Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama sparred Monday night at a Democratic debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Each accused the other of deliberately distorting the truth for political gain.
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Presidential candidates are debating who is best prepared to improve the economy. Three Democratic contenders met last night in South Carolina, and NPR's Audie Cornish was there.
AUDIE CORNISH: U.S. stock markets were closed for the holiday, but the plunge in international markets and the anticipated American recession gave this debate a solemn tone at the outset.
Here's Senator Barack Obama.
Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Democratic Presidential Candidate): You've got the European markets dropped 5 percent. The expectation is, is that the Dow Jones tomorrow may do the same. We could be sliding into an extraordinary recession unless we stimulate the economy immediately.
CORNISH: Obama, Senator Hillary Clinton and former Senator John Edwards each offered economic stimulus plans, with Edwards proposing the 30-day creation of so-called green-collar jobs, and Clinton citing her proposal to call a 90-day moratorium on home foreclosures. But things deteriorated when Clinton's criticism over the true cost of Obama's fiscal policies became an attack on what she called his praise for Republican Party ideas.
Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Democratic Presidential Candidate): You talked about Ronald Reagan being a transformative political leader. I did not mention his name.
Sen. OBAMA: Your husband did.
Sen. CLINTON: Well, I'm here. He's not. And...
Sen. OBAMA: Okay. Well, I can't tell who I'm running against sometimes.
(Soundbite of applause)
CORNISH: For weeks, Obama has contended former President Bill Clinton has been distorting his record on the campaign trail. While Obama complained of similar treatment last night, Senator Clinton was, if anything, more aggressive than ever before.
Sen. CLINTON: I was fighting against those ideas when you were practicing law and representing your contributor, Resco, in his slum landlord business in inner city Chicago.
(Soundbite of applause)
CORNISH: Obama denied little more than a passing connection to the Chicago businessman in question, but the pair went on like this for several minutes before John Edwards seized the moment.
Mr. JOHN EDWARDS (Former Senator, North Carolina; Presidential Candidate): What I want to say first is, are there three people in this debate, not two?
(Soundbite of crowd)
CORNISH: In past debates, Edwards has aligned himself with Obama as a so-called agent of change against Clinton. But this time, he took advantage of the bickering front-runners.
Mr. EDWARDS: This kind of squabbling - how many children is this going to get health care? How many people are going to get an education from this? How many kids are going to be able to go to college because of this?
CORNISH: Edwards also joined with Clinton in attacking Obama's voting record in the Illinois Senate and his ability to take the heat.
Mr. EDWARDS: The question is, why would you over 100 times vote present?
Sen. OBAMA: John...
Mr. EDWARDS: I mean, every one of us - every one - you've criticized Hillary. You've criticized me...
Sen. OBAMA: Right.
Mr. EDWARDS: ...for our votes. We've cast hundreds and hundreds of votes. What you're criticizing her for, by the way, you've done to us.
CORNISH: When the conversation veered back onto the issues, health care drew one of the more impassioned arguments from Clinton.
Sen. CLINTON: I think that the whole idea of universal health care is such a core Democratic principle that I am willing to go to the mat for it.
CORNISH: Similarly, Barack Obama was forceful over the issue of how soon and what approach to take in any plan to withdraw from the war in Iraq, a war he called financially unsustainable.
Sen. OBAMA: We will have spent $2 trillion at least, it's estimated, by the time this whole thing is over. That's enough to have rebuilt every road, bridge, hospital, school in America, and still have money left over.
CORNISH: The second half of the event was a love-in compared to the first hour. Side-by-side in comfy red swivel chairs, the candidates talked about race and gender. Obama appealed to end the rhetoric he says could make the contest racially polarizing. He also managed to make light of a question about Bill Clinton being the so-called first black president.
Sen. OBAMA: I would have to, you know, investigate more, you know, Bill's dancing abilities...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Sen. OBAMA: ...you know, and some of this other stuff before I accurately judge whether he was, in fact, a brother.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CORNISH: It didn't end with a group hug, but the three wound up agreeing their top priority was to unite the party and defeat the man they all seem to think was the strongest Republican in the field: Senator John McCain.
