DETROIT – During his 1992 presidential campaign, former President Bill Clinton captured the gist of his agenda in a sentence – “It’s the economy, stupid.”
Now, in preview of the 2004 presidential primaries, U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is trying to win his party’s nomination with a similar message.
Addressing several hundred of his supporters – which included Michigan residents, members of the Detroit Economic Club and some high school students – at the DEC yesterday, Kerry made his case for the presidency by proposing his own roadmap to relieve the nation’s economic malaise.
Focusing his speech on reviving manufacturing jobs across the nation and in Michigan – which has a higher unemployment rate than nearly any other state – Kerry said tax breaks, investing in new technologies, encouraging firms to produce domestically and decreasing health care costs will help restore private production.
“While some see Detroit and Michigan as relics of America’s economic past, I believe that you are on the frontlines of America’s economic future,” he said. ” Manufacturing is at the heart of my economic plan because it is at the heart of the hopes and troubles and realities of the 21st century American economy we have entered.”
Kerry, who is now serving his fourth term as senator, touts a diverse professional background in politics and law. Prior to his election to the Senate in 1984, he served as a Massachusetts prosecutor and then lieutenant governor of the state in 1982. Once elected to Congress, he served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – a position he claims as having given him the experience necessary to construct a sound foreign policy. He has also chaired the Senate Small Business Committee.
“No on-the-job training for this candidate,” he said.
In addition to offering improvements to the economy, Kerry drew from his foreign relations experience during his speech to evaluate President Bush’s post-war management of Iraq.
“As important that it is we hold Saddam accountable and enforce U.N. resolutions, it is important to do it right,” he said, citing United Nations resolutions commanding Iraq to terminate its nuclear arsenal and comply with weapons inspections. “What we need to do is internationalize this effort to the greatest degree possible.”
Although Kerry has lambasted Bush’s post-war policies, he originally cast his vote in favor of the preemptive strikes.
With respect to industry, Kerry cited Michigan’s mammoth auto industry as a target of economic growth for his presidency.
“I believe Michigan – the nation’s industrial heart – will lead the way as it has before,” he said, adding that one out of every six manufacturing jobs in Michigan have been cut since 2001. “I know who I want to build that car (of the future) – I want it built in America, in Michigan and by the (United Auto Workers).”
From 1987 through 2001, manufacturing has normally generated the third highest output of any industry in the private sector, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. The U.S. Census Bureau lists Michigan as having the sixth highest number of manufacturing firms of any state in 2001.
“Historically, (manufacturing) has had a greater multiplier effect on our economy as a whole than any other sector,” Kerry said.
To create more jobs and encourage businesses to employ more workers, Kerry said his plan calls for a combination of tax incentives for manufacturers who choose to cement their operations on American soil. He also cited the need to eliminate taxes on investment returns in order to encourage entrepreneurship among small businesses.
“I will restore funds to give mid-sized and small manufacturers the help they need to succeed,” he said. “The manufacturing jobs of today require 21st century skills.”
In addition to training workers for new economy jobs, Kerry said he supports giving tax relief to businesses investing in new technologies.
“So that businesses can plan and our economy can grow, I will make the research and development tax credit permanent,” he said. “The manufacturing jobs of the future depend on discovery – and we need to do more to create them.”
While Kerry said he supports President Bush’s tax cuts to middle-class families – fiscal measures usually backed by Republicans – he added that under the current administration “we have the weakest economic growth … in more than 50 years.”
In addition to recovering manufacturing jobs, Kerry said he plans to regain all 3.1 million jobs lost under Bush within the first 500 days of his presidency.
“For nearly a thousand days, George Bush stood by as 20 percent of this state’s manufacturing jobs disappeared in just three years,” he said.
Kerry also said Bush precipitated drops in manufacturing by coddling nations like China and Japan who abuse trade laws and “(manipulate) their currency” to sustain its value.
“Instead of raising his voice, George Bush has been sitting on his hands,” he said. “I believe trade is essential to our economic future – but free trade doesn’t mean a free ride for those that break the rules. … As president, I’ll take on countries that are manipulating their currency to undermine American exports.”
Finally, Kerry cited a health care plan that would mitigate the burgeoning costs of health care for employers and workers. His policy includes more government health care discounts, malpractice reforms and cuts in administrative costs.
Although he officially announced his candidacy Sept. 3, Kerry has ranked consistently behind key Democratic opponent Howard Dean in voter polls since August. And a Newsweek poll released yesterday shows retired Gen. Wesley Clark – former supreme allied commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – gathering the support of 14 percent of Democrat supporters, with Dean and U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) drawing 12 percent and Kerry taking 10 percent of supporters polled.
Kerry has also come up short in campaign fundraising, according to aides. While Dean is expected to have raised more than $20 million by Sept. 30, Kerry’s aides project their funds at $16 million.
But Kerry’s supporters said they are somewhat skeptical of national polls and added that Kerry has the knowledge and appeal to trump even his most affluent opponents.
“Senator Kerry will have what we need … to win the nomination,” said Robert Gibbs, Kerry’s press secretary.