FINAL PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE (of THREE) 2004
Thursday, October 14, 2004
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
FINAL PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE (of THREE) 2004
Wednesday 13 October 2004
Location: Arizona State University-- Tempe, Arizona
Subject: Domestic Policy and the Economy
Moderator: Bob Schieffer of CBS News
Format: moderator asking questions of each candidate alternately: 2 minute response by the candidate to whom the question is directed; 90 second rebuttal by the other candidate; optional 1-minute "discussion extension" at the discretion of the moderator, generally divided into 30 seconds for each candidate, rebutting candidate speaking last. Debate to last no longer than 90 minutes all told.
Scoring for 'The Green Papers' by RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON TheGreenPapers.com Staff
Explanation of the SCORING SYSTEM used by 'The Green Papers' for the 2004 Presidential and Vice-Presidential Debates
1. Question for Senator Kerry: I want to set the stage for this discussion by asking the question that I think hangs over all of our politics today and is probably on the minds of many people watching this debate tonight and that is: will our children and grandchildren ever live in a world as safe and secure as the world in which we grew up?
Senator Kerry answered: Will we ever be safe and secure again? Yes- we absolutely must be: that's the goal. Now, how do we achieve it is the most critical component of it: I believe that this President, regrettably, rushed us into a war, made decisions about Foreign Policy, pushed alliances away and, as a result, America is now bearing this extraordinary burden where we are not as safe as we ought to be. The measurement is not: are we safer?- the measurement is: Are we as safe as we ought to be?
And there are a host of options that this President had available to him, like making sure that- at all our ports in America- containers are inspected. 95 % come in today uninspected- that's not good enough. People who fly on airplanes today: the cargo hold is not X-rayed, but the baggage is- that's not good enough. Firehouses don't have enough firefighters in them, police officers are being cut from the streets of America because the president decided to cut the COPS program.
So we can do a better job of homeland security: I can do a better job of waging a smarter, more effective war on terror, and guarantee that we will go after the terrorists: I will hunt them down, and we'll kill them, we'll capture them- we'll do whatever is necessary to be safe. But I pledge this to you, America: I will do it in the way that Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan and John Kennedy and others did, where we build the strongest alliances, where the world joins together, where we have the best intelligence and where we are able, ultimately, to be more safe and secure.
President Bush rebutted: Yes, we can be safe and secure- if we stay on the offense against the terrorists and if we spread Freedom and Liberty around the world. I've got a comprehensive strategy to- not only chase down Al-Qa'eda, wherever it exists (and we're making progress: 3/4 of Al-Qa'eda leaders have been brought to justice)- but to make sure that countries that harbor terrorists are held to account. As a result of securing ourselves and ridding the Taliban out of Afghanistan, the Afghan people had elections this weekend and the first voter was a 19-year-old woman- think about that! Freedom is on the march: we held to account a terrorist regime in Saddam Hussein- in other words, in order to make sure we're secure, there must be a comprehensive plan.
My opponent just this weekend talked about how terrorism could be reduced to a "nuisance", comparing it to prostitution, illegal gambling- I think that attitude and that point of view is dangerous: I don't think you can secure America for the long run if you don't have a comprehensive view as to how to defeat these people. At home, we'll do everything we can to protect the homeland: I signed the Homeland Security bill to better align our assets and resources- my opponent voted against it. We're doing everything we can to protect our borders and ports but, absolutely, we can be secure in the long run- it just takes good, strong leadership.
Senator Kerry responded: When the President had an opportunity to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, he took his focus off of them, outsourced the job to Afghan warlords, and Osama bin Laden escaped. 6 months after he said Osama bin Laden must be caught dead or alive, this President was asked, "Where is Osama bin Laden?"- he said, "I don't know: I don't really think about him very much, I'm not that concerned." We need a President who stays deadly focused on the real war on terror.
President Bush further rebutted: Gosh, I don't think I ever said I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden- that's kind of one of those exaggerations. Of course we're worried about Osama bin Laden: we're on the hunt after Osama bin Laden, we're using every asset at our disposal to get Osama bin Laden. My opponent said this war is a matter of intelligence and law enforcement: no, this war is a matter of using every asset at our disposal to keep the American People protected.
Scoring-- Round 1. Each candidate once more, as they had in the previous Debates, well expressed their own views on the issue of homeland security and the war on terror. Senator Kerry used his answer to sneak in a comment or two on his differences with the President's Foreign Policy- even though this Debate was supposed to be about domestic issues (I might have been tempted to deduct points for this, except that President Bush then used much of his rebuttal time to also talk about his Foreign Policy). President Bush's statement that "we're doing everything we can to protect our borders and ports" seemed to be a disconnect with what Senator Kerry had just said about container inspections and the like (surely they both can't be right-- "pick yer poison!" [;-)]). In the end, Senator Kerry failed to deflect President Bush's claim that Kerry would be satisfied with merely reducing terrorism to the status of a "nuisance" and, thus, the President wins this round (Bush, on the other hand, well deflecting Kerry's claim that he was not at all concerned with Osama bin Laden). Bush 10, Kerry 9.
2. Question for President Bush: We're talking about protecting ourselves from the unexpected but the flu season is suddenly upon us- flu kills thousands of people every year- suddenly we find ourselves with a severe shortage of flu vaccine: how did that happen?
President Bush answered: Bob, we relied upon a company out of England to provide about half of the flu vaccines for the United States citizen and it turned out that the vaccine they were producing was contaminated and so we took the right action and didn't allow contaminated medicine into our country. We're working with Canada to, hopefully, help us realize the vaccine necessary to make sure our citizens have got flu vaccinations during this upcoming season.
My call to our fellow Americans is- if you're healthy, if you're younger- don't get a flu shot this year: help us prioritize those who need to get the flu shot- the elderly and the young. The CDC, responsible for health in the United States, is setting those priorities and is allocating the flu vaccine accordingly. I haven't gotten a flu shot and I don't intend to because I want to make sure those who are most vulnerable get treated.
We have a problem with litigation in the United States of America: vaccine manufacturers are worried about getting sued and so, therefore, they have backed off from providing this kind of vaccine. One of the reasons I'm such a strong believer in legal reform is so that people aren't afraid of producing a product that is necessary for the health of our citizens and then end up getting sued in a court of law- but the best thing we can do now, Bob, given the circumstances with the company in England, is- for those of us who are younger and healthy: don't get a flu shot.
Senator Kerry rebutted: This really underscores the problem with the American health care system- it's not working for the American family and it's gotten worse under President Bush over the course of the last few years. 5 million Americans have lost their health insurance in this country, you've got about a million right here in Arizona- just shy, 950,000- who have no health insurance at all: 82,000 Arizonans lost their health insurance under President Bush's watch, 223,000 kids in Arizona have no health insurance at all.
All across our country- go to Ohio: 1.4 million Ohioans have no health insurance- 114,000 of them lost it under President Bush; Wisconsin- 82,000 Wisconsinites lost it under President Bush. This President has turned his back on the wellness of America and there is no system: in fact, it's starting to fall apart- not because of lawsuits, though they are a problem and John Edwards and I are committed to fixing them- but because of the larger issue that we don't cover Americans- children across our country don't have health care. We're the richest country on the face of the planet, the only industrialized nation in the world not to do it: I have a plan to cover all Americans, we're going to make it affordable and accessible, we're going to let everybody buy into the same health-care plan Senators and Congressmen give themselves.
President Bush responded: I want to remind people listening tonight that a plan is not a litany of complaints and a plan is not to lay out programs that you can't pay for. He just said he wants everybody to be able to buy into the same plan that Senators and Congressmen get- that costs the government $7,700 per family: if every family in America signed up, like the Senator suggested, it would cost us $5 trillion over 10 years- it's an empty promise, it's called "bait and switch".
Senator Kerry further rebutted: Actually, it's not an empty promise. It's really interesting, because the President used that very plan as a reason for seniors to accept his prescription drug plan: he said "if it's good enough for the Congressmen and Senators to have choice, seniors ought to have choice". What we do is we have choice: I choose Blue Cross/Blue Shield- other Senators, other Congressmen choose other programs- but the fact is, we're going to help Americans be able to buy into it: those that can afford it are going to buy in themselves- we're not giving this away for nothing!
Scoring-- Round 2. My initial reaction to what President Bush was saying ("we relied on a company out of England"; "we're working with Canada") was 'why isn't our government getting this vaccine from American companies?'; the President then at least partially answered my mind's question with his views about how threats of litigation were stifling American companies in this field. In my opinion, Senator Kerry here missed a rather golden opportunity to expound upon the "outsourcing" which he decries; instead, Kerry decided to use his rebuttal time to expound upon his health care plan (something I presume the Kerry/Edwards campaign wanted to make sure got "out there" at least one more time during this final Debate and Kerry decided to do so early on); however, in so doing, he failed to link his complaints about the health-care system directly to the issue of there being a shortage of flu vaccine: Kerry never clearly explained what one had to do with the other (in addition, Kerry also loses debating points for ticking off the benefits of his health-care plan for specific "battleground States"-- it's one thing to, as the Senator did in the previous Debate, note that the number of troops from the State hosting that Debate would be larger than those from all but one of the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq [that, at least, well underscored the point Kerry was, at the time, trying to make]; what Kerry was doing here, however, was mere pandering)-- President Bush, therefore, was right to score Kerry's comments as merely a "litany of complaints" and also did well with stating the cost of Kerry's health plan. Kerry came back some with his comparing his plan to share the congressional health coverage with Americans in general with the President's own justification for his prescription drug plan (that it was the same prescription drug plan already in place for members of Congress) but Bush ended up winning this round because of Kerry squeezing his comments on the health care system and not at all rebutting the actual question. Bush 10, Kerry 9 (cumulative: Bush,20- Kerry, 18).
3. Question for Senator Kerry: Let's talk about economic security: you pledged during the last debate that you would not raise taxes on those making less than $200,000 a year- but the price of everything is going up and we all know it: health care costs, as you-all have been talking about, is skyrocketing- the cost of the war. My question is: how can you, or any President- whoever is elected next time, keep that pledge without running this country deeper into debt and passing on more of the bills that we're running up to our children?
Senator Kerry answered: I'll tell you exactly how I can do it: by reinstating what President Bush took away, which is called pay-as-you-go. During the 1990s, we had pay-as-you-go rules: if you were going to pass something in the Congress, you had to show where you are going to pay for it and how. President Bush has taken- he's the only President in History to do this. He's also the only President in 72 years to lose jobs- 1.6 million jobs lost. He's the only President to have incomes of families go down for the last three years, the only President to see exports go down, the only President to see the lowest level of business investment in our country as it is today. Now, I'm going to reverse that: I'm going to change that- we're going to restore the fiscal discipline we had in the 1990s.
