Fact-Checking Clinton, Obama's Political Sparring

debate

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. Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images
second debate image

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 hide caption

itoggle caption 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.

From NPR staff reports and the Associated Press

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