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THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE

Kerry Blames Bush for Range of Economic Woes

September 16, 2004|Michael Finnegan | Times Staff Writer

DETROIT — In a caustic assessment of the White House economic record Wednesday, Sen. John F. Kerry called President Bush a stubborn leader who refused to concede that his "failed policies" had harmed millions of Americans.

Kerry's remarks in Detroit were the focal point of his two-day trip across Midwest swing states that have lost jobs during Bush's presidency -- Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

The Democratic presidential nominee blamed Bush for those lost jobs and more, along with a surge in poverty, "trillions" of dollars in new public debt, and higher prices for healthcare, gasoline, child care and tuition.

"I'm not saying that the president wanted these consequences," Kerry told hundreds of Michigan business leaders at a Detroit Economic Club breakfast. "But I am saying that by his judgments, by his priorities, by the decisions he made, he has caused these things to happen -- or to grow significantly worse. And he refuses to admit the error of those choices."

The Massachusetts senator branded Bush's White House tenure "the excuse presidency."

"Never wrong, never responsible, never to blame," Kerry said. "President Bush's desk isn't where the buck stops. It's where the blame begins."

The sharp rhetoric, in a speech that also recapped Kerry's own economic plans, captured the more aggressive tone he adopted this month after a drop in the polls and the arrival of new advisors who used to work for President Clinton.

Kerry struck that tone again Wednesday night in Washington, where he castigated Bush for what he called "broken promises" on immigration, affirmative action, bilingual education and jobs. At a Congressional Hispanic Caucus dinner, where he spoke at length in Spanish, Kerry accused Bush of meeting at the White House with those he "wants to give the store away to."

But Kerry struggled to explain concisely his stand on the Iraq war in a conversation on the Don Imus radio show.

Kerry, who last week called it "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time," stood by his October 2002 vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq. Describing Saddam Hussein as a "duplicitous" leader who could not be trusted to deal honestly with weapons inspectors, he said, "You needed that threat" of a U.S. invasion.

"It was the right vote based on what Saddam Hussein had done, and I think it was the right thing to do to hold him accountable," Kerry said.

He said Bush rushed to war with no plan to avert the bloody insurgency that erupted in its aftermath, saying, "It was a huge mistake for the president to go to war the way he did" over the objection of key allies.

"Do you think there are any circumstances we should have gone to war in Iraq -- any?" Imus asked.

"Not under the current circumstances, no," Kerry said. "There are none that I see."

Asked about his plan to bring home U.S. troops within four years, Kerry said it "gets more complicated every single day."

"Try to simplify it for me so I can understand it," Imus said.

In reply, Kerry renewed his calls for a European summit to enlist allies in Iraq's reconstruction, and for faster training of Iraqi security forces.

Answering a question on how many more U.S. troops would die before his withdrawal plan "kicks into effect," Kerry said: "What you ought to be doing -- and what everybody in America ought to be doing -- today is not asking me. They ought to be asking the president: What is your plan? What is your plan, Mr. President, to stop these kids from being killed? What's your plan, Mr. President, to get the other countries in there?"

"We're asking you," Imus said, "because you want to be president."

"I can't tell you what I'm going to find on the ground on Jan. 20," Kerry replied.

As for Bush's assurance that Iraqi elections will take place in January, Kerry said he was "not sure the president is being honest with the American people about that situation."

"It is very difficult to see today how you're going to distribute ballots in places like Fallouja and Ramadi and Najaf and other parts of the country without having established the security," Kerry said.

At a rally later in Madison, Wis., Kerry said, "the violence is getting worse." Bush "made a mistake in rushing to war without understanding the complexity of Iraqi nationalism and tribal feudalism," he told more than 5,000 supporters at a convention hall.

Responding to Kerry's comments on the Imus show, Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman said that "on the most important issue facing our country today -- the question of how we deal with global terrorism -- John Kerry's position has deteriorated into complete and total incoherence."

Mehlman also disputed Kerry's remarks in Detroit on the economy.

"John Kerry offered more pessimism about an economy that has created over 1.7 million jobs over the past year," said Mehlman, who dismissed the Democrat's proposals as "rehashed, old, tired ideas of higher taxes, of more regulation, and of more government control of people's lives."

Despite the recent job growth, the U.S. economy has lost about 900,000 jobs since Bush took office.

In Detroit, Kerry trumpeted proposals to cut taxes. Among them are tax credits to subsidize healthcare and college tuition and reward companies that offer medical coverage to employees or create jobs in the U.S.

Kerry, whose Senate votes for higher taxes have been the source of Bush attacks, would also abolish tax breaks for companies that move jobs abroad, and would roll back the president's tax cuts for those who earn more than $200,000 a year. In his speech, he accused Bush of offering "massive tax giveaways" to the richest Americans.

"Our opponents see an America where power and wealth stay in the hands of a few at the top," he said.

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