A look inside the debatable claims of the debate

John McCain looked gravely out at the audience as he leveled one of dozens of charges against Barack Obama during their debate 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, however, 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 Senator Barack Obama's tax proposals,” the organization said in an analysis.

The claim comes from a March 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 was less a presidential 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 four other secretaries of State in Washington, said U.S. officials should talk to Iranian officials without preconditions.

McCain, responding to Obama, then mischaracterized what the senator from Illinois 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.


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 and Afghanistan

McCain assailed Obama's plan to withdraw troops from Iraq on a timetable and send them to Afghanistan. McCain said that Adm. Michael 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.”

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 percent to 25 percent. Obama did not mention that the corporate tax cut would apply to businesses across the board, not just oil companies.

Business 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.