Truth Takes Hard Knocks at Dem Debate

Fact check: Democratic debate fuels flubs, fibs and fabrications.


Jan. 23, 2008 — -- Monday night's South Carolina debate was a knockdown, drag-out fight between Democratic rivals clawing for voters days before the state's first-in-the-South primary. The rivals threw hard punches, but ultimately, it was the truth that took it on the chin.

In a particularly heated exchange, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton accused Illinois Sen. Barack Obama of "telling reporters that you agreed with President Bush in his conduct of the war."

Her accusation was not true. In 2004, Obama said he agreed with Bush on keeping troops to stabilize Iraq, not that he agreed with the conduct of the war.

Clinton also cited Obama for saying "in the last week that he really liked the ideas of Republicans over the last 10 to 15 years."

Again, Clinton's verbal attack was not grounded. Obama told the Reno Gazette-Journal that Republicans had new ideas, not ones he liked.

In fact, Obama described "the Republican approach" to the Nevada newspaper's editorial board as something that "has played itself out."

"I think it's fair to say the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chuck of time there over the last 10, 15 years in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom," Obama said last week. Referring to the economic policies debated and the tax cuts proposed by the Republican presidential pool, Obama told the Reno Gazette-Journal, "Well, you know, we've done that, we tried it. That's not really going to solve our energy problems, for example."

But Clinton wasn't the only one fudging numbers and shading facts for the effect of an explosive sound bite. Obama, too, has had issues with telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

On health care, during Monday night's debate-turned-slugfest, in a verbal scuffle with former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, Obama said, "I never said that we should try to go ahead and get single-payer."

But he did. Maybe not Monday night. But back in June 2003 in a speech to the AFL-CIO when he was campaigning for the Senate.

Said Obama, "I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer health-care program."

During the debate, Obama also downplayed professional ties to since-indicted real estate developer Tony Rezko.

As a law firm associate representing a church group that had partnered with Rezko, Obama said his association involved "about five hours' worth of work on this joint project."

But in fact, Rezko was one of Obama's earliest political patrons, buying neighboring property to Obama that enabled the candidate to buy his current home and helping Obama raise tens of thousands of dollars, some of which the Illinois senator has returned.

And what of Bill Clinton's accusation that Obama praised former President Reagan as "the engine of innovation."

Obama actually praised Reagan for building a broad coalition, but never called him the engine of innovation.

During the debate, Obama took the accusation head-on and upped the ante with a Reagan citation of his own.

"The irony of this," Obama said Monday night, "is that you provided much more fulsome praise of Ronald Reagan in a book by Tom Brokaw that's being published right now … as did Bill Clinton in the past."

A fair point by Obama: Hillary Clinton told Brokaw that Reagan "could call the Soviet Union the Evil Empire and then negotiate arms-control agreements. He played the balance and the must beautifully."