Every plan that I have laid out- my health care plan, my plan for education, my plan for kids to be able to get better college loans- I've shown exactly how I'm going to pay for those and we start- we don't do it exclusively, but we start- by rolling back George Bush's unaffordable tax cut for the wealthiest people- people earning more than $200,000 a year- and we pass, hopefully, the McCain-Kerry Commission which identified some $60 billion that we can get. We shut the loophole which has American workers actually subsidizing the loss of their own job: they just passed an expansion of that loophole in the last few days- $43 billion of giveaways, including favors to the oil and gas industry and the people importing ceiling fans from China. I'm going to stand up and fight for the American worker and I'm going to do it in a way that's fiscally sound: I show how I pay for the health care, how we pay for the education; I have a manufacturing jobs credit- we pay for it by shutting that loophole overseas; we raise the student loans- I pay for it by changing the relationship with the banks. This President has never once vetoed one bill: the first President in a hundred years not to do that.
President Bush rebutted: Well, his rhetoric doesn't match his record- he's been a Senator for 20 years, he voted to increase taxes 98 times: when they tried to reduce taxes, he voted against that 127 times. He talks about being a fiscal conservative, or fiscally sound, but he voted over 277 times to waive the budget caps, which would have cost the taxpayers $4.2 trillion. He talks about "pay-go": I'll tell you what "pay-go" means, when you're a Senator from Massachusetts, when you're a colleague of Ted Kennedy- "pay-go" means: you pay and he goes ahead and spends.
He's proposed $2.2 trillion of new spending, and yet the so-called tax on the rich, which is also a tax on many small-business owners in America, raises $600 million by our account -- billion, $800 billion by his account. There is a tax gap and guess who usually ends up filling the tax gap? The middle class! I proposed a detailed budget, Bob: I sent up my budget man to the Congress and he says "here's how we're going to reduce the deficit in half by five years"- it requires pro-growth policies that grow our economy and fiscal sanity in the halls of Congress.
Scoring-- Round 3. Another one of those troublesome "philosophical difference" rounds in which each candidate well stated his respective views on the subject at hand. Senator Kerry stated, with no little specificity, how he was planning to pay for at least some of what he has proposed (as I wrote re: a similar exchange in the previous Debate: if people reading this don't happen to believe Kerry can really do this, there is no way to prove it either way absent a Kerry Administration actually coming into being and there is certainly no way to prove it now [matter of opinion on this score has nothing to do with the score!]). President Bush did not specifically shoot down any of Kerry's proposed payment options directly, other than Kerry's plan to roll back the Bush tax cut (the President, once again, scoring well by pointing out how "the rich" to lose this tax cut includes no small number of small business owners- though his 'only $600 billion raised in a tax cut rollback' versus Kerry's claiming $800 billion [the President's "battling green eye shades" from the previous Debate] is all a matter of educated speculation short of any real proof); however, as is ever the case whenever the President cites Kerry's voting record in the Senate, we are left with two inherent difficulties: 1. just how much does how a Senator voted over a 20-year period have to do with his potential future performance as a President should he be elected? (one either thinks it does or it doesn't) and 2. that whole "number of votes for/against" thing (how many of these were votes on final passage?- votes on amendments?- mere procedural votes?)-- there is simply no way to provide a decent breakdown in a 90-second rebuttal or a 2-minute answer (and I very much doubt either campaign would want their candidate to waste their respective time in a Debate such as this on providing one). Senator Kerry answered the question-- 'nuf said!-- necessarily liking his answer is not at all a factor in the Debate Scoring System we are here using. Kerry 10, Bush 9 (cumulative: Bush- 29, Kerry- 28).
4. Question for President Bush: Let's continue on jobs: you know, there are all kind of statistics out there but I want to bring it down to an individual. Mr. President, what do you say to someone in this country who has lost his job to someone overseas who's being paid a fraction of what that job paid here in the United States?
President Bush answered: I'd say, Bob, I've got policies to continue to grow our economy and create the jobs of the 21st Century and here's some help for you to go get an education- here's some help for you to go to a community college. We've expanded trade adjustment assistance: we want to help pay for you to gain the skills necessary to fill the jobs of the 21st Century.
You know, there's a lot of talk about how to keep the economy growing: we talk about fiscal matters but, perhaps, the best way to keep jobs here in America and to keep this economy growing is to make sure our education system works. I went to Washington to solve problems and I saw a problem in the public education system in America: they were just shuffling too many kids through the system- year after year, grade after grade- without learning the basics. And so we said "let's raise the standards- we're spending more money- but let's raise the standards and measure early and solve problems now, before it's too late". You know, education is how to help the person who's lost his job, education is how to make sure we've got a workforce that's productive and competitive.
We get four more years, I've got more to do to continue to raise standards, to continue to reward teachers and school districts that are working, to emphasize math and science in the classrooms, to continue to expand Pell grants to make sure that people have an opportunity to start their career with a college diploma and so, to the person you talked to, I say "here's some help- here's some trade adjustment assistance money for you to go a community college in your neighborhood, a community college which is providing the skills necessary to fill the jobs of the 21st Century" and that's what I would say to that person.
Senator Kerry rebutted: I want you to notice how the President switched away from jobs and started talking about education principally. Let me come back in one moment to that- but I want to speak for a second, if I can, to what the President said about fiscal responsibility: being lectured by the president on fiscal responsibility is a little bit like Tony Soprano talking to me about Law and Order in this country. This President has taken a $5.6 trillion surplus and turned it into deficits as far as the eye can see: health care costs for the average American have gone up 64 %, tuitions have gone up 35 %, gasoline prices up 30 %, Medicare premiums went up 17 % a few days ago, prescription drugs are up 12 % a year.
But guess what, America? The wages of Americans have gone down, the jobs that are being created in Arizona right now are paying about $13,700 less than the jobs that we're losing and the President just walks on by this problem. The fact is that he's cut job-training money: $1 billion was cut- they only added a little bit back this year because it's an election year. They've cut the Pell grants and the Perkins loans to help kids be able to go to college, they've cut the training money, they've wound up not even extending unemployment benefits and not even extending health care to those people who are unemployed. I'm going to do those things, because that's what's right in America: help workers to transition in every respect.
Scoring-- Round 4. Senator Kerry's point as he started his rebuttal was well taken: President Bush didn't really answer the question and, instead, used his answer to a question on jobs to promote his education policy (if I were a worker who just got laid off because my job had been "outsourced", I wouldn't find the President's answer all that comforting)-- I presume that, as was the case with Senator Kerry pushing his health care plan in Round 2, the Bush/Cheney campaign (in this case) had felt the need for the President to push his education agenda at least one more time in this last of the Debates and this was the best time, so far, for the President to so early get it in. Nevertheless, Kerry spent a healthy chunk of his rebuttal time continuing the discussion from Round 3 rather than more directly discussing the concerns of the hypothetical laid off worker in the question (though he got around to the subject at hand toward the end). Kerry wins this round, if only for the same reason Bush won Round 2: the winner's opponent felt that it was far more important to push an agenda only ancillarily related to the question itself, rather than more directly dealing with the subject matter of the question itself. Kerry 10, Bush 9 (cumulative: tied 38-all).
5. Question for Senator Kerry: You know, many experts say that a President really doesn't have much control over jobs: for example, if someone invents a machine that does the work of 5 people, that's progress- that's not the President's fault. So, I ask you, is it fair to blame the Administration entirely for this loss of jobs?
Senator Kerry answered: I don't blame them entirely for it: I blame the President for the things the President could do that has an impact on it. "Outsourcing" is going to happen: I've acknowledged that in union halls across the country- I've had shop stewards stand up and say, "Will you promise me you're going to stop all this outsourcing?"- and I've looked them in the eye and I've said, "No, I can't do that." What I can promise you is that I will make the playing field as fair as possible- that I will, for instance, make certain that with respect to the tax system that you as a worker in America are not subsidizing the loss of your job. Today, if you're an American business, you actually get a benefit for going overseas- you get to defer your taxes- so, if you're looking at a competitive world, you say to yourself, "Hey, I do better overseas than I do here in America!" That's not smart- I don't want American workers subsidizing the loss of their own job. And, when I'm President, we're going to shut that loophole in a nanosecond and we're going to use that money to lower corporate tax rates in America for all corporations, 5 %- and we're going to have a manufacturing jobs credit and a job hiring credit so we actually help people be able to hire here.
The second thing that we can do is provide a fair trade playing field: this President didn't stand up for Boeing when Airbus was violating international rules and subsidies- he discovered Boeing during the course of this campaign after I'd been talking about it for months. The fact is that the President had an opportunity to stand up and take on China for currency manipulation: there are companies that wanted to petition the Administration- they were told "don't even bother- we're not going to listen to it". The fact is that there have been markets shut to us that we haven't stood up and fought for: I'm going to fight for a fair trade playing field for the American worker and I will fight for the American worker just as hard as I fight for my own job: that's what the American worker wants and, if we do that, we can have an impact- plus, we need fiscal discipline: restore fiscal discipline, we'll do a lot better.
President Bush rebutted: Whew! Let me start with the Pell grants: in his last litany of misstatements he said we cut Pell grants- we've increased Pell grants by a million students: that's a fact! You know, he talks to the workers- let me talk to the workers! You've got more money in your pocket as a result of the tax relief we passed and he opposed: if you have a child, you got a $1,000 child credit- that's money in your pocket; if you're married, we reduced the marriage penalty- the code ought to encourage Marriage, not discourage Marriage. We created a 10 % bracket to help lower-income Americans: a family of four making $40,000 received about $1,700 in tax relief.
It's your money! The way my opponent talks, he said "we're going to spend the government's money"- no, we're spending your money and, when you have more money in your pocket, you're able to better afford things you want: I believe the role of government is to stand side by side with our citizens to help them realize their dreams, not tell citizens how to live their lives. My opponent talks about fiscal sanity- his record in the United States Senate does not match his rhetoric: he voted to increase taxes 98 times and to bust the budget 277 times.
Senator Kerry responded: Bob, anybody can play with these votes- everybody knows that: I have supported or voted for tax cuts over 600 times, I broke with my Party in order to balance the budget and Ronald Reagan signed into law the tax cut that we voted for, I voted for IRA tax cuts, I voted for small business tax cuts. But you know why the Pell grants have gone up in their numbers?- because more people qualify for them because they don't have money: but they're not getting the $5,100 the President promised them- they're getting less money. We have more people who qualify- that's not what we want!
President Bush further rebutted: Senator, no one's playing with your votes: you voted to increase taxes 98 times, when they proposed reducing taxes, you voted against it 126 times; he voted to violate the budget cap 277 times. You know, there's a mainstream in American politics and you sit right on the far left bank: as a matter of fact, your record is such that Ted Kennedy, your colleague, is the conservative senator from Massachusetts.
