Candidates' arguments are familiar — and so are mistakes

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 8, 2008 

WASHINGTON — In their second debate, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain settled for familiar arguments and made some familiar mistakes and exaggerations.

On the economic crisis, McCain said that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were among "the real catalysts, really the match that lit this fire." Both are government-sponsored companies that together back about half of the $12 trillion mortgage market.

Data from the Federal Reserve, however, show that the majority of the subprime loans that triggered the crisis weren't issued by Fannie and Freddie, but by private lending institutions.

McCain said Obama and "his cronies and his friends in Washington that went out and made all these risky loans."

He was referring to two former heads of Fannie Mae: Franklin Raines and Jim Johnson. The McCain campaign has referred to Raines as an Obama adviser. Raines has denied it, saying the extent of his involvement was a few telephone calls.

Johnson briefly headed Obama's vice-presidential vetting team before resigning when some loans he obtained became controversial.

McCain, moreover, has his own ties to the mortgage industry. His campaign manager, Rick Davis, is a co-owner of a lobbying firm that was on a $15,000-a-month retainer from Freddie Mac from 2005 through August.

McCain repeated a claim that Obama's tax plan would raise taxes on small businesses. Analyzing a television ad that made the same claim, the organization Factcheck.org, a nonpartisan project at the University of Pennsylvania, concluded that the "statement is simply not true."

Obama, meanwhile, said that only upper-income earners would pay more under his plan, while 95 percent of taxpayers would see no increase.

The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center said the 95 percent refers to working families. If all tax filers are included, the percentage is 81.

On Iraq, McCain repeated his assertion that last year's surge of 30,000 additional U.S. troops has been a success. But that goes well beyond what U.S. officials are saying. A nearly completed top-level intelligence report warns that ethnic and sectarian tensions remain unresolved and could explode in renewed bloodletting.

McCain also said he wouldn't withdraw U.S. forces until they achieved victory in Iraq. Army Gen. David Petraeus has said that he doesn't believe that the war is one in which victory can be declared.

McCain said that U.S. troops had to be withdrawn in humiliation from Somalia in 1993 after a peacekeeping operation to deliver humanitarian aid turned into a peacemaking operation.

He failed to mention, however, that he sponsored a Senate resolution demanding an immediate U.S. withdrawal from Somalia after 29 U.S. troops were killed and 170 wounded in the battle that gave rise to the book and movie Blackhawk Down. The resolution failed.

Obama said that killing Osama bin Laden would be his biggest national-security priority, but experts inside and outside the U.S. government say that while bin Laden's death would deal a major blow to al Qaida, it would do little to diminish the terrorist threat, which has expanded to include numerous extremist groups inspired by bin Laden.

Obama criticized McCain for wanting to continue spending $10 billion a month in Iraq and suggested the money could be spent better at home. But the war is being financed by debt, so using the Iraq war spending for domestic uses would still leave the country's finances in the hole.

On energy, McCain said drilling offshore for oil was necessary. Experts have said it will take a decade before oil could be pumped out, but some economic benefits, such as new jobs, would be immediate.

(Kevin G. Hall, William Douglas and Jonathan S. Landay contributed to this article.)

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