A big boost to U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) presidential campaign may soon be arriving…from a most unlikely source. Despite being near polar opposites in terms of policy, Bernie Sanders and Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson attract many voters for the same reason: Honesty, integrity, and firm adherence to long-held values. While Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton and most of the Republican pack have been criticized for political flip-flops over the years, Bernie Sanders and Ben Carson were praised for being rock-solid. Both men had inspirational personal stories of struggling against the odds and eventually achieving acclaim.
Bernie Sanders was a political “radical” in the 1970s who espoused populist and progressive values. Eventually, he became mayor of Burlington, Vermont in 1981. He finally won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1990, proving that an independent politician could crack the major-party duopoly. On the other side of the political aisle, Ben Carson was a poor kid from hardscrabble Detroit who clawed his way into Johns Hopkins medical school and eventually became a world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon. He successfully parlayed his medical career into a post-retirement career as a conservative figure and public speaker.
Both men grew up poor, both are minorities (Sanders is Jewish and Carson is African-American), and both men want political change for America.
But was Carson’s rags-to-riches tale too good to be true? Recent reports have cast doubt on major parts of Carson’s life story, which was told in his 1990 autobiography Gifted Hands. Carson claimed to have been a violent teen who often got in fights and even attempted to stab a friend during an argument, with the blade of his knife being miraculously stopped by the oversize belt buckle his friend was wearing underneath his untucked shirt. The unsuccessful stabbing shocked Carson into turning his life around, and he became a top student.
As a top-ranked junior ROTC leader, Carson claimed to have been offered a “full scholarship” to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He instead attended Yale, where he once won ten dollars for being the only student to remain seated during a scheduled exam retake after the professor had been absent for over thirty minutes. When Carson was the last student remaining, the prof came in with a photographer for the school newspaper and announced that it had all been an experiment to determine which student was the most honest. I remember this last story from reading Gifted Hands as a college student. If I remember correctly, he used the ten dollars to buy a bus ticket home to Detroit to see his mother. Amazing, right?
Apparently, many of these stories were falsified by Carson. Now under media scrutiny as the up-and-coming Republican presidential frontrunner, Carson’s stories have not been corroborated by friends and acquaintances from his youth. Witnesses report that Carson did not have a violent temper and that an attempted stabbing would have made news all over high school. West Point has confirmed that Carson never applied to the university, and that “full scholarships” are not offered since all students at the four U.S. Service Academies attend for free (and are even paid a stipend). The Yale Library has said that no university newspaper story of Carson as “most honest student” exists, and that the supposed class in which Carson’s feat occurred did not exist at that time.
Carson has pushed back, claiming that the media is engaged in a witch hunt against him. However, he has produced no corroborating witnesses for the parts of his autobiography that are under fire. He has admitted that he did not apply to attend West Point, but remains adamant that an offer was made. Unfortunately, West Point does not make offers – applicants must apply for, and receive, a nomination to attend a U.S. Service Academy from a member of Congress, usually their local U.S. Representative. This last part I know firsthand, for I also considered applying to West Point, where my aunt graduated and later returned to work as a professor.
As a political neophyte, Carson’s key strength was his inspirational life story. Now that it has been cracked, his candidacy is doomed. His fall may be swift or agonizingly slow, but it will occur.
Without Carson, who remains the campaign trail’s new “Honest Abe”? That would be Bernie Sanders. Alone among the schemers, he represents integrity, the demand for which will now be even higher in the absence of Carson’s calm voice and devout religiosity. I predict that honesty-seeking conservatives will be open to supporting Bernie Sanders instead of flip-flopping Republicans like Donald Trump and Jeb Bush. And now that GOP candidate Mike Huckabee appears to be on the way out as well, honesty is at a premium.
We won’t get that honesty from Hillary Clinton. We won’t get that honesty from Donald Trump. We won’t get that honesty from Jeb Bush. Nor will we find it from Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, or Ted Cruz. Only Bernie Sanders gives us honesty, what we need to know. Liberal or conservative, you need to know the truth.