Scoring-- Round 5: This was more of a "philosophical difference" round than anything else in which each candidate well stated his respective case (President Bush well deflecting Senator Kerry's claiming he had cut Pell grants but failing to parry Kerry's charge that the President paid little heed to a company like Boeing until the election campaign): Senator Kerry was forthright in his answer (no, he didn't blame the Bush Administration for every job loss that has occurred since George W. Bush took office and he himself acknowledged- as he has done before- that there is no way to completely stop "outsourcing") but President Bush was equally forthright: the problem is that the President's rebuttal, however heartfelt, did not really address the question (it's nice to have more money in your pocket with income tax relief-- unless, of course, you have no job and, hence, no income!) Once more, President Bush brought up Kerry's voting statistics (keep in mind what I wrote about the pitfalls of this in my scoring summary for Round 3 about these): this time, Kerry answered them with his noting that "anybody can play with these votes" but (as I discussed in that same scoring summary) he wasn't about to waste time explaining just how (instead, Kerry himself threw out a stat on his own behalf: '600 times supporting/voting for tax cuts' [but what is the breakdown as to what kind of votes these actually were?]) -- therefore, I'm not going to beat a dead horse here about Bush's comment that "Senator, no one's playing with your votes" but will here merely note that Bush's "far left bank" comment is in "preaching to the choir" territory and does not help him win points per the Debate Scoring System being used for these 2004 Debates.
(By the way, I always tend to be rather suspicious when one Major Party candidate claims, of another Major Party candidate, that this other candidate is so far to one side of the political spectrum-- American Political History shows that Major Parties rarely nominate fringe candidates for the Presidency [even presidential candidates Barry Goldwater and George McGovern, while out of the mainstream of their respective Parties, were never as far to one side or the other as their ultimately victorious respective opponents claimed they were (for their part, however, many supporters of both Goldwater and McGovern claimed the victors of each race were themselves far to one side of the political spectrum-- landslide victories seem to indicate the opposite!): however, should the reader wish to still consider these two as the most recent of those Major Party presidential candidates "out there on the fringe", please note that no such candidate has been nominated by a Major Party in now 32 years!]: a Kerry Democrat claiming that George W. Bush is a "far right-winger" is just as much "preaching to the choir" [if not merely engaging in fear-mongering without any other significant contribution to the overall political discourse of moment (that ol' "confusing action with accomplishment")] as a Bush Republican claiming John Kerry is a "neo-socialist leftist"-- please note that I myself take neither seriously). Kerry 10, Bush 9 (cumulative: Kerry- 48, Bush-47).
6. Question for President Bush: Both of you are opposed to Gay Marriage but, to understand how you have come to that conclusion, I want to ask you a more basic question: do you believe homosexuality is a choice?
President Bush answered: You know, Bob, I don't know- I just don't know. I do know that we have a choice to make in America and that is to treat people with tolerance and respect and dignity- it's important that we do that and I also know, in a Free Society, people- consenting adults- can live the way they want to live and that's to be honored. But, as we respect someone's rights, and as we profess tolerance, we shouldn't change- or have to change- our basic views on the sanctity of Marriage: I believe in the sanctity of Marriage, I think it's very important that we protect Marriage as an institution between a man and a woman.
I proposed a Constitutional Amendment: the reason I did so was because I was worried that activist judges are actually defining the definition of Marriage, and the surest way to protect Marriage between a man and woman is to amend the Constitution. It has also the benefit of allowing citizens to participate in the process- after all, when you amend the Constitution, state legislatures must participate in the ratification of the Constitution.
I'm deeply concerned that judges are making those decisions and not the citizenry of the United States: you know, Congress passed a law called DOMA- the Defense of Marriage Act- my opponent was against it: it basically protected states from the action of one state to another, it also defined Marriage as between a man and woman but I'm concerned that that will get overturned and, if it gets overturned, then we'll end up with Marriage being defined by courts and I don't think that's in our Nation's interests.
Senator Kerry rebutted: We're all God's children, Bob, and I think if you were to talk to Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she's being who she was, she's being who she was born as. I think if you talk to anybody, it's not choice: I've met people who struggled with this for years, people who were in a marriage because they were living a sort of convention, and they struggled with it and I've met wives who are supportive of their husbands or vice versa when they finally sort of broke out and allowed themselves to live who they were, who they felt God had made them- I think we have to respect that.
The President and I share the belief that Marriage is between a man and a woman- I believe that: I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. But I also believe that because we are the United States of America, we're a country with a great, unbelievable Constitution, with rights that we afford people, that you can't discriminate in the workplace, you can't discriminate in the rights that you afford people, you can't disallow someone the right to visit their partner in a hospital, you have to allow people to transfer property, which is why I'm for partnership rights and so forth. Now, with respect to DOMA and the marriage laws, the states have always been able to manage those laws and they're proving today, every state, that they can manage them adequately.
Scoring- Round 6. President Bush wins this round for the same reason Vice President Cheney won both rounds re: this issue in the Vice Presidential Debate (Rounds 12 and 13 of that 5 October debate). I'm not going to beat a dead horse but merely remind the reader that (and, if interested, one can see my reasons via the link provided) the Democrats' position on this issue is illogical and unsound; Senator Kerry now handled this a bit better than his running mate had, however-- though his claim that "the states have always been able to manage [marriage] laws" is not all that much better than what Senator Edwards had said. President Bush's own comments on why he thinks the Constitutional Amendment is necessary only served to underscore the Democratic ticket's dilemma (though at least parts of the Republican ticket's arguments are equally disingenuous: Gay Marriage doesn't, in and of itself, force anyone to "have to change our basic views on the sanctity of Marriage" [isn't that very sanctity that which most attracts gay and lesbian couples to so seek the legal authority to freely contract re: the institution?]) By the way, I find it interesting that the issue of Gay Marriage didn't come up at all during the Town Hall Meeting debate last Friday (where questions were submitted by average folks rather than asked by professional television journalists)-- might this then indicate that Gay Marriage is an issue of far more interest to the political observer and pundit (such as myself) than it is of concern to the average "bell curve" voter of Fall 2004? Bush 10, Kerry 9 (cumulative: tied 57-all).
7. Question for Senator Kerry: The New York Times reports that some Catholic archbishops are telling their church members that it would be a sin to vote for a candidate like you because you support a woman's right to choose an abortion and unlimited stem-cell research: what is your reaction to that?
Senator Kerry answered: I respect their views- I completely respect their views: I am a Catholic and I grew up learning how to respect those views but I disagree with them, as do many. I believe that I can't legislate or transfer to another American citizen my article of faith: what is an article of faith for me is not something that I can legislate on somebody who doesn't share that article of faith. I believe that choice is a woman's choice: it's between a woman, God and her doctor and that's why I support that. Now, I will not allow somebody to come in and change Roe v. Wade: the President has never said whether or not he would do that but we know, from the people he's tried to appoint to the Court, he wants to. I will not- I will defend the right of Roe v. Wade.
Now, with respect to religion: you know, as I said, I grew up a Catholic- I was an altar boy: I know that, throughout my life, this has made a difference to me and, as President Kennedy said when he ran for President, he said "I'm not running to be a Catholic President- I'm running to be a President who happens to be Catholic." And my faith affects everything that I do: in truth, there's a great passage of the Bible that says "What does it mean, my brother, to say you have faith if there are no deeds? Faith without works is dead." [James 2: 14 & 17- "What will it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but does not have works. Can the faith save him?... So faith too, unless it has works, is dead in itself" (as rendered in the Confraternity Version with which, I presume, Senator Kerry would have been familiar as a young Catholic back in the 1950s)- REB~A] And I think that everything you do in public life has to be guided by your faith, affected by your faith, but without transferring it- in any official way- to other people: for that's why I fight against poverty, that's why I fight to clean up the environment and protect this earth, that's why I fight for equality and justice- all of those things come out of that fundamental teaching and belief of faith. But I know this, that President Kennedy- in his Inaugural Address- told all of us that, here on earth, God's work must truly be our own and I think that's the test of public service.
President Bush rebutted: I think it's important to promote a culture of life, I think a hospitable society is a society where every being counts and every person matters: I believe the ideal world is one in which every child is protected in law and welcomed to life. I understand there's great differences on this issue of abortion but I believe reasonable people can come together and put good law in place that will help reduce the number of abortions. Take, for example, the ban on Partial-Birth Abortion: it's a brutal practice- people from both political Parties came together in the halls of Congress and voted overwhelmingly to ban that practice: it made a lot of sense- my opponent, in that he's out of the mainstream, voted against that law.
What I'm saying is is that, as we promote life and promote a culture of life, surely there are ways we can work together to reduce the number of abortions: continue to promote adoption laws- it's a great alternative to abortion, continue to fund and promote maternity group homes- I will continue to promote abstinence programs. The last debate, my opponent said his wife was involved with those programs- that's great! I appreciate that very much: all of us ought to be involved with programs that provide a viable alternative to abortion.
Scoring-- Round 7. I don't really know how best to score a round involving a question like this; as I noted in the analysis of the second Presidential Debate, it is beyond the scope of these Commentaries to deal with how Senator Kerry (in this case) might reconcile his personal religious beliefs with his political views (it's certainly not for me to say!). President Bush rebutted as best he could, well discussing his own views on the abortion issue (while getting in at least one more "dig" at Kerry having voted against the Partial-Birth Abortion ban), but it was also beyond his scope to more directly tackle what Senator Kerry might think religiously re: the Senator's positions on, in this case, sociocultural issues. I am going to take the same tack I took in both Rounds 15 and 17 of that second Debate (especially Round 17, in which Kerry discussed many of these very same things) and give Kerry the round based on the fact that he directly addressed the question (though I very much doubt he at all appeased those who might agree with the archbishops anymore than he might have appeased the two questioners in those two rounds last Friday). Kerry 10, Bush 9 (cumulative: Kerry- 67, Bush-66).
8. Question for President Bush: Health insurance costs have risen over 36 % over the last four years according to the Washington Post: we're paying more, we're getting less. I would like to ask you: who bears responsibility for this? Is it the government?- is it the insurance companies?- is it the lawyers?- is it the doctors?- is it the Administration?
President Bush answered: Gosh, I sure hope it's not the Administration! No, look, there's a systemic problem: health care costs are on the rise because the consumers are not involved in the decision-making process- most health care costs are covered by third parties and, therefore, the actual user of health care is not the purchaser of health care and there's no market forces involved with health care- it's one of the reasons I'm a strong believer in what they call health savings accounts: these are accounts that allow somebody to buy a low-premium, high-deductible catastrophic plan and couple it with tax-free savings- businesses can contribute, employees can contribute, on a contractual basis but this is a way to make sure people are actually involved with the decision-making process on health care.
