Thursday, September 16, 2004

Kerry on Bush: "The excuse presidency"

The Boston Globe
Bush offers little except blame, Kerry charges

By Patrick Healy, Globe Staff | September 16, 2004

DETROIT -- Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry yesterday called President Bush's term in office "the excuse presidency," arguing that the Republican has "blamed just about everybody other than himself" for a weak US job market, record budget deficits, a loss of respect after the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal, and other problems.

Speaking to 500 business leaders at the Detroit Economic Club, which has a decidedly Republican membership, Kerry asserted that Bush has a stubborn streak that amounts to a character flaw, causing the president to stand by an economic strategy of tax cuts at the same time the economy has lost 1 million jobs.

"This president has created more excuses than jobs," Kerry said, in one of several new attack lines that he crafted for yesterday's speech along with former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, who joined him here yesterday, and other advisers. "His is the excuse presidency: never wrong, never responsible, never to blame. President Bush's desk isn't where the buck stops -- it's where the blame begins.

"He's blamed just about everybody but himself and his administration for economic problems, as well as for other problems like Abu Ghraib and other things that have taken place," he continued, referring to the Iraqi prison where US soldiers abused detainees.

Earlier, in an interview with radio host Don Imus, Kerry called into question Iraq's ability to hold democratic elections in January, saying he doubted security in the country would be adequate by then. "It is very difficult to see today how you're going to distribute ballots in places like Fallujah and Ramadi and Najaf and other parts of the country," Kerry said, adding that Iraqi officials have pressed for more time to prepare security. "I'm not sure the president is being honest with the American people about that situation, either."

The Bush campaign, meanwhile, bashed two other comments Kerry made during that radio interview as flip-flops over Iraq. Kerry, who voted in 2002 to authorize the use of force in Iraq, said there were and are no circumstances or threats in Iraq that would have led him to go to war there.

"Not under the current circumstances, no, there are none that I see," Kerry said. "I voted based on weapons of mass destruction. The president distorted that and I've said that. I mean, look, I can't be clearer. But I think it was the right vote based on what Saddam Hussein had done, and I think it was the right thing to do to hold him accountable. I've said a hundred times, there was a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. The president chose the wrong way. Can't be more direct than that."

Kerry also said that in the Senate, he voted for the funding to supply body armor to US troops in Iraq, citing his support for past defense budgets. He did, however, vote against an $87 billion request for those troops that specifically included armor.

Bush campaign official Steve Schmidt charged that Kerry's Iraq position had "descended into incoherence," and pointed to a remark by Imus after the Kerry interview: "I asked [Kerry] a number of questions about Iraq and I can't tell you what he said," Imus said. (Which only shows that Imus is biased, nothing more.)

At the Economic Club an hour after the radio interview, Kerry adopted a sharply critical tone for what his aides called his most important economic address of the fall. He sounded at times like a salesman determined to win over skeptical buyers, urging the audience to forgo self-interest and give up tax cuts in their high-income brackets so that the revenue could be invested in job creation, college tuition relief, and other domestic priorities. He tried to persuade members of the audience to see themselves as "shareholders of America" and see that their leader had turned a trillion-dollar budget surplus into trillions of dollars in federal debt.

"Imagine what he could do in another four years. By his judgments, by his priorities, by the decisions he's made, he has caused these things to happen or to grow significantly worse," Kerry said. "And he refuses to admit the error of those choices."

"George Bush is proud of the fact that even failure doesn't cause him to change his mind," Kerry said. "George Bush's failures are the result of a misplaced set of values and the wrong choices that always give more and more to those with the most and tells the middle class, 'You are not the priority.' "

The attack, combined with a detailed review of his proposals to create jobs and extend health care to more Americans, drew steady applause and a standing ovation in the Detroit banquet hall, delighting some Kerry advisers who have been advising the candidate that fiercer attacks on Bush's economic record would help the Democrat gain ground in polls that put him slightly behind.