Again, not everything said in debate was true

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 16, 2008 

WASHINGTON — In the third and final presidential debate, Republican John McCain made inaccurate assertions about the catalyst for the current mortgage crisis and Democrat Barack Obama twisted some facts about his spending plans.

McCain also was misleading when he suggested that the "full extent" of Obama's relationships with a former Vietnam-era radical and a voter registration group isn't known.

Obama wrongly told McCain that "100 percent of your ads are negative." Media analysts found that McCain had shifted nearly all his ad spending in early October to negative ads, but McCain has run at least one positive ad during that time and in months past has run other positive ads.

Obama, meanwhile, has been outspending McCain by so much that he's spent comparable amounts to McCain on negative advertising even while spending more on positive ads.

Obama also said he's proposed cuts to match new spending he wants. However, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that Obama's plans would add a net $281 billion to the deficit.

Both candidates were somewhat misleading in talking about their opponents' health-care plans.

Obama suggested that McCain's $5,000 tax credit for families wouldn't offset the cost of employer health coverage, which averages more than $12,000 annually per family. Analysts, though, say the tax credit would more than cover what's at issue — the portion of employer-paid insurance that would be taxed under McCain's plan — so long as employers continued to provide the benefit.

McCain implied that Obama's health-care proposals would take the choice of insurance policies and doctors away from individuals or hurt small businesses. Experts dispute both of those claims.

On energy, Obama said that within 10 years the U.S. could replace the oil it buys from the Middle East with aggressive development of renewable energy. McCain suggested that new oil drilling could make the nation less reliant on Middle Eastern and Venezuelan oil.

Both, however, omitted the fact that most oil producing nations outside of the Middle East, notably Canada and Mexico, are expecting to see their crude oil production decline in coming years. That means more oil, not less, is likely to come from the Middle East.

McCain played loose with several assertions.

Out of the gate, he blamed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's lending practices as "the catalyst for this housing crisis."

Housing experts say that's not true. The subprime lending boom was fueled by private companies, not by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Three of every four subprime mortgages in 2006 were purchased for sale into the secondary mortgage market by the investment banks that are at the heart of today's meltdown.

McCain also said he was hurt that Obama didn't repudiate recent remarks by Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a civil-rights icon who likened the McCain-Palin campaign to segregationist George Wallace. However the Obama campaign released a statement shortly after Lewis made his remarks saying that Obama "does not believe that John McCain or his policy criticism is in any way comparable to George Wallace or his segregationist policies."

McCain said Americans needed to know the "full extent" of Obama's relationship with Bill Ayers, a former member of the violent Weather Underground, and with voter registration group Acorn. Both already are well documented.

Ayers, an education professor in Chicago, isn't affiliated with Obama's campaign. The men aren't close and Obama has condemned the Weather Underground's violent activities in the 1960s and 70s.

Ayers held a meet-the-candidate event at his home for Obama in 1995, but McCain's claim that Obama had launched his political career in Ayers' living room is an overstatement.

Obama responded by noting that Ayers also was involved in creating the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, an education organization whose board Obama chaired. The group was funded through billionaire philanthropist Walter Annenberg and Annenberg's wife, both Republicans. Obama and Ayers also served together on a different charity board.

McCain, meanwhile, said that Acorn's "now on the verge of perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, and maybe destroying the fabric of democracy'' and that it was "the same outfit that your campaign gave $832,000.''

Acorn workers in several battleground states are being investigated for fraudulent voter registrations, but there's no evidence of a plan to submit ballots from bogus registrants.

Acorn officials think some of their workers submitted phony registrations simply to meet their quotas. Acorn officials also say they're required in most states where they are active to submit all voter registrations they collect. Spokesman Scott Levenson said the group also notifies elections officials of suspect registrations.

There's no evidence that Obama had anything to do with the invalid registrations.

He ran a successful voter-registration drive in 1992 in Chicago for a group that now funds Acorn. He also once did legal work for Acorn to compel Chicago to comply with voting-rights law.

McCain also erred when he said that Obama's running mate, Sen. Joseph Biden, "had this cockamamie idea about dividing Iraq into three countries." Biden's 2006 proposal didn't envision dividing Iraq into three countries. It proposed a federated Iraq in order to ease ethnic strife, with three autonomous regions and "a strong but limited central government in Baghdad."

McCain also appeared to misspeak when he said that Obama had voted against the confirmations of Justices Stephen Breyer and John Roberts. Obama voted against Justices Samuel Alito and Roberts. Breyer was confirmed in 1994, well before Obama became a U.S. senator.

(Kevin G. Hall, Greg Gordon and Warren P. Strobel contributed to this report.)

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