Secondly, I do believe the lawsuits- I don't believe, I know that the lawsuits- are causing health care costs to rise in America: that's why I'm such a strong believer in medical liability reform. In the last debate, my opponent said those lawsuits only caused the cost to go up by 1 %: well, he didn't include the defensive practice of medicine that costs the federal government some $28 billion a year and costs our society between $60 billion and $100 billion a year. Thirdly, one of the reasons why there's still high cost in medicine is because this is, they don't use information technology. It's like it's the equivalent of the buggy and horse days, compared to other industries here in America, and so we've got to introduce high technology into health care: we're beginning to do it, we're changing the language, we want there to be electronic medical records to cut down on error as well as reduce cost- people tell me that, when the health care field is fully integrated with information technology, it'll wring some 20 % of the cost out of the system. And, finally, moving generic drugs to the market quicker- and so those are four ways to help control the costs in health care.
Senator Kerry rebutted: The reason health care costs are getting higher, one of the principal reasons, is that this Administration has stood in the way of common-sense efforts that would have reduced the costs. Let me give you a prime example: in the Senate, we passed the right of Americans to import drugs from Canada but the President and his friends took it out in the House and now you don't have that right- the President blocked you from the right to have less expensive drugs from Canada. We also wanted Medicare to be able to negotiate bulk-purchasing: the VA does that, the VA provides lower-cost drugs to our veterans- we could have done that in Medicare.
Medicare is paid for by the American taxpayer: Medicare belongs to you- Medicare is for seniors, who- many of them- are on fixed income, to lift them out of poverty. But, rather than help you, the taxpayer, have lower cost- rather than help seniors have less expensive drugs- the President made it illegal- illegal!- for Medicare to actually go out and bargain for lower prices. Result: $139 billion windfall profit to the drug companies coming out of your pockets- that's a large part of your 17 % increase in Medicare premiums. When I'm President, I'm sending that back to Congress and we're going to get a real prescription drug benefit. Now, we also have people sicker because they don't have health insurance- so, whether it's diabetes or cancer, they come to hospitals later and it costs America more. We've got to have health care for all Americans!
President Bush responded: I think it's important, since he talked about the Medicare plan: has he been in the United States Senate for 20 years? He has no record on reforming of health care- no record at all! He introduced some 300 bills and he's passed five- no record of leadership! I came to Washington to solve problems: I was deeply concerned about seniors having to choose between prescription drugs and food and so I led- and, in 2006, our seniors will get a prescription drug coverage in Medicare.
Senator Kerry further rebuts: Once again, the President is misleading America: I've actually passed 56 individual bills that I've personally written and, in addition to that- and not always under my name, there is amendments on certain bills. But, more importantly, with respect to the question of no record, I helped write- I did write, I was one of the original authors of- the early childhood health care and the expansion of health care that we did in the middle of the 1990s and I'm very proud of that- so the President's wrong.
Scoring-- Round 8. Both candidates well expressed their respective views on the reasons behind the rising cost of health care in America: this would have been a tough round to score had there been no "discussion extension". But President Bush used the "discussion extension" to attack Senator Kerry re: not doing anything re: reforming health care (which did nothing at all to answer Kerry's reiterating his own claims about, among other things, the President blocking the reimportation of cheaper drugs from Canada and why); Senator Kerry parried Bush well in his further rebuttal (though both candidate's throwing out numbers of bills and votes still runs into the same 'how do you count these? what do they really mean?' difficulties, by-products of the vagaries of Legislative Procedure, I have already raised re: both Rounds 3 and 5. Kerry-10, Bush-9 (cumulative: Kerry- 77, Bush-75).
9. Question for Senator Kerry: You have, as you have proposed and as the President has commented on tonight, proposed a massive plan to extend health-care coverage to children, you're also talking about the government picking up a big part of the catastrophic bills that people get at the hospital and you have said that you can pay for this by rolling back the President's tax cut on the upper 2 %. You heard the President say, earlier tonight, that it's going to cost a whole lot more money than that- I'd just ask you: where are you going to get the money?
Senator Kerry answered: Well, two leading national news networks have both said the President's characterization of my health care plan is incorrect: one called it fiction- the other called it untrue. The fact is that my health care plan, America, is very simple: it gives you the choice- I don't force you to do anything: it's not a government plan- the government doesn't require you to do anything: you choose your doctor, you choose your plan- if you don't want to take the offer of the plan that I want to put forward, you don't have to: you can keep what you have today- keep a high deductible, keep high premiums, keep a high co-pay, keep low benefits. But I've got a better plan and I don't think a lot of people are going to want to keep what they have today.
Here's what I do: We take over Medicaid children from the states so that every child in America is covered and, in exchange, if the states want to- they're not forced to, they can choose to- they cover individuals up to 300 % of poverty: it's their choice- I think they'll choose it because it's a net plus of $5 billion to them. We allow you- if you choose to, you don't have to- but we give you broader competition to allow you to buy into the same health care plan that Senators and Congressmen give themselves: if it's good enough for us, it's good enough for every American- I believe that your health care is just as important as any politician in Washington, D.C. You want to buy into it, you can- we give you broader competition: that helps lower prices.
In addition to that, we're going to allow people 55 to 64 to buy into Medicare early and, most importantly, we give small business a 50 % tax credit so that, after we lower the costs of health care, they also get- whether they're self-employed or a small business- a lower cost to be able to cover their employees. Now, what happens is, when you begin to get people covered like that- for instance, in diabetes, if you diagnose diabetes early- you could save $50 billion in the health care system of America by avoiding surgery and dialysis. It works and I'm going to offer it to America.
President Bush rebutted: In all due respect, I'm not so sure it's credible to quote leading news organizations about- oh, never mind! Anyway, let me quote the Lewin Report: the Lewin Report is a group of folks who are not politically affiliated, they analyzed the Senator's plan- it cost $1.2 trillion. The Lewin Report accurately noted that there are going to be 20 million people, over 20 million people, added to government-controlled health care- it would be the largest increase in government health care ever! If you raise the Medicaid to 300 %, it provides an incentive for small businesses not to provide private insurance to their employees: why should they insure somebody when the government's going to insure it for them? It's estimated that 8 million people will go from private insurance to government insurance.
We have a fundamental difference of opinion: I think government-run health will lead to poor-quality health, will lead to rationing, will lead to less choice- once a health care program ends up in a line item in the Federal Government budget, it leads to more controls and just look at other countries that have tried to have federally controlled health care: they have poor-quality health care. Our health care system is the envy of the world because we believe in making sure that the decisions are made by doctors and patients, not by officials in the Nation's Capital.
Senator Kerry responded: The President just said that government-run health care results in poor quality: now, maybe that explains why he hasn't fully funded the VA and the VA hospital is having trouble and veterans are complaining- maybe that explains why Medicare patients are complaining about being pushed off of Medicare: he doesn't adequately fund it. But let me just say to America: I am not proposing a government-run program- that's not what I have: I have Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Senators and Congressmen have a wide choice- Americans ought to have it, too.
President Bush further rebutted: You talk about the VA: we've increased VA funding by $22 billion in the four years since I've been President- that's twice the amount that my predecessor increased VA funding. Of course we're meeting our obligation to our veterans, and the veterans know that: we're expanding veterans' health care throughout the country, we're aligning facilities where the veterans live now- veterans are getting very good health care under my Administration and they will continue to do so during the next four years.
Scoring-- Round 9. Senator Kerry expounded, with a great deal of specificity, upon his health-care plan. President Bush, however, did better here by (that is, after his attempt at humor at the expense of the moderator's own CBS [re: the controversy over that network's television newsmagazine 60 Minutes having botched a negative story regarding the President's National Guard service back in the early 1970s]) citing the Lewin Report (which gets to the heart of the matter behind the question, which is not so much what Kerry wants to do but how the Senator plans to pay for all of it) as a counterweight to Kerry's own claims. In his response, Kerry did not at all address the issues raised by the Lewin Report and Bush clinched his winning this round by well parrying Kerry's having earlier scored the Bush Administration's record on VA funding. Bush 10, Kerry 9 (cumulative: Kerry- 86, Bush- 85).
10. Question for President Bush: We all know that Social Security is running out of money, and it has to be fixed: you have proposed to fix it by letting people put some of the money collected to pay benefits into private savings accounts- but the critics are saying that's going to mean finding $1 trillion over the next 10 years to continue paying benefits as those accounts are being set up. So where do you get the money? Are you going to have to increase the deficit by that much over 10 years?
President Bush answered: First, let me make sure that every senior listening today understands that, when we're talking about reforming Social Security, that they'll still get their checks: I remember the 2000 campaign, people said "if George W. gets elected, your check will be taken away"- well, people got their checks and they'll continue to get their checks. There is a problem for our youngsters, a real problem, and- if we don't act today- the problem will be valued in the trillions and so I think we need to think differently: we'll honor our commitment to our seniors- but, for our children and our grandchildren, we need to have a different strategy and, recognizing that, I called together a group of our fellow citizens to study the issue- it was a committee chaired by the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, a Democrat- and they came up with a variety of ideas for people to look at.
I believe that younger workers ought to be allowed to take some of their own money and put it in a personal savings account because I understand that they need to get better rates of return than the rates of return being given in the current Social Security trust and the compounding rate of interest effect will make it more likely that the Social Security system is solvent for our children and our grandchildren. I will work with Republicans and Democrats- it'll be a vital issue in my second term: it is an issue that I am willing to take on and so I'll bring Republicans and Democrats together. And we're, of course, going to have to consider the costs but I want to warn my fellow citizens: the cost of doing nothing, the cost of saying the current system is OK, far exceeds the cost of trying to make sure we save the system for our children.
Senator Kerry rebutted: You just heard the President say that young people ought to be able to take money out of Social Security and put it in their own accounts: now, my fellow Americans, that's an invitation to disaster. The CBO said, very clearly, that if you were to adopt the President's plan, there would be a $2 trillion hole in Social Security because today's workers pay in to the system for today's retirees and the CBO said- that's the Congressional Budget Office: it's bipartisan- they said that there would have to be a cut in benefits of 25 to 40 %. Now, the President has never explained to America, ever- hasn't done it tonight, where does the transitional money- that $2 trillion- come from?
He's already got $3 trillion, according to the Washington Post, of expenses that he's put on the line from his Convention and the promises of this campaign- none of which are paid for: not one of them are paid for. The fact is that the President is driving the largest deficits in American History, he's broken the pay-as-you-go rules: I have a record of fighting for fiscal responsibility- in 1985, I was one of the first Democrats- broke with my Party: we balanced the budget in the '90s, we paid down the debt for two years, and that's what we're going to do: we're going to protect Social Security- I will not privatize it, I will not cut the benefits and we're going to be fiscally responsible and we will take care of Social Security.
