They enter. Kerry flashes a big smile.
First Q to Kerry: My coworkers say you’re a flip-flopper. Are you?
Kerry is primed, gives a good, forceful, cheerful answer. Hits Bush for launching “weapons of mass deception,” then hits his key campaign points.
B recites flip-flop speech again.
Q to Bush: No WMD. Was it worth going in?
Bush: Yes, the world is a more dangerous place than it used to be. We had to go in.
Kerry: The world is a more dangerous place because you made the wrong choices.
Bush: He’s for a global test. Sanctions weren’t working.
Kerry: Yes they were. They weren’t supposed to displace Saddam, they were supposed to get rid of WMD’s. They did. Duelfer said so. If we hadn’t invaded Iraq, Osama might be dead.
Q to Kerry: How would you do things differently around the elections in Iraq?
Kerry: Things are going badly; even Republicans say so. We haven’t brought the allies in. The North Atlantic Council wanted to play, Bush pushed them off. “They wanted this to be an American effort.” “I’m going to get our allies back to the table.”
Bush: Doesn’t respond to Kerry. Met with the Iraqi Finance Minister. Things are going well, Iraqis want to be free. He was discouraged by “the political messages on TV.” Foreigners won’t follow an American President into “the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time.” Bush’s voice cracks a little; he’s sounding (literally) shrill.
Kerry: The right war was al Qaeda, the right place was Tora Bora, the right time was when he had him cornered. Now we’re in Iraq, and we have to win.
Bush: We have 75% of al-Qaeda. We need resolve.
Q to Bush: My family travelled abroad, and the folks there hate us. what are you going to do about it?
Bush: I love our country; we have great values. Reagan did unpopular things; people called it stubborn. But I’m going to defend the country. No International Criminal Court; our troops could be tried there. You don’t want a President who wants to be popular abroad.
Kerry: The President just promised you four years of more of the same. Four years ago in this same hall he told someone just like you that he’d use force abroad only if we had an exit strategy and and had enough boots on the ground. He didn’t. Shinseki said we needed more troops, and “they retired him for it.” If we’d waited, we could have had more support. He rushed to war. He broke his word.
Bush: I met with the generals and they said we had enough force. You rely on the military.
Kerry: The military’s job is to win the war. The President’s job is to win the peace. We didn’t even guard the ammo dumps, and our kids are now getting killed with ammo from those dumps.
Q to Kerry: Iran sponsors terrorism, and is getting the bomb. If UN sanctions don’t work what will you do?
Kerry: Yes, it’s bad. Iraq was a distraction. And Korea is a threat, as well as Iran. Have to bring others in. Address proliferation generally. Get control of loose nukes. Don’t build the bunker-buster. I’m going to lead the world, and if we have to get tough with Iran we will.
Bush: “That’s the kind of thing that makes me scowl.” Yeah, I’m doing that. Bilateral talks with North Korea would be “naive and dangerous.” That’s what Clinton did. Kim didn’t keep his deal. I named the axis of evil.
Q to Bush: How are you going to do this without a draft?
Bush: There’s been rumors on the internets [plural] about a draft. There’s not going to be any draft. Pay and housing for the troops. We don’t need mass armies anymore. Taking troops out of Korea, replacing them with weapons. Taking troops out of Europe, where the USSR is no longer a threat, and replacing them with more effective equipment. Brags about new toys, making us “lighter, quicker, and more facile [!]”
Kerry: Brags about his military supporters. 40,000 more troops. Back-door draft via stop-loss and using the Guard and Reserve virtually as active duty. Make troops feel safe by using Reagan-style diplomacy (!) to assemble coalitions so we don’t have to go it alone.
Bush: You just dissed the allies who are helping us.
Kerry: If Missouri were a separate country, it would be the third-largest country in the coalition. That’s not a grand coalition.
Q to Kerry: We haven’t been hit since 9/11. Why not? What will you do?
Kerry: It’s not if, it’s when. Intelligence. Cargo inspection. Containers. Bush complained about a “tax gap” if we did that. “It was his tax plan.” “This President chose a tax cut over homeland security. It was the wrong choice.
Bush: We’ve boosted homeland security. Kerry voted to cut intelligence in 1993. Kerry wants to weaken the Patriot Act. (Cutaway of Kerry smiling sardonically.) More wrong war wrong place wrong time. If we lose Iraq, it will be a haven for terrorists.
Kerry: It’s not whether you spent more money, it’s whether you did everything that needed to be done.
Bush: Spread freedom.
Q to Bush: Why did you block the importation of drugs from Canada, that would have saved us 40-60%?
