todd on Sunday. The first clip makes it sound like he’s judging every potential candidate individually, regardless of their faith, based on the same test of whether they’ll faithfully uphold the Constitution. The second clip, though, makes it sound like his burden of proof for Muslims is different than it is for Christians. He seems to rule them out as a group that’s generally incapable of privileging civil law over shari’a law; that presumption is rebuttable, but the individual Muslim candidate has a heavy burden of rebutting it. And lots of Americans would agree with him on that. Says Theo Hobson in the UK Spectator:

The US Constitution does indeed prescribe freedom of religion, and the lack of religious tests for office. But its motivation for doing so must be understood. It was concerned to establish a post-theocratic form of politics. The republic is defined in opposition to the idea that religious unity is necessary for national cohesion. That idea is the enemy.

The legitimate question is this: could a Muslim really uphold that anti-theocratic ideal? For that religion has, so far in its history, failed to reject the theocratic impulse. This is the ‘problem’ with Islam: not that it is violent (the vast majority of Muslims are no more violent than anyone else), but that it seemingly remains wedded to an essentially theocratic ideal. It is not illiberal to point this out. In real life, liberalism entails an honest appraisal of those forces that might kill it.

What the Carson/Muslim debate this week is really about is whether Muslim candidates for office should have a heavier burden to meet in proving that they’d follow the secular tradition of American government. Hardcore fanatics on the left might be willing to sacrifice even that in the name of electing someone whose tenure would show the world that the U.S. isn’t “Islamophobic,” but even many liberals would steer clear of a religious Muslim for office. Why they can’t simply admit that is complicated, but don’t overlook this reason given by Reihan Salam:

I fear that many Americans, including many conservatives, haven’t fully reckoned with the extent to which rising diversity, including rising religious diversity, is a fact of life that we will have to deal with for a long time, regardless of what happens to, say, future immigration levels. The cultural consensus that was dominant when Ben Carson came of age is no longer dominant, and those who champion conservative ideals need to learn how to navigate this new landscape.

Over the past few decades, there has been a marked increase in the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans, at least some of whom are assertive in their hostility to religious practice and to the expression of religious beliefs in the public square. Moreover, there are many Americans who embrace an idiosyncratic blend of spiritual traditions, and not just in bohemian enclaves. I would argue that these trends — this turn away from traditional religious practice and religious community — are a much bigger deal than the increase in the size of the U.S. Muslim population. When Carson suggests that a Muslim should never be president, he isn’t just alienating Muslims. He is alienating other Americans as well.

Right. Democrats know there are electoral gains to be made here potentially among non-Muslims by emphasizing the narrowness of the GOP coalition — white, wealthy (in the Dem narrative), and overwhelmingly Christian. Carson kinda sorta ruling out Muslims from the presidency is something Dems can take to atheists and agnostics, groups even less trusted by the public to govern than Muslims are, and use it to claim that the GOP will never be hospitable to them. The Democratic Party is the “inclusive one,” and by “inclusive” I mean the party that’s basically just as likely to torpedo a Muslim in a primary for being a Muslim as the GOP is but which will do a lot more gladhanding of the Muslim community while doing it.

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