DEARBORN – Democratic presidential hopefuls sought the Arab
American vote this weekend as they addressed issues such as the
U.S. presence in Iraq, the post-Sept. 11 backlash and the Middle
East peace process.
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley
Braun of Illinois, U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri and Sen.
Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut attended the Arab American
Institute’s National Leadership Conference on Friday and Saturday.
U.S. Sens. John Kerry od Massachusetts and John Edwards of North
Carolina and U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio spoke via satellite.
A representative of retired Gen. Wesley Clark read a statement
prepared by Clark.
Regarding the Mideast peace process, Clark, Kerry, Dean and
Moseley Braun all expressed support for a two-state solution, which
President Bush has also endorsed.
Edwards said he would deal exclusively with peace-oriented
members of the Palestinian Authority, and if elected, would visit
Clark’s representative, Edward Gabriel, told the crowd that
Israel would remain a key ally of the United States. Edwards
remarked similarly that the United States must recognize Israel’s
Several attendees said Israel’s security wall, which is being
constructed in the West Bank, was not sufficiently addressed by
Dean and Moseley Braun.
While he voiced support for Palestinian self-determination, Dean
told the audience that Israel had a right to defend itself from
“I really wasn’t satisfied with (Dean’s) view on the wall – he
should have talked about Palestinian rights to security as well,”
said Yousef Fawaz, a member of the American Arab
Candidates attempted to present a balanced view of the
“Israeli and Palestinian mothers cry the same tears over the
loss of their children,” Kerry said.
Addressing possible solutions, Edwards spoke of long-term
engagement with a prominent role for the secretary of state. Kerry
warned, “Provocative…measures only harm Israel in the long
Through his spokesman, Clark reminded the audience of his
success in Kosovo as supreme allied commander of NATO, saying, “I
specialize in what others would consider impossible
Clark also used his military record to bolster his stance on
Iraq. “The war has been a huge strategic mistake for this country,”
his statement said, but he added, “Relinquishing our role in
reconstructing Iraq … is not an option.” Referring to the
lucrative contracts secured by U.S. businesses for postwar
reconstruction, he said, “We need to be transparent in our business
dealings with Iraq.”
Kerry announced that he would vote against Bush’s proposal to
expand funding for Iraq’s reconstruction to $87 billion, adding,
“We should transition more quickly to a U.N.-led force.” Edwards
and Clark also emphasized multilateral action. “We can stop
genocide and bring about the rule of law, but we need allies,”
Moseley Braun and Dean frequently reaffirmed their initial
opposition to the war in Iraq, and accused the current government
of exploiting the events of Sept. 11 for personal gain.
“This administration has used 9/11 as an excuse for the
right-wing agenda, a process that does no honor to the American
system,” Moseley Braun said.
Criticisms of the president and his administration pervaded the
conference, and were not exclusive to any one candidate. In
particular, all candidates spoke out against the USA PATRIOT Act.
Kerry and Edwards both criticized the legislation despite having
voted for the bill, introduced 45 days after the terrorist
Edwards expressed a desire to remove the provision in the law
that labels suspected terrorists as “enemy combatants,” allowing
authorities to circumvent due process. He proposed an independent
body that would monitor civil-rights and civil-liberties violations
by the federal government.
“America is not a nation of secret knocks on doors in the dead
of night,” Kerry said. He denounced Attorney General John Ashcroft
for making bigoted remarks that misrepresented Islam.
“Repressive acts are packaged and labeled the Patriot Act,”
Clark said through his representative. “There is a very fine
balance between enforcing laws and violating civil liberties, and
the Bush administration has disrupted that balance.”
Dean expressed his disappointment that the “the war on terror
(has become) a war on civil liberties.” After attacking provisions
of the Patriot Act that he said authorize indefinite detainment
without counsel and profiling of immigrants, Dean added, “The
Patriot Act does not make John Ashcroft a patriot.”
Conference attendee Nada Salem, of Toledo, Ohio, said she was
impressed with Dean’s concern for Arab Americans. “Arab Americans
have been under a lot of pressure lately after 9/11, and it is
about time for an American leader to differentiate between
terrorists and Arab Americans,” Salem said.
While the candidates dedicated the majority of their speeches to
issues pertaining to Arab Americans, they also addressed broader
Addressing the rising costs of college tuition, Edwards said all
eligible students should be able to attend a state or community
college, even if they cannot afford the costs.
Moseley Braun said she would sponsor interest deductions on
college loans, and increases in federal Pell grants and loans.
Edwards also extended his support for affirmative action. His
support for civil rights draws on boyhood memories of segregation
and discrimination in the South “that are literally burned into my
head.” Edwards said, “We still have two public school systems in
much of the United States.” He proposed increasing teachers’
salaries, incentives for teaching in urban areas and scholarships
for teachers who commit to working in an urban environment.
Dean, Edwards and Moseley Braun voiced the need for universal
health coverage. “We must solve a unique situation in the
industrialized world that the U.S. has been held hostage to,”
Moseley Braun said, referring to the fact that the United States is
one of the few industrialized countries that does not have
universal health coverage.
If elected president, Edwards said he would target vulnerable
adults and provide health care to every child born in the country.
Edwards also pledged to close loopholes in the tax laws that
encourage companies to relocate overseas. Also, he said he would
provide incentives for companies that offer jobs in the United
States and implement a national venture-capital fund to subsidize
entrepreneurship in areas with high unemployment.
Regarding current economic policy, Moseley Braun advocated
rolling back the Bush tax cuts that were distributed last summer
and reinvesting the proceeds in job creation and economic
The candidates will debate Oct. 26 at the Fox Theater in