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September 2008 | Vol. VII - No. 9


Obama and McCain: Different Plays on Toy Safety

Obama’s Activism Eclipses Sole Statement from McCain

With additional reporting by Julie L. Jones

“I would stop the import of all toys from China.” Sen. Barack Obama
Senators Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) are entering the home stretch of a grueling election year. And the differences that so distinctly separate them along party lines and various political issues also extend to their views and activity regarding toy safety.


Sen. Obama made headlines in the United States and China last December when he said “[he] would stop the import of all toys from China” — a statement that was retracted four days later after backlash from the Chinese government and interpreted by an Obama spokesman to mean toys containing more than trace amounts of lead.

At the time, the statement echoed a similar hardline stance taken by Obama’s recently announced running mate, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.).

“If I were President, I’d shut down — flat shut down — any imports from China, period, in terms of their toys,” Biden promised during the Democratic Presidential debate in Philadelphia last October. “Imagine if this was Morocco selling us these toys; we would have shut it down a year ago.”


Despite making state- ments some might consider unfairly radical, Obama can best be summed up as extremely proactive when it comes to toy safety, with a track record that predates the 2007 toy recalls.

What About Foreign Trade?

Even in relation to international trade and manufacturing relationships across toy and other industry lines — which so largely dictate today’s global economy — Obama and McCain are on different sides of the fence.

Obama’s speeches and website indicate that he supports government intervention. He envisions modifying and renegotiating the NAFTA agreements with Canada and Mexico, and working with the World Trade Organization (WTO) to enforce trade agreements. He is against the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).

According to Jason Furman, economic policy director of the Obama campaign, as explained in “The Washington Times,” “Mr. Obama would … better enforce existing agreements. He would include strong labor and environmental standards to produce better trade agreements in the future. And he would pursue comprehensive, complementary domestic policies, from expanded trade-adjustment assistance to more affordable health care, to reduce trade's contribution to rising inequality.”

McCain’s speeches and voting record indicate that he strongly supports free trade agreements, including NAFTA and CAFTA. According to Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the chief economic policy adviser to the McCain campaign, as explained in “The Washington Times,” "'Ninety-five percent of the world's consumers live outside the United States.’ It is imperative for long-term economic growth and job creation that American businesses and workers have access to these markets on a level playing field. … 'McCain believes in trade and actively supports it.’"
In November 2005 and again in May 2007, Obama introduced the Lead Free Toys Act (S. 1306), which would have required the Consumer Product Safety Commission to prescribe regulations classifying any children's product containing lead as a banned substance under the Hazardous Substances Act.

He also sponsored the Lead Poisoning Reduction Act (S. 1811), introduced in July 2007, which required that all non-home-based child-care facilities, including Head Start program locations and kindergarten classrooms, be lead-safe within five years. As toy recalls began to command front page news late last summer, he urged the Senate Commerce Committee of Commerce and President Bush to move forward on the legislation.

Most recently, in his speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver on Aug. 28, Obama reiterated a pledge to ensure toy safety. He’s quoted in a CNN article as saying, "Government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves … keep our water clean and our toys safe.”


Sen. McCain has not said or done much when it comes to issues of toy safety. Except for a quote during an April 2008 speech in Youngstown, Ohio — "If I were President of the United States, the next toy that came into this country from China that endangered the lives of our children, it would be the last toy that came into the United States" — he appears to have said nothing else.

Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, vice-presidential nominee on the ticket with McCain, has five children, but thus far her opinions about toys and the recalls are unknown.

On Aug. 14, President Bush signed into law the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (H.R. 4040), establishing stringent federal regulations including banning lead beyond minute levels as well as certain phthalates from children’s toys. Both Senators were absent, and did not vote on the legislation, though both houses of Congress had approved the bill by overwhelming margins.

Claudia NewcornWriter's Bio: Claudia Newcorn has been a freelance writer and editor for over 10 years, after having spent more than a decade in marketing and product management. She writes for both businesses and individual clients, crafting copy, content and advertising. Her articles appear in newspapers, magazines and specialty publications nationwide ( She is also the author of an award-winning fantasy fiction book, "Crossover," and several published short stories ( Read more articles by this author


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