Factchecking the Democratic Slugfest

If you thought the insults, accusations and attacks would stop after Monday night's feisty Democratic debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C.--well, you were wrong.

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton reiterated her debate-night swipes at Obama on a host of issues, including Ronald Reagan, Iraq and health care. The goal: to undermine Obama's greatest strength--the perception that he's not a typical politician--by painting him as a timid, flip-flopping panderer (i.e., a typical politician). In response, the Obama camp said Clinton and her husband are "willing to say anything, distort anything, and twist anything in order to win an election." I am rubber, you are glue...

Undeterred, Clinton is out today with a radio ad in South Carolina pounding Obama again for noting that the "Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last 10, 15 years,” and Obama goes negative for the first time--on bankruptcy, NAFTA and economic stimulus--in talking points circulated to surrogates.

With no end to the nastiness in sight, we here at Stumper headquarters planned to spend the morning playing referee--not just reporting the back-and-forth without comment, but providing context and clarifications that would show readers when the candidates were right and when they were wrong.

But our brilliant partners at FactCheck.org beat us to the punch.

Here, then, is Viveca Novak's valuable score sheet. It's a much-needed reality check in this increasingly bitter battle for the Democratic nomination.

Summary
In one of the liveliest debates of the 2008 presidential campaign, the three top Democrats slugged it out in Myrtle Beach, S.C. We note some low blows:

Clinton falsely accused Obama of saying he "really liked the ideas of the Republicans" including private Social Security accounts and deficit spending. Not true. The entire 49-minute interview to which she refers contains no endorsement of private Social Security accounts or deficit spending, and Obama specifically scorned GOP calls for tax cuts.

Obama falsely denied endorsing single-payer government health insurance when he first ran for the Senate, saying, "I never said that we should try to go ahead and get single-payer." But in fact he gave a speech in 2003 saying, "I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer health care program."

Edwards misleadingly claimed, "I was the one who beat John McCain" in a recent CNN poll. The problem is that there is a more recent CNN poll, one that shows either Clinton or Obama beating McCain and doesn't include Edwards.

Analysis
Just three Democratic candidates took part in the scorching debate cosponsored by CNN and the Congressional Black Caucus in Myrtle Beach, S.C.: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards. It was the next-to-last such encounter scheduled for the Democrats prior to the Feb. 5 "Super Duper Tuesday" showdown when more than 20 states hold nominating contests. South Carolina Democrats go to the polls Saturday.

I Love the '80s!

Clinton attacked Obama for supposedly supporting Republican ideas, which she said included federal deficits and "privatizing" Social Security:

    Clinton: [He] has said in the last week that he really liked the ideas of the Republicans over the last 10 to 15 years, and we can give you the exact quote. ... They were ideas like privatizing Social Security, like moving back from a balanced budget and a surplus to deficit and debt.

Obama pushed back, saying he had never endorsed such notions:

Clinton: [You] talked about the Republicans having ideas over the last 10 to 15 years.

Obama: I didn't say they were good ones.

Clinton: Well, you can read the context of it.

Obama: Well, I didn't say they were good ones. ...

Clinton: It certainly came across in the way that it was presented...

We can't speak to how things "came across" to Clinton, but we've listened to the entire interview and to our ears, it's just flatly false that Obama said he "really liked the ideas of the Republicans." Clinton is referring to what Obama told the editorial board of the Reno Gazette-Journal. A video is available on the Internet.

Here's what Obama actually said in the portion to which Clinton referred:

    Obama (Jan. 14, 2008): The Republican approach has played itself out. I think it's fair to say that the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last 10, 15 years, in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom. Now, you've heard it all before. You look at the economic policies when they're being debated among the presidential candidates, it's all tax cuts. Well, we know, we've done that; we've tried it. That's not really going to solve our energy problems, for example.

There's a difference between praising someone for having ideas and praising the idea itself. Obama is doing the former – and just as clearly not doing the latter. He says the GOP approach has "played itself out," for example.

It's also false to imply – as Clinton did – that Obama endorsed Republican proposals to set up private Social Security accounts or that he praised deficit spending. We listened to the entire 49-minute interview, and Obama said no such thing.

Read the rest here.

Join the Discussion