CHICAGO – There were biting rhetorical jabs, a few flashes of spontaneity and plenty of frowns between the two podiums.
But when it came to the facts, the first of three presidential debates didn’t always shoot straight down the fairway Thursday, potentially leaving voters confused, misinformed or frustrated.
As tens of millions of Americans watched on television, President Bush reprised a standard attack from his stump speech, as he presented Sen. John Kerry as a flip-flopper who once said he “actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.”
The quote, something Kerry has acknowledged as an inarticulate moment, was in reference to a military funding bill that included money for troops in Iraq.
But the reality is a little more complex. The senator did vote for an amendment approving the money, but only if it was paid for by repealing tax cuts pushed by Bush. When that proposal failed, Kerry voted against the bill to protest what he considered a flawed and costly war.
The two candidates continued their sharp disagreement about how Bush led the nation to war and whether effective plans were in place for what to do after Saddam Hussein was toppled from power.
Although Bush did seek United Nations approval before invading Iraq, the White House moved rapidly from diplomacy to prewar mobilization. As other nations suggested alternatives that would have allowed inspectors to continue working, Bush rejected such suggestions. Weapons of mass destruction so far have not been found inside Iraq, even though Bush based much of the run-up to war on the premise that they were there.
While Kerry has tried to suggest that Bush falsely used alleged weapons of mass destruction to take the nation to war, there was a consensus before the war among experts that Iraq did have at least some of the weapons.
Bush, for his part, presented himself as a strong advocate for the Department of Homeland Security. While he did create the department, he initially resisted congressional demands to do so.