Bush: I didn’t. We’re just trying to make it safe. You might think it’s coming from Canada when it’s actually coming from the Third World. In December, I might say it’s OK. Other things to do: speed generic approvals, drug discount charge. A lady bought $10 worth of drugs for $1.14.
Kerry: Bush said in this same place four years ago that importing drugs made sense. But he’s blocked it since. He made it illegal for Medicare to bulk-purchase drugs. He’s with big companies, I’m fighting for you.
Bush: Clinton also blocked Canadian imports. Anyway, what did Kerry ever do for Medicare?
Kerry: Actually, I was there in 1997 when we fixed Medicare, by making it stable. And we did something you don’t know how to do: we balanced the budget. You’ve incurred more deficits than all the Presidents before you.
Q to Kerry: You say you want to reduce health care costs, but you picked a tort lawyer as a running mate. What gives?
Kerry: Edwards is for the Patient’s Bill of Rights. Yes, excess litigation is a problem, Edwards is for tort reform and so am I. We can do it, because we’re lawyers and we know what we’re doing. But liability is only 1% of the cost of medical costs. Recites his health care proposals, pretty well. But we need to roll back the tax cuts for the rich.
Bush: Kerry is the most liberal senator. He’s for government-sponsored health care, which would wreck the health care system.
He’d have to raise your taxes to do it. Defensive medicine. Why didn’t Kerry vote for the House bill?
Kerry: Labels don’t matter. Programs matter. I have programs.
Kerry still looking calm and confident, Bush still screeching.
Q to Bush: You haven’t vetoed a single spending bill, and we’re in a deficit. Howsabout?
Bush: Recession started before I took office. Stock market was going down. Homeland security.
Everybody got tax relief. If you raise taxes during a recession, you have a depression. Brags about job creation (?!) Slings some budget numbers around that even I can’t follow.
Kerry: My health plan is not a government-run plan. You have your choice. The President was handed a $5.6 trillion surplus, now has a
$2. something deficit. Never before had a tax cut when we’re at war. The top 1% got more of the tax cut then the 80% from $100,000 down.
Q from moderator: You’ve both promised to cut the deficit in half. How?
Bush: Keep the Congress from spending money.
Kerry: Bush cut taxes even after 9-11 and the recession; gave money to companies.
Q to Kerry: Will you look into the camera and promise the American people not to raise taxes on people earning less than $200,000 a year.
Kerry: Yes. (Looks into camera, repeats it.) Recites his program, lists programs he likes that he hasn’t come out for because of their cost. Bush abandoned pay as you go. And he’s 5.6 million jobs short of his promises.
Bush: Kerry is a liar. His numbers don’t add. He’s going to have to cut his programs or raise taxes, and given his record he’s going to raise taxes.
Kerry: No, my programs don’t cost that much, except in fuzzy math. Close corporate loopholes. We balanced the budget.
Bush: He voted 98 times to raise taxes. Most liberal in the Senate.
Kerry is in a marginally darker suit. Good move, I think.
Q to Bush: How would you rate yourself as an environmentalist?
Bush: Off-road diesels, wetlands, Clear Skies. Lots of numbers about percent reductions. Healthy Forests. Get rid of “lousy Federal policies” that “create tinderboxes.” Technology: hydrogen, clean coal. “I’m a good steward of the land.” Air cleaner since I’ve been President.
Kerry: I don’t think the President is living in a world of reality in respect of the environment. That’s OK if you’re a Red Sox fan, not if you’re President. Recites his New Democrat/balanced budget credentials. The air would be cleaner if Clear Skies handn’t passed. I believe in science.
Bush: Kyoto was bad. Would have cost jobs. The air is cleaner since I’ve become president.
Kerry: Kyoto was flawed. This President didn’t try to fix it, he just declared it dead. That’s why people dislike us.
Maybe I’m fooling myself, but this looks like another blowout for Kerry. Bush isn’t as bad as last time, but Kerry is much, much better.
Q to Kerry on manufacturing competitiveness: how can we be competitive given high salaries?
Kerry: Stop subsidizing going offshore. Tax credits. Cut the costs of health care. I have a plan that does it, the President doesn’t. But it requires rolling back the tax cut for “him (GWB) and me and Charlie (the moderator).” Invest in technology education.
Bush: Liability reform, Health Savings Accounts, letting small businesses work together. Rubin said Kerry’s plan wouldn’t work. (What’s that about?) Energy plan. Kerry and Edwards didn’t show up to vote. (Bush has been hitting that hard.)
Small businessmen pay individual tax rates, so raising taxes destroys jobs.
