Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Democrat tells Bush there's a 'better way'

Democrat tells Bush there's a 'better way'

By Joanne Kenen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - "There is a better way" to deal with the challenges confronting the nation, Timothy Kaine of Virginia, a brand-new Democratic governor of a conservative southern state, said on Tuesday in his party's response to the president's State of the Union address.

Democrats selected Kaine to respond to President George W. Bush even though he has been in office less than three weeks. In his election victory in November, he won over independents and some Republicans in a state that has not voted for a Democratic president in more than 40 years.

Kaine sounded the theme that there is a different, better way to fight terror, improve health care and promote a strong economy.

"I want to offer some good news tonight -- there is a better way," he said in excerpts from his speech released before the president spoke.

Kaine called for more bipartisanship, more cooperation, and a focus on service.

But he also criticized Bush's management failures in relation to Hurricane Katrina, job creation and Iraq, and referred to the lobbying and corruption scandals hanging over congressional Republicans.

"The federal government should serve the American people. But that mission is frustrated by this administration's poor choices and bad management," Kaine's text said.

A devout Catholic who as a young man spent time as a missionary in Honduras, Kaine during his campaign spoke openly about his religious faith and opposition to both abortion and the death penalty. He sometimes traveled in a pickup truck and spoke about his support for hunters.

He said that public service is "about measuring what we do in terms of real results for real people" and that Democrats were "working to replace a culture of partisanship and cronyism with an ethic of service and results."

He criticized tax cuts that add to the deficit, Medicaid cuts that hurt the poor, and health care policies that don't address the cost of drugs or the plight of uninsured children.

On national security and terrorism, Kaine noted that the country stands together and that the September 11 attack on the Pentagon took place in his own state of Virginia. But he questioned Bush's approach to security.

"Our commitment to winning the war on terrorism compels us to ask this question: Are the president's policies the best way to win this war?"

"We now know that the American people were given inaccurate information about the reasons for invading Iraq. We now know that our troops in Iraq were not given the best body armor or the best intelligence."

Kaine's predecessor as Virginia governor, Democrat Mark Warner, also succeeded in a Republican state and is often mentioned as a possible presidential contender in 2008.