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Candidates Drive Their Message Home

Jana Rogers

With sometimes evasive answers and more mudslinging, President
Bush and Sen. John Kerry covered topics from homeland security to
same-sex marriage.

Kerry offered “tested, strong leadership that can calm the
waters of a troubled world,” and Bush said his “hope for American
is a prosperous America, a hopeful America and a safer world” when
the candidates answered questions from Bob Schieffer of CBS News at
the third and final presidential debate, Oct. 13 at Arizona State
University in Tempe.

On an issue important to many Mills students, Kerry said Pell
Grants and Perkins Loans have been cut, but Bush said grants have
increased. The non-partisan Web site said that
Kerry was incorrect, and though the total Pell Grant award limit
has not risen to $5,100 for first-year students as Bush promised in
his first campaign, the limit has risen by $750, with total
spending increased from around $8 billion his first year in office
to $12.7 billion three years later. There is a total of 5.1 million
students receiving Pell Grants, an increase of 1.3 million students
since Bush took office.

On abortion and embryonic stem cell research, Kerry said that
though he is Catholic, he “can’t legislate or transfer…my article
of faith.” The president has never said whether he will defend Roe
v. Wade, Kerry said, adding, “I will defend the right of Roe v.

Bush said, “the ideal world is one in which every child is
protected in law and welcomed to life,” and that “reasonable people
can come together and put good law into place that will help reduce
the number of abortions.” He said he will continue to promote
abstinence programs, adoption laws, and maternity group homes.

Addressing the divisive issue of marriage for same-sex couples,
Schieffer asked the candidates if they believed homosexuality is a
choice. Bush said he didn’t know, but “as we respect someone’s
rights and as we profess tolerance, we shouldn’t change or have to
change our basic views on the sanctity of marriage.” He said he
proposed the federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex
marriage because he was worried about “activist judges” redefining
marriage, and concerned that the Defense of Marriage Act would be

Kerry said, “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…who
she was born as.” He added that he and the president share the
belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, but “you can’t
discriminate in the rights that you afford people.” The comment set
off a firestorm of response from Republicans, who’d said little
when Edwards made a similar comment during the vice presidential
debate, but criticized Kerry for bringing up Mary Cheney.

Schieffer opened the debate with a question to Kerry on homeland
security: “Will our children and grandchildren ever live in a world
as safe and secure as the world in which we grew up?” Kerry again
said that he “will hunt them [terrorists] down and kill them” and
that he would wage a “smarter, more effective war on terror” and
build stronger alliances.

Responding, Bush said, “We can be safe and secure if we stay on
the offense…and if we spread freedom and liberty around the
world.” He stated that, “three-quarters of Al Qaeda leaders have
been brought to justice” and security in the long run “takes good
strong leadership.”

Countering that Bush took his focus off of Osama bin Laden,
Kerry quoted Bush as saying, ” ‘I don’t really think about him very
much. I’m not that concerned.'” Bush said he didn’t think he’d ever
said that, and that Kerry was exaggerating, but Bush was taped in
March 2002 at a White House news conference saying, “I just don’t
spend that much time on him…I truly am not that concerned about

On the economy, the candidates addressed Social Security and
minimum wage, and repeated several other points from previous
debates. Bush proposed a plan to allow younger workers to deposit
Social Security benefits money into private savings accounts with
better interest rates, but that senior citizens will continue
receiving their checks.

Calling the plan “an invitation to disaster,” Kerry said it
would leave a $2 trillion hole and the bipartisan Congressional
Budget Office said there would have to be a cut in benefits from 25
to 40 percent. The solution is not privatization according to
Kerry, and Bush’s “tax cut that went to the top one percent of
America would have saved Social Security until the year 2075.”

Asked about minimum wage, Kerry said a raise is long overdue and
pledged to raise it to $7/hour, and pointing to the wage disparity
of women earning 76 cents to a man’s dollar, said that alone would
earn 9.2 million women another $3,800 a year. In response Bush said
what’s really important for the worker is “to make sure the
education system works,” and that the No Child Left Behind Act “is
really a jobs act.”

Kerry again said he would repeal the tax cut for those earning
over $200,000 a year and shut corporate loopholes that give tax
breaks for sending work overseas. Bush said the answer to jobs lost
to outsourcing is “help for you to go get an education…help for
you to go to a community college.”

Schieffer asked the president about the shortage of flu vaccines
(see related story pg 13), and Bush said that “about half of the
flu vaccines for the United States…was contaminated” by the
company in England producing them.

Kerry’s response focused on the number of Americans who have
lost health insurance during Bush’s administration, and said his
health care plan would be “affordable and accessible.” Bush said
Kerry’s “proposed $2.2 trillion of new spending” would be paid for
by the middle-class, to which Kerry later responded, “Being
lectured by the president on fiscal responsibility is a little bit
like Tony Soprano talking to me about law and order in this