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Bush-Kerry II: This Time, It's Personal

People Just Like You ask President Bush and Senator Kerry questions and show up Gwen Ifill. A round-by-round scorecard.

12:40 AM, Oct 9, 2004 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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Round 1: Kerry: Are you too wishy-washy?

Kerry waits until his first sentence to reference the Duelfer report, saying "the president didn't find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, so he's turned his campaign into a weapon of mass deception." Bush goes back to the Howard Dean well, saying Kerry changed his mind on the nature of Saddam's threat because of the Vermont governor. Zephyr Teachout always said Dean would be a factor in October 2004.

Round to Kerry

Round 2: Bush: Saddam didn't have WMDs, why invade Iraq and not North Korea?

Bush says that Kerry agreed with him on Iraq, that he went to the United Nations, and that Saddam was already gaming the U.N. Oil for Food program. It's a fair listing of the litany. "We all thought there was weapons, my opponent thought there was weapons," he concludes. Jacob Weisberg smiles at his keyboard. For his part, Kerry says, "I've never changed my mind about Iraq." Then he mentions Duelfer, this time by name, explaining that Duelfer means the sanctions on Saddam worked. Which, strictly speaking, isn't quite true; but never mind.

Round to Bush

Round 3: Kerry: Will you follow Bush's plans in Iraq?

Kerry says there's "chaos" in Iraq and hangs Chuck Hagel and Dick Lugar's criticisms on the president. And then goes back to the need for more allies. Working himself into a lather, Bush says, "We're going to solve the problem in Iraq by holding a summit. And what is he going to say to those people who show up at that summit? Join me in the wrong war at the wrong time in the wrong place?"

Kerry counters that "The right war was Osama bin Laden . . . the right place was Tora Bora." And Bush lets go a good one: "It's a fundamental misunderstanding to say that the war on terror is only Osama bin Laden. . . . Of course we're going to find Osama bin Laden. We've already got 75 percent of his people. And we're on the hunt for him. But this is a global conflict."

Round to Bush

Round 4: Bush: What is your plan to repair international relations?

"We've got a great country," the president says. "I love our values." Okay. Then he mentions how unpopular America and Reagan were in Europe during the Cold War: "I don't think you want a president who tries to become popular and does the wrong thing."
Kerry brings up the 2000 debate, which plays into the idea that the Democrats are the September 10 party; this seems a tactical mistake.

Round to Bush

Round 5: Kerry what will you do with Iran?

Kerry: "We will get tough!" Bush jokes that "That answer almost made me want to scowl." Bush spends this round arguing that Kerry would do what he's already doing, only worse. Somehow. He's probably right.

Round to Bush

Round 6: Bush: How will you avoid bringing back the draft?

"I hear there's rumors on the internet," Bush says, about bringing back the draft. Nah gonna do it; "period." He talks fairly coherently about transformation of forces and even a few specifics about unmanned surveillance and the transfer of troops. Kerry's response is: Yeah, well I have a lot of generals who endorse me. He says he's going to do a foreign policy that does "what Reagan did."

At the end of his rebuttal Kerry mentions that America is going it alone and Bush practically jumps out of his seat and begins talking over Charlie Gibson. "You tell Tony Blair we're going alone. Tell Tony Blair we're going alone," he shouts. "Tell Silvio Berlusconi we're going alone. Tell Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland we're going alone. We've got 30 countries there. It denigrates an alliance to say we're going alone." Kerry responds that it's "not a grand coalition." Which sort of proves Bush's point.

Round to Bush

Round 7: Kerry: Why haven't there been more domestic terrorist attacks in the last three years?

Kerry says that Bush says it's not a question of if, but when. Then, in what seems like an enormous slip, he waves his hand and says, "between the World Trade Center bombing in, what was it--1993 or so?--and the next time was five years, seven years." These are only the most important events in America in the last two decades. He's unsure of the dates, and worse, his tone is so off-hand that it's like he's talking about campaign-finance reform. Bush gets in another zinger: "My opponent's right--we need good intelligence. It's also a curious thing for him to say since right after 1993 he voted to cut the intelligence budget by $7.5 billion dollars."
Round to Bush