Factcheck.org: Obama's Mailings

Summary
Clinton said "every Democrat should be outraged" at two "false" mailers that Obama sent to voters in Ohio.

We find that a mailer criticizing her position on trade is indeed misleading. One that attacks her health care plan we have previously described as straining the facts, though not exactly "false."

* Trade: A mailer showing a locked plant gate quotes Clinton as saying she believed NAFTA was "a boon" to the economy. Those are not her words and Obama was wrong to put quote marks around them. In fact, she's been described by a biographer as privately opposing NAFTA in the White House.

* Health Care: A second mailer said Clinton's health care plan "forces everyone to buy insurance, even if you can't afford it." We have previously said that mailer "lacks context" and strains the facts. But both Obama and Clinton have been exaggerating their differences on this issue.

We've also previously criticized Clinton for sending a mailer that twisted Obama's words and gave a false picture of his proposals on Social Security, home foreclosures and energy.

We leave it to our readers to decide whether they should be "outraged" or not, and at whom.

Analysis
Hillary Clinton Feb. 23 accused Barack Obama of "using tactics that are straight out of Karl Rove's playbook" with two attack-mail pieces that criticize her stands on trade and health care. "This is wrong, and every Democrat ought to be outraged," she said, adding: "He is continuing to send false and discredited information."

NAFTA "Boon"?
Both of the mailers Clinton criticized have been around for a while. The most recent deals with Clinton's views on the North American Free Trade Agreement, and images of its four pages were posted Feb. 13 by Ohio blogger Jeff Coryell. We haven't previously commented on this one, but Clinton's statement prompted us to take a closer look.

On the front of the four-page NAFTA mailer appears a headline saying, "Hillary Clinton believed NAFTA was 'a boon' to our economy." But in fact, Clinton never used the word "boon" to describe the effects of the trade agreement on the U.S. economy, and it's not clear she ever said anything like that.

The Obama mailer quotes a New York newspaper article that ran during her 2006 Senate reelection campaign. Two reporters for the Long Island daily Newsday gave brief descriptions of her stands on a number of issues, including this:

The day after the mailer surfaced, another Newsday reporter, Dan Janison, conceded that the newspaper didn't get that from Clinton or her campaign.

We frankly find Clinton's past position on NAFTA to be ambivalent. Bloomberg News reported last year that Clinton "promoted her husband's trade agenda for years." Bloomberg quoted her at the 1998 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, as praising corporations for mounting "a very effective business effort in the U.S. on behalf of Nafta,'' and adding, "It is certainly clear that we have not by any means finished the job that has begun."

On the other hand, Clinton biographer Sally Bedell Smith says Clinton privately argued against NAFTA inside the White House and was "not very much in favor of free trade." In an interview with Tim Russert on MSNBC last year she said:

Earlier, she was criticized by pro-NAFTA forces for a lack of support. In 1993 pro-NAFTA executive Gary R. Edson of Ameritech Corp. complained publicly of a "deafening" silence from Hillary Clinton during the fight to gain Congressional approval:

And about the same time, a National Journal reporter quoted pro-NAFTA lobbyists as complaining that Hillary was undermining efforts to get the trade pact approved out of fear that pushing for it would alienate supporters of the administration's health care proposal. The headline: "If NAFTA's Bogging Down, Is Hillary to Blame?"

Update, Feb. 26: Quotes from Hillary Clinton that are favorable to NAFTA mainly date from her days as the first lady, but as we noted last November, her views shifted before she began her run for the presidency. In fact, she was calling for tougher trade rules soon after she and her husband left the White House.

The Obama campaign has pointed reporters to a quote in early 2004, in which she said, "I think on balance NAFTA has been good for New York and America." But the Obama aides fail to note the full context of that statement. Clinton was giving a long discourse on the need to "revisit" old trade agreements to add tougher standards, consistent with her current position. The occasion was a news teleconference on Jan. 5, 2004:

We also note that Clinton's statement that "on balance NAFTA has been good for New York and America" is supported by many economists, however unpopular that view may be among Democratic voters in Ohio. Economist Anil Kumar, with the research department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, summed it up in a 2006 paper by saying, "On balance, researchers have found NAFTA a slight positive for the U.S. as a whole." And the Congressional Research Service, summarizing four studies conducted by the Congressional Budget Office, the World Bank, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the United States International Trade Commission, found "modest" but "positive" effects:

Obama himself has said much the same, as the Clinton campaign quickly pointed out in a mailer of its own (which we also found misleading, because it omitted Obama's criticisms of NAFTA while quoting only his praise).

The Health Care Mailing
The second mailing that Clinton criticized is one we dealt with Feb. 4. It attacks a feature of Clinton's health plan that would require individuals to obtain coverage. We said the mailer "lacks context" and stretches the facts, but we can't agree that it is "false" as Clinton says.

The mailer says "Hillary's health care plan forces everyone to buy insurance, even if you can't afford it." But it fails to note that Clinton's plan, like Obama's, would subsidize the cost of insurance for many, making it more affordable.

We criticized the mailer for exaggerating the differences between Obama's plan and Clinton's. Since then both candidates have continued to strain the facts on this issue. Clinton keeps insisting that her plan will cover "everybody," which isn't quite true. It's true that her plan would include some sort of "mandate" to require individuals to obtain coverage. But as we reported Feb. 14, that would still leave perhaps a million persons without insurance, or more depending on how strong or weak her "mandate" turns out to be. She hasn't specified how she would enforce it or whether she would grant exemptions for hardship cases. Obama also has run ads claiming his plan would "cover everyone," but we quoted experts who estimated that 15 million or 26 million might be left without insurance unless required to obtain it; he too would have some kind of unspecified enforcement mechanism to ensure children have coverage. And we noted that experts are skeptical of both Clinton's and Obama's claims of huge cost savings from their plans.

For details, see our Feb. 14 article and our discussion of Massachusetts' Mandate from our Feb. 22 article on the Obama-Clinton debate in Texas.

In closing, we'd just note that Clinton is no innocent on sending out misleading mailers. We reported on Feb. 6 that a mailing by her campaign contained a "big distortion" of Obama's position on Social Security taxes and falsely implied that he had "no plan" to address mortgage foreclosures. It also attacked him for voting for a "Dick Cheney" energy bill that gave "huge tax breaks to oil companies," when in fact the bill gave a net tax increase to oil companies.

Reprinted with permission from factcheck.org .