A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Peas in a Pod

Dueling radio ads from Clinton and Obama falsely paint the other as a secret Republican.


Summary

A radio ad sponsored by Hillary Clinton reprises her misleading claim that Barack Obama likes Republican ideas. Obama has responded with an ad that makes a half-true accusation that Clinton "championed" NAFTA. We find that both claims are misleading and that the candidates are, in fact, making mountains of molehills.

Specifically, we found that:

  • Clinton’s ad falsely implies that Obama supported "special tax breaks for Wall Street" and running up the deficit, and that he opposed minimum wage increases while refusing to deal with the housing crisis. In fact, Obama voted to increase the minimum wage and actually supported some cost-cutting measures that Clinton opposed.
  • Obama’s claim that Clinton flip-flopped on NAFTA is half-true. She did change her position, but she did so long before she began running for president.
  • In fact, the two candidates vote with Democrats more than 90 percent of the time and voted with each other 94 percent of the time. Interest groups give them nearly identical ratings for being liberal.

Update, Jan. 24: The Associated Press reported, about the time we were posting this article, that  both campaigns had pulled these two ads off the air.

Analysis

The past week has had us checking our calendars to make sure it’s not really 1992. Bill Clinton is campaigning nonstop in South Carolina. The two leading candidates for the Democratic nomination are working feverishly to distance themselves from Ronald Reagan. And NAFTA is again making headlines. We were half expecting to see "Unforgiven" show up in the list of Academy Award nominees.

In a new radio ad airing in South Carolina, Clinton again raises the charge that Obama supports Republican ideas. The ad begins with a quote from Obama’s now-infamous interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal in which he says that the Republicans were, for a time, "the party of ideas." A voice-over then asks whether those ideas include "special tax breaks for Wall Street," running up the deficit and opposing minimum wage increases.

{Click image to listen to ad)

[TET ]

Clinton Radio Ad

Narrator: Listen to Barack Obama last week talking about Republicans.

Obama: The Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last 10, 15 years…

Narrator: Really? Aren’t those the ideas that got us into the economic mess we’re in today? Ideas like special tax breaks for Wall Street, runnin’ up a 9 trillion dollar debt, refusin’ to raise the minimum wage or deal with the housing crisis. Are those the ideas Barack Obama’s talkin’ about.

Obama: Republicans were the party of ideas…

Narrator: Hillary Clinton thinks this election’s about replacin’ disastrous Republican ideas with new ones, jump startin’ the economy, putting an immediate freeze on foreclosures and mortgages. Cuttin’ taxes for the middle class. And creating millions of new jobs. With the economy in crisis, we need a president with the ideas, the solutions that get our economy working for all of us. Hillary Clinton. Solutions for America. Paid for by Hillary Clinton for President.

Clinton: I’m Hillary Clinton, candidate for president, and I approved this message. [/TET]

We Don’t Need No Stinking Context!

The ad escalates a misleading line of attack that Clinton raised at a Myrtle Beach debate on Monday. The narrator introduces a snippet from Obama’s interview:

Obama (from the Clinton ad): The Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last 10, 15 years…

We’ve already criticized Clinton for mischaracterizing what Obama said in his Jan. 14 interview. He never said the "Republican ideas" were good ones, and in fact he said, "The Republican approach has played itself out." Those words are left out of Clinton’s ad. Instead, the narrator goes on to imply that Obama somehow supports "tax breaks for Wall Street" or a "refusal to raise the minimum wage."

We’ve listened to the entire interview and nowhere does Obama say such things. Nor is there anything in his voting record to suggest that he and Clinton differ markedly on any of these issues. In fact, Clinton and Obama have identical records on increasing the minimum wage.

And according to The Washington Post, on a few of the occasions where Clinton and Obama voted differently on an issue, Obama voted against spending proposals such as a Pentagon travel system and the relocation of a rail line, while Clinton voted for the higher spending. And Obama opposed a bill to cut business taxes that Clinton initially voted for but later joined Obama to vote against when the legislation was in its final form.

NAFTA Nastiness

(Click image to listen to ad)

[TET ]

Obama Radio Ad

Obama: I’m Barack Obama, candidate for president, and I approved this message.

Narrator: It’s what’s wrong with politics today. Hillary Clinton will say anything to get elected. Now she’s making false attacks on Barack Obama. The Washington Post says Clinton isn’t telling the truth: Obama did not say that he liked the ideas of Republicans. In fact, Obama’s led the fight to raise the minimum wage, close corporate tax loopholes, and cut taxes for the middle class.