Scoring- Round 10. Another "philosophical difference" round, as I call them. President Bush never really said where the money was going to come from (therefore, he didn't really answer the question asked- he reiterated his proposal for private savings accounts in lieu of Social Security but never at all addressed the "$1 trillion over 10 years" gist of the question [Senator Kerry scored him but good on this particular point in his rebuttal]). Kerry's rebuttal, however, didn't really answer the question either: the Senator was very good at pointing out what might be wrong with the President's personal savings account proposal but not all that good at providing an alternative- accepting his own notion that he would "take care of Social Security" is, once again, purely a matter of belief (if you're a Kerry supporter, you likely believe he will; if you're a Bush partisan, you'll probably not believe he at all can). Kerry doesn't really win this round as much as the President loses it because he did not directly answer the question put to him. Kerry- 10, Bush- 9 (cumulative: Kerry-96, Bush-94).
11. Question for Senator Kerry: You have just said you will not cut benefits: Alan Greenspan, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, says there's no way that Social Security can pay retirees what we have promised them unless we recalibrate- what he's suggesting: we're going to have to cut benefits or we're going to have to raise the retirement age, we may have to take some other reform- but, if you've just said, you've promised no changes, does that mean you're just going to leave this as a problem- another problem for our children to solve?
Senator Kerry answered: Not at all. Absolutely not, Bob. This is the same thing we heard- remember, I appeared on "Meet the Press" with Tim Russert in 1990-something- we heard the same thing- we fixed it: in fact, we put together a $5.6 trillion surplus in the '90s that was for the purpose of saving Social Security. If you take the tax cut that the President of the United States has given- President Bush gave- to Americans in the top 1 % of America- just that tax cut that went to the top 1 % of America would have saved Social Security until the year 2075: the President decided to give it to the wealthiest Americans in a tax cut.
Now, Alan Greenspan, who I think has done a terrific job in monetary policy, supports the President's tax cut- I don't. I support it for the middle class, not that part of it that goes to people earning more than $200,000 a year- and, when I roll it back and we invest in the things that I have talked about to move our economy, we're going to grow sufficiently, it would begin to cut the deficit in half, and we get back to where we were at the end of the 1990s when we balanced the budget and paid down the debt of this country- now, we can do that! Now, if later on- after a period of time, we find that Social Security is in trouble, we'll pull together the top experts of the country, we'll do exactly what we did it he 1990s, and we'll make whatever adjustment is necessary.
But the first and most important thing is to start creating jobs in America- the jobs the President is creating pay $9,000 less than the jobs that we're losing and this is the first President in 72 years to preside over an economy in America that has lost jobs- 1.6 million jobs: 11 other Presidents- 6 Democrats and 5 Republicans- had wars, had recessions, had great difficulties- none of them lost jobs the way this President has. I have a plan to put America back to work and, if we're fiscally responsible and put America back to work, we're going to fix Social Security.
President Bush rebutted: He forgot to tell you he voted to tax Social Security benefits more than one time. I didn't hear any plan to fix Social Security: I heard more of the same. He talks about middle-class tax cuts, that's exactly where the tax cuts went: most of the tax cuts went to low- and middle-income Americans and now the tax code is more fair- 20% of the upper-income people pay about 80 % of the taxes in America today because of how we structured the tax cuts. People listening out there know the benefits of the tax cuts we passed: if you have a child, you got tax relief; if you're married, you got tax relief; if you pay any tax at all, you got tax relief- all of which was opposed by my opponent.
And the tax relief was important to spur consumption and investment to get us out of this recession. People need to remember: 6 months prior to my arrival, the stock market started to go down and it was one of the largest declines in our history and then we had a recession and we got attacked, which cost us 1 million jobs- but we acted. I led the Congress, we passed tax relief, and now this economy is growing: we added 1.9 million new jobs over the last 13 months. Sure, there's more work to do but the way to make sure our economy grows is not to raise taxes on small business owners- it's not to increase the scope of the federal government: it's to make sure we have fiscal sanity and keep taxes low.
Scoring- Round 11. Much of Senator Kerry's answer was more than a little disingenuous (he scored the President, once again, for his tax cut and argued that, had that tax cut not been passed, Social Security would have been solvent for the next seven decades-- but didn't Kerry himself claim, earlier in this very Debate, that his proposed rolling back this tax cut was principally intended to help fund his health care plan?): his praise for Alan Greenspan undermined his disagreement with Greenspan over the efficacy of the Bush tax cut generally. President Bush came back well with his turning Kerry's refrain about the President's handling of Iraq- "more of the same"- back on Kerry re: Social Security; Bush also made the most specific defense of his tax cut (and the concomitant reworking of the Federal Tax Code) I have heard to date (though there was still that "6 months prior to my arrival, the stock market started to go down and it was one of the largest declines in our history" thing I've already noted in my Commentary on last Friday's Debate). Bush- 10, Kerry- 9 (cumulative: Kerry- 105, Bush- 104).
12. Question for President Bush: I got more e-mail this week on this question than any other question and it is about immigration: I'm told that at least 8,000 people cross our borders illegally every day- some people believe this is a security issue, as you know; some believe it's an economic issue; some see it as a human rights issue. How do you see it and what we need to do about it?
President Bush answered: I see it as a serious problem: I see it as a security issue, I see it as an economic issue, and I see it as a human rights issue. We're increasing the border security of the United States: we've got 1,000 more Border Patrol agents on the southern border, we're using new equipment, we're using unmanned vehicles to spot people coming across and we'll continue to do so over the next four years- it's a subject I'm very familiar with: after all, I was a border Governor for a while. Many people are coming to this country for economic reasons: they're coming here to work- if you can make 50 cents in the heart of Mexico, for example, or make $5 here in America, $5.15, you're going to come here if you're worth your salt, if you want to put food on the table for your families- and that's what's happening.
And so, in order to take pressure off the border- in order to make the borders more secure, I believe there ought to be a temporary worker card that allows a willing worker and a willing employer to mate up- so long as there's not an American willing to do the job- to join up in order to be able to fulfill the employers' needs: that has the benefit of making sure our employers aren't breaking the law as they try to fill their workforce needs- it makes sure that the people coming across the border are humanely treated, that they're not kept in the shadows of our society, that they're able to go back and forth to see their families: see, the card, it'll have a period of time attached to it.
It also means it takes pressure off the border: if somebody is coming here to work with a card, it means they're not going to have to sneak across the border- it means our border patrol will be more likely to be able to focus on doing their job. Now, it's very important for our citizens to also know that I don't believe we ought to have amnesty: I don't think we ought to reward illegal behavior- there are plenty of people standing in line to become a citizen and we ought not to crowd these people ahead of them in line: if they want to become a citizen, they can stand in line, too- and here is where my opponent and I differ: in September 2003, he supported amnesty for illegal aliens.
Senator Kerry rebutted: Let me just answer one part of the last question quickly, and then I'll come to immigration: the American middle class family isn't making it right now, Bob, and what the President said about the tax cuts has been wiped out by the increase in health care, the increase in gasoline, the increase in tuitions, the increase in prescription drugs. The fact is: the take home pay of a typical American family as a share of national income is lower than it's been since 1929 and the take home pay of the richest .1 % of Americans is the highest it's been since 1928. Under President Bush, the middle class has seen their tax burden go up and the wealthiest's tax burden has gone down- now, that's wrong!
Now, with respect to immigration reform, the President broke his promise on immigration reform- he said he would reform it: four years later, he is now promising another plan. Here's what I'll do: number one, the borders are more leaking today than they were before 9/11- the fact is, we haven't done what we need to do to toughen up our borders, and I will; secondly, we need a guest-worker program but, if it's all we have, it's not going to solve the problem, the second thing we need is to crack down on illegal hiring- it's against the law in the United States to hire people illegally and we ought to be enforcing that law properly; and, thirdly, we need an earned-legalization program for people who have been here for a long time, stayed out of trouble, got a job, paid their taxes, and their kids are American: we got to start moving them toward full citizenship, out of the shadows.
President Bush responded: Well, to say that the borders are not as protected as they were prior to September the 11th shows he doesn't know the borders: they're much better protected today than they were when I was the Governor of Texas- we got much more manpower and much more equipment there. He just doesn't understand how the borders work, evidently, to say that- that is an outrageous claim! And we'll continue to protect our borders- we'll continue to increase manpower and equipment.
Senator Kerry further rebutted: 4,000 people a day come across the border- the fact is that we now have people from the Middle East, allegedly, coming across the border and we're not doing what we ought to do in terms of the technology: we have iris-identification technology, we have thumbprint, fingerprint technology today- we can know who the people are, that they're really the people they say they are, when the cross the border: we could speed it up, there are huge delays. The fact is our borders are not as secure as they ought to be and I'll make them secure.
Scoring- Round 12: President Bush directly answered the question and, further, brought his experience as a one-time Governor of a State along the border with Mexico to bear. Senator Kerry spent too much of his rebuttal time dealing with "leftovers" from the previous round, something that never seems to leave enough time to deal with the issue at hand- and, as if to prove my very point, the Massachusetts Senator was left to put forth generalities which President Bush thereafter well parried. Kerry came back with a bit more specificity at the end but, as to his final "I'll make [our borders] secure", this is all a matter of belief as to whether a "President Kerry" would, in fact, actually be able to do just that! Bush-10, Kerry-9 (cumulative: tied 114-all).
13. Question for Senator Kerry: The gap between rich and poor is growing wider, more people are dropping into poverty- yet the minimum wage has been stuck at, what, $5.15 an hour now for about 7 years: is it time to raise it?
Senator Kerry answered: Well, I'm glad you raised that question- it's long overdue time to raise the minimum wage and, America, this is one of those issues that separates the President and myself. We have fought to try to raise the minimum wage in the last years but the Republican leadership of the House and Senate won't even let us have a vote on it- we're not allowed to vote on it: they don't want to raise the minimum wage- the minimum wage is the lowest minimum wage value it has been in our nation in 50 years. If we raise the minimum wage- which I will do over several years to $7 an hour- 9.2 million women who are trying to raise their families would earn another $3,800 a year: the President has denied 9.2 million women $3,800 a year but he doesn't hesitate to fight for $136,000 to a millionaire. 1 % of America got $89 billion last year in a tax cut but people working hard- playing by the rules, trying to take care of their kids: family values, that we're supposed to value so much in America- I'm tired of politicians who talk about family values and don't value families!
What we need to do is raise the minimum wage, we also need to hold onto equal pay: women work for 76 cents on the dollar for the same work that men do- that's not right in America! And we had an initiative that we were working on to raise women's pay: they've cut it off- they've stopped it, they don't enforce these kinds of things. Now, I think that it is a matter of fundamental right that, if we raise the minimum wage, 15 million Americans would be positively affected: we'd put money into the hands of people who work hard, who obey the rules, who play for the American Dream and, if we did that, we'd have more consumption ability in America, which is what we need right now in order to kick our economy into gear. I will fight tooth and nail to pass the minimum wage.
