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Marc Nozell / flickr (CC by 2.0) | Remix by Max Fleishman

Bernie Sanders vs. Ben Carson on climate change, taxes, ISIS, and abortion

Two presidential contenders on climate change, the Islamic State, the economy, and more.


Patrick Howell O'Neill


Posted on Nov 9, 2015   Updated on May 27, 2021, 4:31 pm CDT

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Ben Carson don’t agree on much. Recently, however, one issue has them seeing eye to eye.

Carson sits in a tie with Donald Trump at the top of the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. The former neurosurgeon’s inspirational life story has increasingly come under the media microscope as journalists from the Wall Street Journal to CNN questioned the truth behind a range of anecdotes and quotes in Carson’s past.

In response to this unwanted attention, Carson shot back, saying the media was desperate for a scandal.

“There’s no question I’m getting special scrutiny,” Carson said on Sunday. “And the whole point is to distract—distract the populace, distract me.”

Sanders, the second-place candidate in the Democratic presidential race, agrees that the spotlight of the media should be pointed elsewhere.

“I think it might be a better idea—I know it’s a crazy idea—but maybe we focus on the issues impacting the American people and what candidates are saying rather than just spending so much time exploring their lives of 30 or 40 years ago,” Sanders said on NBC. “And I think the reason that so many people are turned off to the political process has a lot to do with the fact that we’re not talking about the real issues impacting real people.”

Bernie and Ben, we’ve got you covered.

Here is an issue-by-issue breakdown of the platforms of Bernie Sanders and Ben Carson, two candidates who clash dramatically on three issues that concern American voters the most.

Climate change

Sanders believes human-driven climate change is real, an assertion backed up by the vast majority of scientific research. He’s voted for legislation to cut down on pollutants and set tougher environmental standards across the board. Sanders also wants to use taxes as a weapon in the climate-change battle, by taxing greenhouse-gas emitters while funding alternative-energy projects.

Carson, on the other hand, argued that he’s seen no evidence of human-driven climate change. He does agree that we have to “take care of” the earth, but insists that “it shouldn’t be a big political issue.”

“I know there are a lot of people who say ‘overwhelming science,’ but then when you ask them to show the overwhelming science, they never can show it,” Carson said in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. “There is no overwhelming science that the things that are going on are man-caused and not naturally caused.”

The comment drew wide criticism, including from California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, who publicly sent Carson a 2014 United Nations report on the science behind global warming.


Sanders and Carson differ enormously on most issues, but no more so than taxes.

Sanders, who describes himself as a democratic socialist, has consistently voted to establish a more progressive tax structure so that the wealthy—think those who make more than $400,000 per year—pay a higher percentage of their income, which Sanders describes as their “fair share.” That money should be used to strengthen the middle class, the senator argues, at a time of growing income inequality between the richest Americans and the rest of us.

Taxes are the kind of issue that are both monumentally important and difficult for a candidate to fully explain. However, it’s pretty clear where Sanders stands: The current distribution of income and services is “the most unfair” of any developed country.

If Sanders is clear on the left when it comes to taxes, Carson is clearly on the right.

Carson, like other 2016 GOP contenders, favors a flat tax whereby everyone pays the same tax rate, between 10 and 15 percent, a plan he says is based on the biblical concept of tithing. He believes it’s “very condescending” that poor people can’t pay the same rate as the rich.

The basic premise of Carson’s plan—based on the little we know of it so far—is radical simplicity: “Our tax form should be able to be completed in less than 15 minutes,” Carson says on his website.

He says one crucial point to his plan is closing tax loopholes so the wealthy and corporations can’t skip out on taxes, but he hasn’t yet released a plan showing how he’ll accomplish his goals.

The truly complicating factor of Carson’s plan is how he would deal with a $1.1 trillion budget hole that, some experts say, his plan would leave in the U.S. government—a number Carson disputes without offering specifics about why it’s wrong.

Carson’s long-held goal has been to significantly cut the size of the federal government, including a 2012 pitch to cut every agency’s spending by at least 10 percent. His website, however, only offers seven sentences on how to tackle a gargantuan task, so Carson will likely have to spell out his plan in detail as the campaign continues.

The Islamic State

Wary of the “disaster” he says the U.S. suffered in its war in Iraq, Sanders argues that a crucial part of defeating the threat of a “brutal and dangerous” ISIS is building a true international coalition with a clear finish line to avoid “perpetual warfare in the Middle East”—what Sanders describes as his nightmare scenario.

That’s the opposite of what’s already happening. America’s war against ISIS is turning increasingly unilateral as allies have shifted their attentions elsewhere.

Sanders says he supports U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in Syria, but he maintains that, to truly defeat ISIS, Middle Eastern nations must fight the battle themselves.

“I have supported U.S. airstrikes against ISIS and believe they are authorized under current law, and I support targeted U.S. military efforts to protect U.S. citizens,” Sanders said in February.

“It is my firm belief, however, that the war against ISIS will never be won unless nations in the Middle East step up their military efforts and take more responsibility for the security and stability of their region. The United States and other western powers should support our Middle East allies, but this war will never be won unless Muslim nations in the region lead that fight.”

Carson, who also stresses the importance of a coalition, proposes continued air and ground engagements with ISIS, as well as establishing a no-fly and no-fire zone in Syria’s northern reaches and its border with Turkey.This is an effort to control the flow of refugees and foreign fighters into Syria. 

Finally, Carson places an emphasis on controlling airspace over Syria, a goal that will require bringing the very active Russian air force into cooperation with the U.S.

Carson is open to sending American ground troops, but he hasn’t specified numbers or what exactly would make that kind of move necessary.


Carson is “unabashedly and entirely pro-life,” he says. “Human life begins at conception and must be protected.”

Carson wants abortion made illegal, even in cases of rape and incest. “I would not be in favor of killing a baby because the baby came about in that way,” Carson told Meet the Press late last month. He says he formed that opinion because of “the many stories of people who have led very useful lives who were the result of rape or incest.”

Further, Carson favors overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion nationwide, as well as subsequent legislation allowing abortions to be performed legally in the United States.

Sanders stands on the polar opposite end of the issue.

Sanders describes himself as pro-choice and seeks to expand access to safe and legal abortions.

“We are not going back to the days when women had to risk their lives to end an unwanted pregnancy,” Sanders argues. “The decision about abortion must remain a decision for the woman and her doctor to make, not the government.”

Sanders says he will raise funding for Planned Parenthood, family planning programs, and “other initiatives that protect women’s health, access to contraception, and the availability of a safe and legal abortion.”

In addition, Sanders says he will only nominate Supreme Court justices who support Roe v. Wade.

Photo via Marc Nozell / flickr (CC by 2.0) | Remix by Max Fleishman

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*First Published: Nov 9, 2015, 8:16 pm CST