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Democratic presidential hopefuls New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama spar during a Democratic debate, Jan. 21 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
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New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton listens as Illinois Sen. Barack Obama makes a point during the Democratic Presidential Primary Debate, hosted by CNN and the Congressional Black Caucus Political Education and Leadership Institute.
Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images
Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images
New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama have spent the past week trading accusations of fact-twisting and attacking each other's past jobs and voting records. The spat began Monday night, during the Democratic debate in South Carolina. NPR looks at the charges made by both sides and sorts the fact from fiction:
Did Clinton serve on the Wal-Mart board?
What Was Said: During Monday's debate, Obama told Clinton that while he was a community organizer in Chicago, "watching those folks see their jobs shift overseas, you were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board of Wal-Mart."
The Truth: Clinton served on the Wal-Mart board of directors for six years, for which she was paid $18,000 a year, plus $1,500 a meeting. She also received roughly $100,000 in Wal-Mart stock. According to the nonpartisan Annenberg Political Fact Check, Clinton used her status on the board to urge the company to promote women and adopt more environmentally friendly practices –- although she never tackled the company's anti-union stance.
Which candidate admired former President Reagan?
What Was Said: Clinton challenged Obama for seeming to make positive remarks about former Republican President Ronald Reagan. Clinton's comments, made in South Carolina, with its large African-American voting base, implied that Obama embraced Reagan's economic policies — a damning charge, given how poorly a sizable portion of blacks fared during the eight years of the Reagan administration.
"You talked about admiring Ronald Reagan...and you talked about the ideas of the Republicans...I didn't talk about Ronald Reagan," Clinton said.
The Truth: Obama met with the Reno Gazette-Journal's editorial board before the Nevada caucuses, telling them he admired Reagan's sense of innovation, even if he did not agree with the substance of those ideas. He said:
"I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not, and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path, because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like, you know, with all the excesses of the '60s and the '70s, you know, government had grown and grown, but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating, and I think people just tapped into — he tapped into what people were already feeling, which is we want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism, and, and, you know, entrepreneurship that had been missing."
During the debate, Obama clarified his statement, noting that "Ronald Reagan was a transformative political figure because he was able to get Democrats to vote against their economic interests to form a majority to push through their agenda - an agenda that I objected to."
But Clinton has also expressed admiration for Reagan. In the book Boom! Voices of the Sixties, Tom Brokaw writes of Clinton:
"She prefers the godfather of the modern conservative movement, Ronald Reagan. He was, she says, 'a child of the Depression, so he understood it [economic pressures on the working and middle class]. When he had those big tax cuts and they went too far, he oversaw the largest tax increase. He could call the Soviet Union the Evil Empire and then negotiate arms-control agreements. He played the balance and the music beautifully.'"
What was Obama's connection to an indicted Chicago landlord?
What Was Said: While she was busy fighting Reagan's ideas and policies, Clinton told Obama, "you were practicing law and representing your contributor, Rezko, in his slum landlord business in inner-city Chicago."
The Truth: The Chicago law firm that Obama worked for as a low-level associate worked on a community housing project that was indirectly connected to Chicago landlord Tony Rezko.
Obama later became acquainted with Rezko, who became a campaign contributor to several Chicago politicians, including Obama.
In 2005, Obama and his wife also bought a 10-foot-wide strip of land from Rezko's wife; the land was adjacent to the Obama family's Chicago home. Some Illinois politicians criticized this land deal as an apparent conflict of interest. Rezko was widely reported to be under grand jury investigation at the time of the transactions, although Obama said this week that he had had no indication of any problems.
Obama told NPR in 2006 that he should have paid more attention to how that real estate deal looked, but that nothing was done illegally.
Rezko was indicted for trying to shake down investment firms seeking to do business with two Illinois state boards. Obama has given to charity more than $77,000 in past and present contributions that were linked to Rezko. Those contributions were to his House and Senate campaigns and his political action committee. None of the money was for his current presidential bid.