President Bush rebutted: Actually, Mitch McConnell had a minimum-wage plan that I supported that would have increased the minimum wage. But let me talk about what's really important for the worker you're referring to and that's to make sure the education system works- it's to make sure we raise standards. Listen, the No Child Left Behind Act is really a jobs act when you think about it: the No Child Left Behind Act says "we'll raise standards- we'll increase federal spending but, in return for extra spending, we now want people to measure- states and local jurisdictions to measure- to show us whether or not a child can read or write or add and subtract".
You cannot solve a problem unless you diagnose the problem and we weren't diagnosing problems- and, therefore, just kids were being shuffled through the school and guess who would get shuffled through? Children whose parents wouldn't speak English as a first language just move through, many inner-city kids just move through: we've stopped that practice now by measuring early and, when we find a problem, we spend extra money to correct it. I remember a lady in Houston, Texas, telling me "reading is the new civil right" and she's right! In order to make sure people have jobs for the 21st Century, we've got to get it right in the education system and we're beginning to close a minority achievement gap now: you see, we'll never be able to compete in the 21st Century unless we have an education system that doesn't quit on children, an education system that raises standards, an education that makes sure there's excellence in every classroom.
Scoring-- Round 13. This would have been another of those "philosophical discussion" rounds, one difficult to score, but for the fact that President Bush largely evaded the actual subject matter of the question. I have to say that the President had, to this point in the Debate, largely avoided the kind of thing I have been decrying all through my analyses of these Presidential Debates- that is, his propensity to state something as fact, or interpretation of fact, and just leave it out there without any further explanation or exposition. Here, for the first time this night, he did just that with his reference to Senator McConnell's minimum-wage bill where there was no ensuing discussion of just how McConnell's bill might mitigate that which Senator Kerry had just outlined. President Bush, for instance, could easily have discussed how raising the minimum wage too much, too fast, might only end up harming small business- but he didn't (preferring to, instead, reiterate his education policies and proposals): thus, he let Senator Kerry's claims on this issue stand pretty much unchallenged and, therefore, Kerry wins this round (for the Senator actually answered the question): one listening to this exchange is left with absolutely no idea as to the President's approach to the minimum wage issue. Kerry 10, Bush 9 (cumulative: Kerry- 124, Bush-123).
14. Question for President Bush: I want to go back to something Senator Kerry said earlier tonight and ask a follow-up of my own... he said that you had never said whether you would like to overturn Roe v. Wade. So I'd ask you directly, would you like to?
President Bush answered: What he's asking me is: will I have a litmus test for my judges? And the answer is: no, I will not have a litmus test. I will pick judges who will interpret the Constitution, but I'll have no litmus test.
Senator Kerry rebutted: Well, again, the President didn't answer the question- I'll answer it straight to America: I'm not going to appoint a judge to the Court who's going to undo a constitutional right, whether it's the First Amendment, or the Fifth Amendment, or some other right that's given under our courts today- under the Constitution: and I believe that the right of choice is a constitutional right. So, I don't intend to see it undone; clearly, the President wants to leave it in ambivalence or intends to undo it.
But let me go a step further: we have a long distance yet to travel in terms of fairness in America. I don't know how you can govern in this country when you look at New York City and you see that 50 % of the black males there are unemployed, when you see 40 % of Hispanic children- of black children in some cities- dropping out of high school and, yet, the President who talks about No Child Left Behind refused to fully fund- by $28 billion- that particular program so you can make a difference in the lives of those young people. Now, right here in Arizona, that difference would have been $131 million to the State of Arizona to help its kids be able to have better education and to lift the property tax burden from its citizens: the President reneged on his promise to fund No Child Left Behind. He'll tell you he's raised the money and he has- but he didn't put in what he promised and that makes a difference in the lives of our children.
President Bush responded: Two things: one, he clearly has a litmus test for his judges, which I disagree with, and, secondly, only a liberal senator from Massachusetts would say that a 49 % increase in funding for education was not enough. We've increased funds but, more importantly, we've reformed the system to make sure that we solve problems early- before they're too late. He talked about the unemployed- absolutely we've got to make sure they get educated; he talked about children whose parents don't speak English as a first language- absolutely we've got to make sure they get educated: and that's what the No Child Left Behind Act does.
Senator Kerry further rebutted: You don't measure it by a percentage increase, Mr. President, you measure it by whether you're getting the job done: 500,000 kids lost after-school programs because of your budget. Now, that's not in my gut- that's not my value system- and certainly not so that the wealthiest people in America can walk away with another tax cut: $89 billion last year to the top 1 % of Americans but kids lost their after-school programs- you be the judge!
Scoring-- Round 14. Senator Kerry's right: the President didn't answer the question- instead, as he had done last Friday with the question about what mistakes he might have made, he turned the question into something that was not at all that which was necessarily asked (a "turnabout" which actually sometimes proves to be more revealing than, perhaps, intended!-- though, here, the President used very little of his allotted two minutes and, therefore, little was revealed this time [I myself still don't know if President Bush supports the essence of Roe v. Wade as a legal or constitutional concept (despite his own personal pro-Life views) and this goes all the way back to the 2000 Election!-- a couple years back, a foreign e-mailer asked me if President Bush supported the basic premise that a government might have no power to always compel a woman to bear a child and my response was a terse "Beats me!"]). Senator Kerry did answer the question most fully in rebuttal, then quickly turned the whole discussion "off-topic"- the ensuing continuing exchange on education (my presumption is that the Senator was anxious to more fully engage the President's education policies and proposals from the previous round) was largely a "wash" (each candidate well expressing their respective views on education [again!]). But, in the end, President Bush evaded the subject matter of the actual question (as he had in the previous round) and that costs points in my scorebook. Kerry 10, Bush 9 (cumulative: Kerry-134, Bush-132).
15. Question for Senator Kerry: Senator, in the last debate, President Bush said he did not favor a draft: you agreed with him- but our National Guard and Reserve forces are being severely strained because many of them are being held beyond their enlistments: some of them say that it's a "back door" draft. Is there any relief that could be offered to these brave Americans and their families? If you became President, Senator Kerry, what would you do about this situation of holding National Guard and Reservists for these extended periods of time and these repeated call-ups that they're now facing?
Senator Kerry answered: Well, I think the fact that they're facing these repeated call-ups, some of them two and three deployments, and there's a stop-loss policy that prevents people from being able to get out when their time was up, is a reflection of the bad judgment this President exercised in how he has engaged in the world and deployed our forces. Our military is overextended: 9 out of 10 active duty Army divisions are either in Iraq, going to Iraq or have come back from Iraq- one way or the other, they're wrapped up in it.
Now, I've proposed adding two active-duty divisions to the Armed Forces of the United States- one combat, one support: in addition, I'm going to double the number of Special Forces so that we can fight a more effective war on terror, with less pressure on the National Guard and Reserve, and what I would like to do is see the National Guard and Reserve be deployed differently here in our own country- there's much we can do with them with respect to homeland security: we ought to be doing that and that would relieve an enormous amount of pressure.
But the most important thing to relieve the pressure on all of the armed forces is, frankly, to run a foreign policy that recognizes that America is strongest when we are working with real alliances, when we are sharing the burdens of the world by working through our statesmanship at the highest levels and our diplomacy to bring other nations to our side. I've said it before, I say it again: I believe the President broke faith to the American people in the way that he took this nation to war: he said he would work through a real alliance- he said, in Cincinnati, we would plan carefully, we would take every precaution: well, we didn't and the result is our forces today are overextended. The fact is that he did not choose to go to war as a last resort and America now is paying- already $120 billion, up to $200 billion before we're finished and much more probably- and that is the result of this President taking his eye off of Osama bin Laden.
President Bush rebutted: The best way to take the pressure off our troops is to succeed in Iraq, is to train Iraqis so they can do the hard work of Democracy, is to give them a chance to defend their country, which is precisely what we're doing- we'll have 125,000 troops trained by the end of this year. I remember going on an airplane in Bangor, Maine, to say thanks to the Reservists and Guard that were headed overseas from Tennessee and North Carolina, Georgia: some of them had been there before. The people I talked to, their spirits were high- they didn't view their service as a "back door" draft: they viewed their service as an opportunity to serve their country.
My opponent, the Senator, talks about Foreign Policy: in our first debate, he proposed America pass a global test- in order to defend ourselves, we'd have to get international approval: that's one of the major differences we have about defending our country. I'll work with allies, I'll work with friends: we'll continue to build strong coalitions- but I will never turn over our national security decisions to leaders of other countries. We'll be resolute, we'll be strong, and we'll wage a comprehensive war against the terrorists.
Senator Kerry responded: I have never suggested a test where we turn over our security to any nation- in fact, I've said the opposite: I will never turn the security of the United States over to any nation- no nation will ever have a veto over us! But I think it makes sense- I think most Americans in their guts know- that we ought to pass a sort of truth standard: that's how you gain legitimacy with your own countrypeople and that's how you gain legitimacy in the world- but I'll never fail to protect the United States of America.
President Bush further rebutted: In 1990, there was a vast coalition put together to run Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait: the international community, the international world, said this is the right thing to do- but, when it came time to authorize the use of force on the Senate floor, my opponent voted against the use of force: apparently, you can't pass any test under his vision of the world.
Scoring-- Round 15. A very tough round to score, each candidate well expressing his respective vision of how best to deal with what has come to be called the "back door" draft of National Guard and Reserves to fill holes in the military operations currently underway overseas (it is also interesting to note that, since this so-called "back door" draft has domestic implications, this question allowed each candidate to sneak in comments about their respective views on Foreign Policy in what was otherwise supposed to be a debate on domestic issues!). Senator Kerry does not so much win this round as President Bush loses it with his example of Desert Storm- though his point about Senator Kerry's vote on Desert Storm is certainly one well taken (nevertheless, one of many reasons the decision was made- by the current President's father- to not go into Baghdad militarily and topple Saddam Hussein as an immediate "follow-on" to the Gulf War of 1991 was precisely because the United Nations Security Council authorization re: the liberation of Kuwait did not include a concomitant authorization of the liberation of Iraq [of course, one would not have expected it to: the U.N. doesn't exist to topple existing governments- especially those of U.N. member-States] and there was a reasonable assumption that more directly going after Saddam in the wake of the success of Desert Storm would only serve to split the coalition of 1990-91: thus, so one might well argue, the President's own father very much submitted to the very "global test" the current President here decries [even if we accept President Bush # 43's definition of what is, after all, Senator Kerry's terminology]; President George W. Bush, of course, has every right to do things differently from the way President George H.W. Bush might have done them but this does not at all mitigate the current President Bush's having so glossed over all the international difficulties the former President Bush faced in putting the Desert Storm coalition together [and at a time when the Soviet Union still existed, to boot!] That 1990/1991 coalition was not put together without first passing what Kerry here calls a "truth standard" [though, yes, it is fair to point out that- even where such a standard existed re: Desert Storm- Kerry, at the time, still said 'no']): this is a round that could easily have gone 10-9 the other way. Kerry 10, Bush 9 (cumulative: Kerry- 144, Bush-141).
