‘You can look it up’: OK, then, here goes

Times Staff Writers

John McCain looked gravely out at the audience as he leveled one of dozens of charges against Democrat Barack Obama during the first presidential campaign of the 2008 election Friday.

“He has voted in the United States Senate to increase taxes on people who make as low as $42,000 a year,” McCain said.

“That’s not true, John. That’s not true,” said Obama.

“And that’s just a fact,” McCain said. “You can look it up.”

Looking it up reveals, however, that it is largely untrue -- especially the inference that Obama set out to squeeze more taxes from wage earners. Nonetheless, the charge has been a staple of McCain’s campaign ads.


“The ad continues McCain’s pattern of misrepresenting Sen. Barack Obama’s tax proposals as falling on middle-income families,” the organization has said. The claim comes from a March Senate vote on whether to continue President Bush’s tax cuts; Obama’s own plan includes no increases for anyone earning below $250,000.

In many ways, Friday’s matchup between McCain and Obama was less a debate than a pair of side-by-side, long-playing campaign ads.

And, like ads, the claims and counterclaims had elements of truth and falsehood, and McCain was not the sole offender.


Iran and Kissinger

The candidates each were right when they clashed over what former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said about the wisdom of holding diplomatic meetings with Iran.

Obama was right when he said that Kissinger, in a recent appearance with other secretaries of State in Washington, said U.S. officials should talk to Iranian officials without preconditions.

McCain, in response, mischaracterized what Obama had just said. He implied that Obama had said Kissinger approved of presidential level contacts with Iran. The Democrat did not say that.


Nevertheless, Kissinger later issued a statement to the Weekly Standard as if Obama had misspoken.

“Sen. McCain is right. I would not recommend the next president of the United States engage in talks with Iran at the presidential level. My views on this issue are entirely compatible with the views of my friend Sen. John McCain. We do not agree on everything, but we do agree that any negotiations with Iran must be geared to reality.”



McCain made an arguable assertion when he said that Pakistan was a “failed state” when former President Pervez Musharraf seized power in a 1999 coup. Many analysts have warned that the country has been at risk of becoming a failed state. But most do not believe it had reached that point in 1999.


Iraq, Afghanistan

McCain assailed Obama’s plan to withdraw troops from Iraq on a timetable and send them to Afghanistan. McCain said that Adm. Michael G. Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has suggested that Obama’s plan “is dangerous for America.”

“That is not the case,” Obama said. “What he said was a precipitous withdrawal would be dangerous.”

Both were correct. Mullen said on Fox News in March that a “precipitous withdrawal . . . would concern me greatly.” But Mullen also favors more troops for Afghanistan.



Oil profits

“If we want to talk about oil company profits, under your tax plan, John -- this is undeniable -- oil companies would get an additional $4 billion in tax breaks,” Obama said.

In April, McCain proposed $195 billion in annual tax cuts, including a reduction in the corporate income tax rate from 35% to 25%.

Obama did not mention that the corporate tax cut would apply to all businesses, not just oil companies.


Corporate taxes

The two candidates offered different views of corporate taxation during the debate.

McCain, who wants to cut corporate taxes, said that U.S. businesses currently pay the second-highest tax rates in the world. Obama countered that loopholes allow businesses to pay “one of the lowest tax rates in the world.”

Both claims are substantially correct. Only Japan imposes a higher corporate tax rate than the United States. At the same time, companies are often able to escape U.S. taxes altogether. Two-thirds of U.S. corporations pay no federal income taxes, a government report found last month.



McCain said: “I want to make sure that we’re not handing the healthcare system over to the federal government, which is basically what would ultimately happen with Sen. Obama’s healthcare plan.”


Though Obama does call for an expanded role for government in regulating healthcare, he would maintain the existing private insurance system. McCain’s charge is probably based on Obama’s proposal to create a National Health Insurance Exchange, a watchdog group that would regulate the private insurance market and publicize plan details and costs.


Times staff writers Michael Finnegan, Peter Spiegel, Noam N. Levey, Michael Hiltzik and Kate Linthicum contributed to this report.


‘This is a final verdict on eight years of failed economic policies -- promoted by George Bush, supported by Sen. McCain -- a theory that basically says that we can shred regulations and consumer protections and give more and more to the most, and somehow prosperity will trickle down.’ -- Sen. Barack Obama