Election 2008


From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

While campaigning in Cincinnati, Ohio, yesterday, Hillary Clinton lashed out at Barack Obama. She accused him of distorting her views on health care and trade in flyers sent out to voters. Obama defended the mailings as accurate.

Here are the two Democratic presidential contenders trying to make their case:

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Presidential Candidate): Enough with the speeches and the big rallies and then using tactics that are right out of Karl Rove's playbook. This is wrong, and every Democrat should be outraged.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): The notion that somehow we're engaging in nefarious tactics, I guess, is pretty hard to swallow.

Sen. CLINTON: My plan has more financial help. My plan has been evaluated by independent experts as actually achieving universal coverage and providing the financial assistance so everyone can have health care.

Sen. OBAMA: She doesn't like how the mandate is characterized because she wants to characterize it as this is universal health care in the same way that I don't like her characterizing my plan as leaving 15 million people out.

HANSEN: With us on the line to truth squad the ads in question is Brooks Jackson. He's the director of FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan site that monitors the factual accuracy of campaign ads.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. BROOKS JACKSON (Director, Annenberg Political Fact Check; FactCheck.org): Hi, Liane. Good to be here.

HANSEN: Let's talk about it. Hillary Clinton said all Democrats should be outraged by these flyers. How outrageous are the contents of the flyers?

Mr. JACKSON: Well, there are two flyers. One deals with trade and shows a locked plant gate and quotes Hillary Clinton as saying she believed NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, was a boon to the economy. Well, that one is misleading. Those weren't her words. She never said it was a boon. It comes from a newspaper article that characterized her position. And it's not clear that she has ever said anything positive about the economic effects of NAFTA. In fact, a biographer of hers says she was privately opposed to NAFTA in the White House. Only went along with her husband's plans to get it ratified reluctantly.

The second mailing's on health care. And you heard both Obama and Senator Clinton going back and forth as they have about which plan would cover the most people. We criticized that mailer a couple of weeks ago. It says that Hillary's plan forces everyone to buy insurance even if you can't afford it. Well, it's out of context, strains the facts. But to call it false is really an exaggeration in itself.

HANSEN: So these mailers have been around for a few weeks?

Mr. JACKSON: The health care mailing, I believe, February 4th, we posted an article, "The Trade Mailer." We'll be getting something up on our Web site later today. But that's been around since the 13th of February.

HANSEN: You make a living out of fact checking these kinds of ads. Assess first how much dancing around has there been on the issues from both the Obama and Clinton campaigns?

Mr. JACKSON: Well, on health care, especially, they both have been exaggerating the differences between their two plans. They're really quite similar and starkly different from anything that any Republican is proposing. Both candidates like to say their plan would cover everyone. In truth, neither these plans would cover every last single individual.

The main difference is Hillary Clinton has what she calls a personal mandate, a requirement that every individual obtain health care coverage. And Obama's plan does not contain an individual mandate, hence the attack in his mailer that Hillary's would force everyone to buy health care whether they can afford it or not.

The truth is Senator Clinton really hasn't described how strong a mandate this would be, how big the penalties would be, how it would be enforced, whether there would any exemptions for hardship cases, as there are in Massachusetts.

HANSEN: Has the Clinton campaign mailed out any flyers about Obama's stand on health care and trade?

Mr. JACKSON: Well, that's a good point. Hillary Clinton is no innocent in this. Her campaign, we previously criticized for sending out a mailer that twisted Obama's words and gave a false picture of his proposals on Social Security and home foreclosures and energy - accusing him of favoring a trillion-dollar tax increase on Social Security, which really is a big distortion.

HANSEN: And there's another debate on Tuesday so they'll be up against one another.

Mr. JACKSON: From the sound of this, it may not be quite as cordial as the debate last week.

HANSEN: Brooks Jackson is the director of the Annenberg Political Fact Check. Thank you so much.

Mr. JACKSON: You're welcome.

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