16. Question for President Bush: You said that, if Congress would vote to extend the ban on assault weapons, that you'd sign the legislation- but you did nothing to encourage the Congress to extend it. Why not?
President Bush answered: Actually, I made my intentions, made my views, clear: I did think we ought to extend the assault weapons ban and was told the fact that the bill was never going to move because Republicans and Democrats were against the assault weapon ban- people of both Parties. I believe law-abiding citizens ought to be able to own a gun, I believe in background checks at gun shows or anywhere to make sure that guns don't get in the hands of people that shouldn't have them.
But the best way to protect our citizens from guns is to prosecute those who commit crimes with guns and that's why, early in my Administration, I called the Attorney General and the U.S. Attorneys and said "put together a task force all around the country to prosecute those who commit crimes with guns" and the prosecutions are up by about 68 % , I believe, is the number. Neighborhoods are safer when we crack down on people who commit crimes with guns- to me, that's the best way to secure America.
Senator Kerry rebutted: I believe it was a failure of presidential leadership not to reauthorize the assault weapons ban: I'm a hunter, I'm a gun owner- I've been a hunter since I was a kid- 12, 13 years old- and I respect the Second Amendment and I will not tamper with the Second Amendment but I'll tell you this: I'm also a former law enforcement officer- I ran one of the largest district attorney's offices in America, one of the 10 largest: I put people behind bars for the rest of their life, I've broken up organized crime, I know something about prosecuting- and most of the law enforcement agencies in America wanted that assault weapons ban, they don't want to go into a drug bust and be facing an AK-47.
I was hunting in Iowa last year with a sheriff from one of the counties there and he pointed to a house in back of us and said, "See the house over there? We just did a drug bust a week earlier and the guy we arrested had an AK-47 lying on the bed right beside him." Because of the President's decision, today law enforcement officers will walk into a place that will be more dangerous. Terrorists can now come into America and go to a gun show and, without even a background check, buy an assault weapon today and that's what Osama bin Laden's handbook said, because we captured it in Afghanistan- it encouraged them to do it: so I believe America's less safe. If Tom DeLay or someone in the House said to me "sorry, we don't have the votes," I'd have said "then we're going to have a fight" and I'd have taken it out to the country and I'd have had every law enforcement officer in the country visit those Congressmen- we'd have won what Bill Clinton won.
Scoring- Round 16. President Bush's answer to this question was altogether lame (for, if a President really wants to get something through Congress- even if there be the political logjam of which the President spoke- it can be gotten [if not the proverbial "whole loaf", at least something more than half that loaf]: can one honestly believe that, if the Republican leadership in Congress were to tell President Bush that, say, the Constitutional Amendment defining marriage as solely between a man a woman were not going through, the President would then simply abandon his position in favor of that Amendment? Hardly!). Senator Kerry wins this round by well pointing out this essential flaw in President Bush's explanation and, further, relating his own position on the issue to both his earlier experience as a prosecutor and, now, the war on terror: President Bush, meanwhile, merely came off as someone wanting to have it both ways (not be in the way of an assault weapons ban extension but, at the same time, not be seen as being enthusiastically for it-- an obvious appeal to his base: the very definition of "preaching to the choir"). Kerry 10, Bush 9 (cumulative: Kerry- 154, Bush-150).
17. Question for Senator Kerry: Affirmative action: Do you see a need for affirmative action programs, or have we moved far enough along that we no longer need to use race and gender as a factor in school admissions and federal and state contracts and so on?
Senator Kerry answered: No, Bob, regrettably, we have not moved far enough along and I regret to say that this Administration has even blocked steps that could help us move further along- I'll give you an example: I've served on the Small Business Committee for a long time- I was chairman of it once, now I'm the senior Democrat on it. You know, we have a goal there for minority set-aside programs, to try to encourage ownership in the country: they don't reach those goals, they don't even fight to reach those goals- they've tried to undo them. The fact is that, in too many parts of our country, we still have discrimination and affirmative action is not just something that applies to people of color- some people have a mistaken view of it in America- it also is with respect to women, it's with respect to other efforts to try to reach out and be inclusive in our country: I think that we have a long way to go, regrettably.
If you look at what's happened, we've made progress- I want to say that at the same time: during the Clinton years, as you may recall, there was a fight over affirmative action and there were many people, like myself, who opposed quotas- who felt there were places where it was overreaching. So we had a policy called "Mend it, don't end it"- we fixed it and we fixed it for a reason: because there are too many people still in this country who feel the stark resistance of racism, and so we have a distance to travel- as President, I will make certain we travel it.
Now, let me just share something: this President is the first President ever, I think, not to meet with the NAACP- this is a President who hasn't met with the Black Congressional Caucus, this is a President who has not met with the civil rights leadership of our country. If a President doesn't reach out and bring people in and be inclusive, then how are we going to get over those barriers? I see that as part of my job as President and I'll make my best effort to do it.
President Bush rebutted: Well, first of all, it is just not true that I haven't met with the Black Congressional Caucus- I met with the Black Congressional Caucus at the White House. And, secondly, like my opponent, I don't agree we ought to have quotas: I agree, we shouldn't have quotas- but we ought to have an aggressive effort to make sure people are educated, to make sure- when they get out of high school- there's Pell grants available for them, which is what we've done: we've expanded Pell grants by a million students.
Do you realize, today in America, we spend $73 billion to help 10 million low- and middle-income families better afford college? That's the access I believe is necessary, is to make sure every child learns to read, write, add and subtract early- to be able to build on that education by going to college so they can start their careers with a college diploma. I believe the best way to help our small businesses is, not only through small business loans- which we have increased since I've been the President of the United States, but to unbundle government contracts so people have a chance to be able to bid and receive a contract to help get their business going. Minority ownership of businesses are up, because we created an environment for the entrepreneurial spirit to be strong: I believe part of a hopeful society is one in which somebody owns something- today in America, more minorities own a home than ever before and that's hopeful and that's positive.
Scoring-- Round 17. Another of these "philosophical difference"-type rounds (although, given what each candidate actually said, there here doesn't appear to be all that much of a difference!). President Bush wins the round by deflecting Senator Kerry's claim that he never met with the Congressional Black Caucus: meanwhile, Kerry's admission that "we've made progress- I want to say that at the same time" after a long list of what he thought had gone wrong during the Bush Administration only served to undermine much of that about which he complained and put the first part of his answer into that mere "preaching to the choir" territory which does not win a candidate points in the scoring system I am here using. Bush 10, Kerry 9 (cumulative: Kerry-163, Bush-160).
18. Question for President Bush: You were asked before the invasion, or after the invasion, of Iraq if you'd checked with your dad and I believe, I don't remember the quote exactly, but I believe you said you had checked with a higher authority: I would like to ask you, what part does your faith play on your policy decisions?
President Bush answered: First, my faith plays a lot- a big part- in my life and that's- when I answering that question- what I was really saying to the person was that I pray a lot- and I do. And my faith is very personal: I pray for strength, I pray for wisdom, I pray for our troops in harm's way, I pray for my family, I pray for my little girls- but I'm mindful, in a Free Society, that people can worship if they want to or not: you're equally an American if you choose to worship an Almighty and if you choose not to- if you're a Christian, Jew or Muslim, you're equally an American: that's the great thing about America, is the right to worship the way you see fit.
Prayer and religion sustain me: I receive calmness in the storms of the Presidency. I love the fact that people pray for me and my family all around the country- somebody asked me one time "well, how do you know?": I said "I just feel it". Religion is an important part- I never want to impose my religion on anybody else- but, when I make decisions, I stand on principle and the principles are derived from who I am.
I believe we ought to love our neighbor like we love ourself, as manifested in public policy through the Faith-Based Initiative where we've unleashed the armies of compassion to help heal people who hurt, I believe that God wants everybody to be free- that's what I believe- and that's been part of my Foreign Policy. In Afghanistan, I believe that the freedom there is a gift from the Almighty and I can't tell you how encouraged I am to see Freedom on the march and so my principles that I make decisions on are a part of me and religion is a part of me.
Senator Kerry rebutted: Well, I respect everything that the President has said and certainly respect his faith: I think it's important and I share it, I think that he just said that Freedom is a gift from the Almighty- everything is a gift from the Almighty and, as I measure the words of the Bible- and we all do: different people measure different things- the Koran, the Torah or, you know, Native Americans who gave me a blessing the other day had their own special sense of connectedness to a Higher Being and people all find their ways to express it.
I was taught- I went to a church school- and I was taught that the two greatest commandments are: love the Lord, your God, with all your mind, your body and your soul and love your neighbor as yourself and, frankly, I think we have a lot more loving of our neighbor to do in this country and on this planet. We have a separate and unequal school system in the United States of America: there's one for the people who have and there's one for the people who don't have- and we're struggling with that today- and the President and I have a difference of opinion about how we live out our sense of our faith: I talked about it earlier when I talked about the works and faith without works being dead- I think we've got a lot more work to do and, as President, I will always respect everybody's right to practice religion as they choose- or not to practice- because that's part of America.
Scoring-- Round 18. Scoring this round presented pretty much the same issues as Round 7 did: for it is beyond the scope of these Commentaries for me to opine as to how President Bush, in this case, might reconcile his religious beliefs with his political views (and, therefore, I'm not here going to, as many Kerry supporters apparently have done, question President Bush's ability to be a good Protestant, given his political views, any more than I would likewise question Senator Kerry's ability to be a good Catholic, as many Bush partisans- particularly Catholics among Bush partisans [given the question back in Round 7]- evidently have done, given the Senator's political views): how each candidate deals with his own faith in relation to his respective duties as a holder of Federal elective office is purely a personal matter for each of them. Therefore, by the same standards I applied in that earlier round, the President wins this round. Bush 10, Kerry 9 (cumulative: Kerry- 172, Bush-170).
19. Question for Senator Kerry: After 9/11... it seemed to me that the country came together as I've never seen it come together since World War II but some of that seems to have melted away: I think it's fair to say we've become pretty polarized, perhaps because of the political season. But if you were elected President, or whoever is elected President, will you set a priority in trying to bring the nation back together? Or what would be your attitude on that?
Senator Kerry answered: Very much so. Let me pay a compliment to the President, if I may: I think, in those days after 9/11, I thought the President did a terrific job and I really was moved, as well as impressed, by the speech that he gave to the Congress and I think the hug Tom Daschle gave him at that moment was about as genuine a sense of there being no Democrats, no Republicans- we were all just Americans: that's where we were, that's not where we are today.
