Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks at a campaign event at Fireside Pub and Steak House on January 31, 2016 in Manchester, Iowa. The Iowa caucuses kick off the presidential election process tomorrow. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

Ben Carson, toward the end of Saturday's CBS Republican presidential debate, decided for some reason to quote Joseph Stalin.

"Joseph Stalin said if you want to bring America down, you have to undermine three things: our spiritual life, our patriotism and our morality," Carson said.

Carson was making a point about the country needing someone like him to stop its decline -- we think. It was kind of a weird use of the quote, to be honest.

It was even weirder considering there is no solid proof that Stalin ever said it.


Proving a negative is often an uncertain proposition, but our reasons for believing this quotation to be of dubious origin are:

  • We have yet to find a presentation of this quotation that references a verifiable source for it. Nearly all reproductions of this quotation simply offer it as an undated, unsourced statement attributed to Stalin.
  • Searching collections of Stalin's speeches, writings, interviews, and other statements (such as the Josef Stalin Internet Archive and the University of Pennsylvania's online library of Stalin documents) fails to turn up any reference to this quotation.
  • If Stalin had truly made this statement, we would expect to find references to it dating back to his lifetime. However, although Stalin died in 1953, the oldest expression of the "healthy body" quotation we've yet located is from 1983 (in a letter to the editor of the Lawrence Journal-World).
  • This statement doesn't really sound like something Stalin would have said, as its subtext is praise for the strengths of American patriotism, morality, and spiritual life. More likely Stalin would have offered some negative reasons (such as the supposedly deleterious effects of capitalism) to use in comparing the U.S. to an unhealthy body.

And we would note for emphasis here that Carson did not utter these comments in the midst of a lengthy policy debate in which he was speaking off the cuff. This was his closing statement -- a closing statement that is undoubtedly something planned and practiced.

The fact that Carson used a false quote is the latest piece of proof that perhaps he's out of his league on that debate stage.

Update: Naturally, some folks on social media had some fun with this:

Candidates tussled over immigration, welfare, Planned Parenthood and more during the CBS Republican presidential primary debate in Greenville, S.C. Here are key moments from that debate. (Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)