Kerry points out that Bush counts passive investors as small business owners, cites Bush and Cheney’s holdings. Bush says he doesn’t own a timber company. (Fact-check here, please.)
Q to Bush: The Patriot Act erodes liberty. Why are you for it?
Bush: Does not! Law enforcement needs tools.
Kerry: Cites Sensenbrenner and Racicot as saying Patriot Act needs fixing. Sneak and peek searches. Eight months in jail for an innocent man, not even allowed to see his lawyer. I voted for the Patriot Act, but we need to fix it. That doesn’t make me a flip-flopper.
Q to Kerry: Aren’t adult or umbilical cord stem cells good enough? Thousands have been cured by them, no one by embryonic stem cells. Wouldn’t it make sense to work on technologies that don’t require destroying embryos.
Kerry: I respect the moral concern behind your question. People need cures. Mentions Michael Fox and Christopher Reeve. It can be done ethically. 100,000 frozen embryos from fertility clinics.
Bush: Embryonic stem cell research requires destroying life to create stem cells. I was the first President to allow research. Need to balance ethics with science. To destroy life to save life is one of the real ethical dilemmas. Says he doubled the NIH budget for something to 28 something.
Kerry: You’re saying it’s OK to destroy life up to point, but no further? The scientists say the existing lines don’t do the job.
Bush: Those embryos had already been destroyed. I said don’t destroy any more.
Big points to Bush, on what should have been Kerry’s issue.
Q to Bush: Whom would you appoint to the Supreme Court?
Bush: Someone who won’t write his opinion into law: taking “under God” out of the pledge, Dred Scott.
Kerry: Quotes Bush as saying that we need “good conservative judges.” Kerry says he’d look for quality judges, such that you can’t
tell from their decisions who they are.
Q to Kerry: Suppose you were speaking to a voter who believes abortion is murder, and wants your assurance that his tax dollars won’t be used to pay for it.
Kerry: I respect that viewpoint. I’m a Catholic. I can tell people about responsibility, but I won’t write religious beliefs into the law. You can’t deny a poor person the right to an abortion just because they can’t pay for it. Get rid of the rigid test on international family planning programs.
Bush: Pretends to be puzzled by Kerry’s answer. I’d make sure federal dollars aren’t spent on abortion. “Reasonable people can agree” on how to reduce abortion: partial birth ban, parental notification, treating killing a pregnant woman as two murders. Kerry’s against. Promote culture of life.
Kerry: I’m for a partial birth abortion ban, but with exceptions for the life of the mother. Should a girl raped by her father have to ask for his permission to get an abortion?
Bush: You voted against it. So there.
Q to Bush: List three mistakes, and what you did to fix them.
Bush: I’ve made lots of little mistakes, but the big decisions were all correct. Makes his Iraq speech again. (This has to be a huge mistake.) I’ve made some mistakes in appointing people, but I don’t want to name them for fear of hurting their feelings. I’ll accept the judgement of history.
Kerry: Attacks Bush on Iraq. (Also a mistake. Kerry should be talking about dealing with your mistakes, not attacking Bush.) Attacks on going in, and on not following through.
Bush: He voted against the $87 billion, said he voted for it before he voted against it. Nyahh nyahh nyahh.
Kerry: Repeats the line about saying the wrong thing versus doing the wrong thing. Explains he opposed the $87 billion because Bush didn’t have a plan and because he wanted the rich to pray for it, not the next generation. Doesn’t mention that Bush got the $87 billion and got us the mess we’re in.
Closers: Kerry starts by saying he respects Bush’s convictions, then recites a pretty good stump speech, though if he mentions “plan” one more time I’m going to scream.
Bush: We’re on the move. Brags again about jobs. Recites conservative domestic agenda. Smirks when he says “We’re at war.” Freedom is on the march.
Overall, it looks to me as if Kerry won this big, but didn’t hit Bush as hard as he might have on the character/infallibility/detachment from reality issue. No one who just watched him tonight would imagine that he had a reputation for being glum and boring. Once again, he seemed the more Presidential of the two contestants; he hit Bush hard without seeming nasty. Bush acted more like the challenger.
Bob Schieffer predicts that Democrats will say that Kerry won, and Republicans that debating doesn’t matter. Seems right to me.
Early review: Bush down 4 points to 55% on Tradesports.
Pataki recites the new GOP talking point: we gained 1.9 million jobs in the last 13 months. (An odd period to pick, unless they’re going by Jewish leap years.) Kerry’s going to raise your taxes.
Hillary: Bush promised more of the same. No one wants that. (Seems right to me.)
I have to run now.