President Bush and Democratic nominee John Kerry clashed for the
third and final time in last night’s debate, focusing on
domestic issues and broaching foreign policy as well.

Laura Wong
LSA seniors Lauren Hornes, left, and Christen Johnson, right, watch the presidential debate in the MLK lounge of Bursley Residence Hall at an event hosted by the fraternity Omega Psi Phi last night.

One of the major points of contention in the debate was fiscal
discipline, with each candidate accusing the other of being more
irresponsible with government spending. Kerry criticized
Bush’s tax cuts as “unaffordable” and said his
spending increases have contributed to unacceptable deficit
levels.

“We’re going to restore the fiscal discipline we had
in the 1990s,” Kerry said. “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.”

Bush responded that Kerry’s “rhetoric doesn’t
match his record” in the Senate, claiming that the Mass.
senator has voted to increase taxes 98 times and that Kerry’s
spending proposals will cost $2.2 trillion.

College Republicans member Kevin Olson watched the debate at a
bipartisan event hosted by the American Movement for Israel at the
University Hillel. Olson, an Engineering freshman, said he did not
blame the president for the record-breaking deficit.

“Any president in office during 9/11 would face the same
problems,” he said.

The two candidates presented a clear contrast on health care,
with Bush promoting his health savings accounts — which would
allow individuals to save tax-free money toward health-care costs
— and Kerry defending his plan for expanded federally funded
health care from Bush’s attacks.

Continuing the theme of his recent attacks against Kerry’s
plan, Bush characterized it as “federally controlled health
care” and said it would lead to rationing and less choice.
Bush also depicted Kerry’s plan as over-ambitious and
expensive.

Kerry argued that his plan is optimal and gives Americans more
choices, adding that Bush’s characterization of his
health-care plan has been called incorrect by two major television
news networks. Bush dismissed that line of argument, saying,
“In all due respect, I’m not so sure it’s
credible to quote leading news organizations about — oh,
never mind.”

According to Factcheck.org, a nonpartisan website run by the
University of Pennsylvania, Bush’s depictions of
Kerry’s plan have been “grossly misleading.” The
website’s report said Kerry’s plan would not result in
a government takeover of health care, but “leave 97 percent
with the insurance they have now — while up to 27 million who
aren’t insured would gain coverage.”

Engineering student Micah Druckman, who also attended the
AMI-sponsored debate watch, said, “I think (Kerry) would be
able to implement his health care plan using revenue from repealing
high-income tax cuts.”

But Olson, expressed doubt over Kerry’s health care plan.
“John Kerry is right in that he wants to fix (health care). I
don’t think he has a legitimate plan to fix Medicare,”
he said.

At times, the debate turned to issues mostly unrelated to
domestic policy, which was the theme of last night’s debate.
At one point Kerry attacked Bush for saying in 2002 that he was not
concerned about capturing Osama bin Laden. “We need a
president who stays deadly focused on the real war on
terror,” Kerry said.

Bush denied having made such a remark: “Gosh, I just
don’t think I ever said I’m not worried about Osama bin
Laden. It’s kind of one of those exaggerations.”

But according to a White House transcript, Bush said in a press
conference in 2002 in response to a question about bin Laden,
“I don’t know where he is … I truly am not that
concerned about him.”

When the debate turned to the contentious issue of gay marriage,
CBS moderator Bob Schieffer asked the candidates whether they
consider homosexuality a choice.

Kerry’s answer was unequivocal. “We’re all
God’s children,” he said. “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 just don’t know,” Bush said. “I do
know that we have a choice to make in America and that is to treat
people with tolerance and respect and dignity.”

The Democratic nominee also accused the president of pursuing
policies that encourage firms to outsource jobs. In a survey of 100
economists published in the latest Economist magazine, a majority
of the scholars queried said they did not view outsourcing as a
major problem.

“If it’s such a small fraction of jobs lost,
it’s not something that should be focused on so much,”
Druckman said.

Schiefer sparked argument when he asked whether a lack of
presidential effort was to blame for Congress’s failure to
renew the assault-weapons ban.

“I believe it was a failure of presidential leadership not
to reauthorize the assault-weapons ban,” Kerry said.

Bush countered that bipartisan opposition in Congress prevented
renewal of the ban.

Students who attended a debate watch and discussion hosted by
black fraternity Omega Psi Phi in the MLK Lounge of Bursley
Residence Hall had mixed reactions to the debate. “Bush never
answered a question tonight. His policies contradict everything he
said tonight,” said LSA freshman Janee Moore.

LSA junior Evelyn Lucas-Perry also attended the event. She
walked into the debate as an undecided voter and said she remains
undecided after having watched it.

“I think some things Kerry said didn’t address the
issues that concern me as an African American,” she said.
“A lot of Kerry’s plan seemed unrealistic. The debate
didn’t swing me either way.”

In a CBS News poll conducted among undecided voters immediately
following the debate 39 percent identified Kerry as the winner,
while 36 percent of respondents called it a tie. Twenty-five
percent of the respondents said Bush won the debate.

 

—Daily Staff Reporter Farayha Arrine contributed to
this article

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