WASHINGTON—This time around, President George Bush seemed a bit more alert than during his last debate against John Kerry, although much of what he had to say was vague and hard to follow. In Friday’s town-hall format, he rambled and every so often jumped up and said he was angry.
There was more of the incomprehensible Bush argument about our need to invade Iraq even if Saddam didn’t have weapons of mass destruction. “I was not happy when they”—the inspectors—”didn’t find any,” the president said.
And he further explained the decision to attack: “First of all, we didn’t find out they didn’t have them”—weapons of mass destruction—”until we got there.” He claimed that the administration had indeed sought international support for its actions, but when Kerry pointed out Bush had recently blocked the use of NATO for training Iraqi forces, the president dropped the subject.
Bush repeated the standard conservative line that his tax cuts help the middle class, although Kerry pointed out, as have numerous others, that the tax cuts mainly benefit only the very richest Americans. The president’s basic argument is that tax cuts free up money for the economy. He had no answer to Kerry’s charge that the Bush administration lost jobs, and nothing whatsoever to say when Kerry pointed out that Bush was the first president ever to cut taxes in the middle of a war. Bush had previously argued that the deficit was the result of spending for Iraq invasion. And he blamed, as he has in the past, the recession on Clinton.
Bush went after Kerry for being a liberal, invoking the name of Teddy Kennedy as the most liberal member of the Senate and claiming Kerry’s health plan would be just another case of liberal big-government spending. In fact, both candidates support opening up the federal employees health care plan to the rest of America, and while that plan certainly offers a wider range of insurance options, it’s little more than another version of consumer shopping, certainly not big-government spending or even any government spending.
When he ran in 2000, Bush supported letting people import drugs from Canada. On Friday, he said he was opposed to doing that because he feared drugs from the third world might slip into the U.S. from Canada. The big drug companies manufacture all over the world, and as Kerry pointed out, Canadian drugs come from American companies, packaged in American bottles.
And if Bush is so concerned about foreign drugs, why is he causing the government to back the importation of half the American supply of flu vaccine from a British company, when the supply is feared contaminated?
If there ever were a case of third-world drugs getting into the global market, it would be in the collection of blood by big drug companies from diseased prisoners in the Southern part of the U.S., for sale first in Canada and later in Europe and Asia. Thousands of hemophiliacs died as a result of this exportation of contaminated blood—again, not from the third world, but from the United States.
Bush sought to turn the issue of a draft to his advantage by declaiming, “We’re not going to have a draft,” although when Kerry pointed out that we already have a back-door draft of National Guard and Reserve troops, the president dropped the subject.
He also said with a straight face, “I am a good steward of the environment,” although he did not rebut Kerry when the senator said he has cut back the pollution laws.
There were the predictable differences over abortion and stem cell research, with Bush opposing abortion and standing firm behind his stance for limited stem-cell research. Kerry argued for reproductive choice, even for the poor, and for a wider use of stem cell research.