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Posted at 10:51 PM ET, 02/21/2008

Obama vs Clinton

By Michael Dobbs


CNN Debate in Austin, Texas, Feb. 21, 2008.

"Lifting whole passages from other peoples speeches is not change you can believe in, but change that you can xerox." --Hillary Clinton, CNN debate, Feb. 21, 2008.

The generally civil Democratic debate from Texas produced a few contentious moments, particularly when Hillary Clinton repeated her plagiarism charge against Barack Obama. Both candidates made minor factual errors during the course of the 90-minute debate, but there were no huge howlers. Here are the exchanges that caught the Fact Checker's attention.

The NAFTA superhighway

Before the debate even started, CNN host Lou Dobbs repeated his contention that a NAFTA superhighway is being planned from Mexico to Canada. He conducted an on-line poll that established that a whopping 98 percent of his viewers wanted to know whether the two Democratic candidates "approved" the highway, or not. As I have pointed out several times before, the Nafta superhighway is a myth. There has been talk of a new Texas state highway between Nuevo Laredo and Arkansas, but nothing that resembles the "superhighway" to Canada that Dobbs (no relation to the Fact Checker) has been getting so worked up about.


The age difference

Obama made a factual slip when he said that Cuba had been "isolated" for the "entire lifetime" of both him and Hillary Clinton. He is correct about himself. He was born in 1961, at a time when Fidel Castro was cementing his dictatorship and the last ties between Cuba and the United States were being severed. But he was wrong about Clinton's lifetime. Clinton was born in 1947. She was eleven years old when Castro seized power in Cuba in January 1959. Perhaps Obama was just being gallant about his opponent's age.


The 15 million uninsured

Clinton repeated the claim that her health care plan is "universal" while Obama's plan--which does not include an individual mandate for adults--will leave out 15 million Americans. She makes the 15 million figure sound like a precise calculation, when in fact it is a vague estimate by some health care experts. As Obama pointed out, Clinton's plan will almost certainly leave out some people as well. A similar mandate has been in effect in Massachusetts since the beginning of the year, and several hundred thousand people are still unsinsured. Both the Obama and Clinton plans contain advantages and drawbacks, as I pointed out here.


Plagiarism alert!

As soon as the debate was over, both campaigns were furiously trading plagiarism accusations. The Clinton campaign struck first, noting that a line used by Obama about factories being shipped overseas sounded suspiciously like a line used by John Kerry in his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention back in July 2004. Here are the two passages.

Obama last night: "In Youngstown, Ohio, I talked to workers who have seen their plants shipped overseas as a consequence of bad trade deals like NAFTA, literally seeing equipment unbolted from the floors of factories and shipped to China, resulting in devastating job losses and communities completely falling apart.

Kerry at the 2004 Convention: "What does it mean in America today when Dave McCune, a steel worker I met in Canton, Ohio, saw his job sent overseas and the equipment in his factory literally unbolted, crated up, and shipped thousands of miles away along with that job?"

The Obama camp promptly countered with a claim that Clinton's closing concern about the American people echoed words used by John Edwards in a Democratic debate last December.

Clinton last night: "You know, whatever happens, we're going to be fine. You know, we have strong support from our families and our friends. I just hope that we'll be able to say the same thing about the American people. And that's what this election should be about."

Edwards last December: "What's not at stake are any of us. All of us are going to be just fine no matter what happens in this election. But what's at stake is whether America is going to be fine."

UPDATE Friday 10 a.m. Actually Bill Clinton came up with this line before Edwards. Watch the video here. Is it plagiarism to steal lines from your husband or, in Obama's case with Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, your political supporters?

What say you, the voters?


Negotiating peace in Kosovo

Clinton repeated her claim about negotiating with foreign governments "on matters such as opening borders for refugees during the war in Kosovo." As I pointed out in this post, this seems quite a stretch. She is referring to a visit that she made to Macedonia, Kosovo's neighbor, during the NATO bombing campaign against Serbia in May 1999. Clinton arrived in Macedonia on May 14, 1999, and visited Albanian refugee camps along the border with Kosovo. Macedonia had closed its borders with Kosovo, to prevent even more refugees from entering the country, but re-opened the border under western pressure on May 13, the day before Clinton's arrival. U.S. diplomats used the prospect of Clinton's visit to extract a concession from the Macedonian government, but Clinton did not directly negotiate with the Macedonians herself. That is not the job of First Ladies.

Let me know if you spotted any other mistakes.

By Michael Dobbs  | February 21, 2008; 10:51 PM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama, Candidate Record, Candidate Watch, Other Foreign Policy, Social Issues  
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