I regret to say that the President who called himself "a uniter, not a divider" is now presiding over the most divided America in the recent memory of our country: I've never seen such ideological squabbles in the Congress of the United States, I've never seen members of a Party locked out of meetings the way they're locked out today- we have to change that and, as President, I am committed to changing that: I don't care if the idea comes from the other side or this side, I think we have to come together and work to change it and I've done that.
Over 20 years in the United States Senate, I've worked with John McCain- who's sitting here, I've worked with other colleagues: I've reached across the aisle, I've tried to find the common ground- because that's what makes us strong as Americans. And, if Americans trust me with the Presidency, I can pledge to you we will have the most significant effort, openly- not secret meetings in the White House with special interests, not ideologically driven efforts to push people aside- but a genuine effort to try to restore America's hope and possibilities by bringing people together. And one of the ways we're going to do it is, I'm going to work with my friend- John McCain- to further campaign finance reform so we get these incredible amounts of money out of the system and open it up to average people so America is really represented by the people who make up America.
President Bush rebutted: My biggest disappointment in Washington is how partisan the town is. I had a record of working with Republicans and Democrats as the Governor of Texas and I was hopeful I'd be able to do the same thing. And we made good progress early on: the No Child Left Behind Act, incredibly enough, was good work between me and my Administration and people like Senator Ted Kennedy and we worked together with Democrats to relieve the tax burden on the middle class, and all who pay taxes, in order to make sure this economy continues to grow.
But Washington is a tough town and the way I view it is: there's a lot of entrenched special interests there- people who are, you know, on one side of the issue or another and they spend enormous sums of money and they convince different Senators to tout their way or different Congressmen to talk about their issue: and they dig in. I'll continue, in the four years, to continue to try to work to do so.
My opponent said this is a bitterly divided time: pretty divided in the 2000 Election! So, in other words, it's pretty divided during the 1990s as well. We're just in a period- we've got to work to bring it out: my opponent keeps mentioning John McCain, and I'm glad he did- John McCain is for me for President because he understands I have the right view in winning the war on terror and that my plan will succeed in Iraq and my opponent has got a plan of retreat and defeat in Iraq.
Scoring-- Round 19. I have the same problems with Senator Kerry's answer here that I had with Senator Edwards' rhetorical questions "Have you ever seen America more divided? Have you ever seen Washington more divided?" in the 5 October Vice-Presidential Debate (Round 20 of that Debate). Whenever an issue of great controversy emerges (and certainly Abortion on the domestic side has been this type of issue for now over three decades: the war in Iraq and its aftermath having been this type of issue on the foreign policy side only since the invasion of that country a mere year and a half ago by comparison), you are always going to have just as great a division as the Parties and the ideological factions within those Parties hash things out- it has happened before, it's nothing new, and will happen in future: this is actually one of the great strengths of Democracy and Democracy can, of course, so often be a messy business (as Winston Churchill once put it: 'the worst form of government ever devised by Mankind, except for all the others'). The problem is that you here have two Major Parties whose respective principal visions of bipartisanship is that the other Major Party cry "uncle" (which, of course, is ridiculous- unless [like Hitler or Stalin- or, for that matter, Robert Mugabe-- or Saddam Hussein!] you happen to like the one-Party state): fact is, this country is nowhere near as divided as it was while I was growing up, with my adolescence having taken place during the Vietnam and Watergate eras of the late 1960s into the early 1970s (and John Kerry- of all people- should know better!). President Bush's rebuttal- while not all that much less disingenuous than Kerry's- at least acknowledged that the 2000 Election (and this was, of course, before 9/11 and Iraq!) was just as divisive as this year's might yet prove to be: Bush's problem as President has always been that a Texas Democrat is not at all the average "bell curve" Democrat nationwide (one of the more interesting political observations one can make about early 21st Century America is that, of all the States in that South which is so clearly "Bush Country", in how many of these are Democrats, nonetheless, the majority Party in at least one house of the legislature?-- I currently count 9 of 12 States [not counting Florida, but adding Kentucky and Oklahoma to the remaining States of the old Confederacy] all told [notably, the State the President himself once so recently governed is no longer one of these]!-- this well suggests to me that there aren't all that many "flaming liberals" among all these Southern Dems and that, therefore, there is a difference of no little significance between Northern Democrats and Southern Democrats [just as there is a similar regional difference within the President's own Party- for instance, GOP Senators Chafee, Collins, Snowe and Specter]). Bush- 10, Kerry-9 (cumulative: Kerry- 181, Bush-180).
20. Question for President Bush: We've come, gentlemen, to our last question and it occurred to me as I came to this debate tonight that the three of us share something: all three of us are surrounded by very strong women, we're all married to strong women, each of us have two daughters that make us very proud. I'd like to ask each of you, what is the most important thing you've learned from these strong women?
President Bush answered: To listen to them, to stand up straight and not scowl. These comments elicited much laughter. I love the strong women around me: I can't tell you how much I love my wife and our daughters. I am -- you know it's really interesting. I tell the people on the campaign trail, when I asked Laura to marry me, she said "fine, just so long as I never have to give a speech"- I said, "OK, you've got a deal." Fortunately, she didn't hold me to that deal and she's out campaigning along with our girls. And she speaks English a lot better than I do- I think people understand what she's saying.
But they see a compassionate, strong, great First Lady in Laura Bush: I can't tell you how lucky I am. When I met her in the backyard at Joe and Jan O'Neill's in Midland, Texas, it was the classic backyard barbecue. O'Neill said "Come on over. I think you'll find somebody who might interest you". So I said all right- bopped over there: there was only four of us there and, not only did she interest me, I guess you would say it was love at first sight.
Senator Kerry rebutted (as if you can even rebut in such an exchange!): Well, I guess the President and you and I are three examples of lucky people who married up- and some would say maybe me more so than others. This, too, elicited much laughter from the audience. But I can take it. Can I say, if I could just say a word about a woman that you didn't ask about? But my mom passed away a couple years ago, just before I was deciding to run and she was in the hospital and I went in to talk to her and tell her what I was thinking of doing. And she looked at me from her hospital bed and she just looked at me and she said "remember: integrity, integrity, integrity"- those are the three words that she left me with.
And my daughters and my wife are people who just are filled with that sense of what's right, what's wrong: they also kick me around- they keep me honest, they don't let me get away with anything. I can sometimes take myself too seriously- they surely don't let me do that!- and I'm blessed, as I think the President is blessed, as I said last time: I've watched him with the First Lady, who I admire a great deal, and his daughters: he's a great father and I think we're both very lucky.
Scoring-- Round 20. A "puffball question", if ever there was one. My initial reaction was 'Bob Schieffer, with all that is going on out there- even as regards the domestic agenda- this was the best you could come up with as a final question for the very last Presidential Debate?!'
How in the world does one score a round like this? Answer: you don't!
It is the position of 'The Green Papers' that any Opening and Closing Statements at these Debates, being largely repetitions of the messages of each candidate's campaign and not at all responses to "off the cuff" questions for which the candidates cannot prepare in advance, are not really part of the Debate itself. Thus, the Closing Statements from each candidate are not included herein and do not factor into the
FINAL SCORE: Senator Kerry- 181, President Bush- 180.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Since at least one of the 19 rounds of this Debate scored by me (none of which either candidate lost by more than a 10-9 margin) could have gone 10-9 the other way, this Debate might very well be considered to be, for all intents and purposes, a virtual tie. President Bush- very much better than he had in the previous two Debates- avoided the "if I say it's so, it must be so" attitude that I had noticed in the previous two Presidential Debates (that is, until Round 13- as noted above). In something of a mirror image of the first Debate two weeks before in which President Bush did surprisingly badly, Senator Kerry did not do all that well- overall- in a field (in this case, Domestic and Economic Policy) with which he, as the challenger, might have been expected to do far better and this might not bode all that well re: Senator Kerry's quest to attract the moderate, undecided voter on these issues (though, again, I myself still expect Iraq, the broader War on International Terrorism and Homeland Security to decide this Presidential Election more than anything else).
Nonetheless, I think it is quite apparent that President Bush- as is apparent if one again goes over the rounds in which he lost- is consistently appealing more and more to his conservative base (as indicated by his failure to discuss the ramifications of a minimum-wage increase [Round 13], to more directly address the issue of just how much he might actually support- or not- the core concept of Roe v. Wade [Round 14], to explain his lack of clear presidential support for extending the assault weapons ban [Round 16] and the like). The main "carrot" the President seems to be holding out to the "bell curve" of the American electorate outside that base on the domestic side is his continuing to expand the No Child Left Behind educational plan and his contention that his tax cuts were far more beneficial to the middle class than to the upper income brackets that got most of the overall money (the complimentary foreign policy "stick" being Bush's continued assertion that the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath was- and is- directly linked to the War on International Terrorism and, hence, also to Homeland Security). However, there seems to be this undercurrent within the context of all four Debates that the Bush/Cheney camp is clearly going to try and win re-election primarily on getting their base to turn out come 2 November and push Bush over the top in Electoral Vote (given the current electoral map, which- despite polls showing the race as still quite close nationally as regards the popular vote- is a bleak one for Democrats as of this typing, this is not altogether a bad political strategy!).
Meanwhile, despite allowing the President to generally stay even with him in this final Debate, Senator Kerry has- over the course of these three Presidential Debates- pretty much done what he has had to do: he has talked as much about what he will do about as much as he has discussed what he would have done differently had he, and not George W. Bush, been President these last four years (despite a number of "hiccups"- as noted throughout my scoring of all three Presidential Debates)- the only real negative for Kerry/Edwards during this Debate period was Senator Edwards' rather unimpressive performance in the sole Vice Presidential Debate (all mid-to-late Summer- beginning almost as soon as the North Carolinian had been picked as John Kerry's running mate- and on into the early Fall, I received many an e-mail from Democratic activist groups telling me 'just you wait until John Edwards turns his trial lawyering skills on Dick Cheney- he'll tear him apart!' or some such: of course, Edwards did absolutely nothing of the kind [clearly, it was the current Vice President who had the upper hand back on 5 October]-- the Kerry/Edwards camp should take solace in the fact that Lloyd Bentsen's scoring Dan Quayle as "no Jack Kennedy" back in the Fall of 1988 did nothing at all to prevent Mr. Quayle from taking the Oath of Office as constitutional president of the United States Senate come the following January: again, no one really votes for Vice-President!).
In a sense, Senator Kerry has done just about all he can do to amass as many votes as possible for his ticket come Election Day- the question now is: will Senator Kerry have done enough for him to be able to then win key States from the President? A Commentary on the prospects for Election 2004 will be appearing on this very website a few days before the Election in an attempt to address that very question... Watch this Space! ;-)