Narrator: But it was Hillary Clinton, in an interview with Tom Brokaw, who quote "paid tribute" to Ronald Reagan’s economic and foreign policy. She championed NAFTA even though it has cost South Carolina thousands of jobs. And worst of all, it was Hillary Clinton who voted for George Bush’s war in Iraq. Hillary Clinton. She’ll say anything. And change nothing. It’s time to turn the page. Paid for by Obama for America.[/TET]

Obama released a radio ad of his own, pushing back against Clinton’s attacks. Obama’s ad claims that it’s really Clinton who has "paid tribute" to Ronald Reagan and accuses her of supporting Republican ideas like NAFTA and the war in Iraq.

Several of the claims in the ad are accurate. The narrator says that The Washington Post said Clinton "isn’t telling the truth" about Obama’s comments on Republicans. Indeed, The Post‘s Fact Checker said that Clinton’s claims about Obama liking Republican ideas is false. And as we’ve just said, Obama has supported raising the minimum wage, and he voted against corporate tax breaks, as the ad claims.

But the ad’s claim that Clinton "championed NAFTA" is misleading. It is true, as we’ve noted before, that Clinton once praised the North American Free Trade Agreement that her husband championed. As recently as 1998, she praised business leaders for mounting "a very effective business effort in the U.S. on behalf of NAFTA," adding later that "it is certainly clear that we have not by any means finished the job that has begun." But her position on trade shifted before her presidential run: In 2005, for example, she voted against the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), and she told Time in 2007 that "I believe in the general principles [NAFTA] represented, but what we have learned is that we have to drive a tougher bargain."

It is also true that Clinton voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq in 2003. Obama opposed that at the time, before he was elected to the Senate. Since his election in 2004, Obama and Clinton have identical voting records on the war.

Politicians are humans too, and sometimes they do change their views on issues. Obama is well within his rights to point out that Clinton used to hold different views. But it’s misleading to encourage the impression that he and Clinton currently differ on NAFTA or on the war in Iraq.

If It Walks Like a Duck and Talks Like a Duck, It’s Not an Elephant

Frankly, we find that all of this "you’re secretly a Republican" business borders on the ridiculous. Here’s our evidence:

  • In January 2007, the Washington Post analyzed Clinton’s and Obama’s voting records. During the two years that they overlapped in the Senate, they voted differently just 40 times – out of 645 votes. That works out to 93.8 percent agreement. And in at least a few instances, the two agreed on the issue but voted differently because one favored a stronger version of the bill.
  • Interest groups score the two identically, or nearly so. In 2006 the AFL-CIO gave both of them a 93 percent pro-labor vote rating, and the liberal Americans for Democratic Action gave each a 95 percent score. The American Conservative Union gave each an 8 percent rating. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave Clinton a somewhat higher pro-business score, 67 percent, than it gave to Obama, who received a 55 percent score.

  • The news organization Congressional Quarterly scored Obama’s party unity record (that is, the extent to which he voted with Democrats on votes in which majorities of each party took opposite sides) at 97 percent in 2005 and 98 percent in 2006. Clinton’s scores: 96 in 2005 and 93 in 2006. Similarly, CQ found that Clinton supported President Bush’s position 50 percent of the time in 2006, while Obama supported Bush 49 percent of the time that year.

The simple fact is, Clinton and Obama champion similar policies and have nearly identical voting records. There are real differences between the two, but by accusing each other of crypto-Republicanism, Clinton and Obama are writing scripts for The Theater of the Absurd.

— by Joe Miller

Update, Jan. 24: The AP reported both ads were pulled off the air, "lowering the volume on what had become an angry public spat."

Sources

Congressional Quarterly, Sen. Barack Obama (D–Ill.) Interest Group Ratings, April 2007.

Congressional Quarterly, Sen. Barack Obama (D–Ill.) CQ Voting Studies, Jan. 2007.

Congressional Quarterly, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D–N.Y.) Interest Group Ratings, April 2007.

Congressional Quarterly, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D–N.Y.) CQ Voting Studies, Jan 2007.

Jensen, Kristin and Mark Drajem. "Clinton Breaks With Husband’s Legacy on Nafta Pact, China Trade." Bloomberg News. 30 Mar. 2007. 31 Oct. 2007.

Murray, Shailagh. "Clinton-Obama Differences Clear In Senate Votes." The Washington Post, 1 Jan. 2007.

Obama, Barack. Afternoon with Barack Obama, video by James Ball. 14 Jan. 2008.

Project Vote Smart. Senator Barack H. Obama, Jr. January 2008. 24 Jan. 2008.

Project Vote Smart. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. January 2008. 24 Jan. 2008.

Tumulty, Karen. "Hillary: ‘I Have to Earn Every Vote’." Time, 1 Feb. 2007.

Zelney, Jeff. "Clinton Goes Negative in South Carolina Radio Ad." The New York Times, 23 Jan. 2008.