DETROIT – Democrat John Kerry on Wednesday delivered a stinging indictment of President Bush’s economic record, charging the president has offered “more excuses than jobs” and presided over record employment losses and a swollen deficit.
In a speech to the Detroit Economic Club, a traditional stop for presidential candidates, Kerry cast himself as “an entrepreneurial Democrat” and said Bush “consciously, willfully” turned the $5.6 trillion surplus he inherited into a deficit that former Clinton administration Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin said has climbed to more than $9 trillion.
Kerry said his rival’s “failed policies” have reversed economic gains won during the Clinton administration and hit the middle class particularly hard.
“Now the president wants you to believe that this record is the record of the victim of circumstances, the result of bad luck, not bad decisions,” Kerry said, adding that of the last 13 presidents, Bush is the only one to have seen the number of jobs decline during his administration.
“This president has created more excuses than jobs. His is the excuse presidency: Never wrong, never responsible, never to blame … He’s blamed just about everybody but himself and his administration for America’s economic problems as well as other problems like Abu Ghraib,” Kerry said.
The speech was remarkable less for its specific proposals – it recited plans Kerry has previously unveiled – than for its hard-nosed rhetoric, which was tougher than any of his earlier critiques of Bush’s economic policies.
Earlier, in an interview with radio host Don Imus, Kerry also sought to deliver a more definitive pronouncement on Iraq, saying nothing has occurred that would have led him to exercise the authority Congress granted Bush to take the nation to war.
Even so, Kerry defended his vote in support of giving Bush that authority. He said Bush deceived the American public about the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
The formulation altered in a politically significant way Kerry’s statement in August that he still would have voted to authorize the Iraq war even if he had known that weapons of mass destruction were not to be found. In contending that no circumstances justified actually going to war, the senator shifted the focus back on the president.
In the radio interview, Kerry vowed to take on his rival in other ways. “We are punching back. I am absolutely taking the gloves off,” Kerry said.
The exchange and the speech seemed to answer the recent urgings of Kerry’s Democratic allies to respond more robustly to Bush and answer questions raised by an outside group about the Massachusetts senator’s Vietnam record.
On Iraq, Kerry told Imus that he would bring stability where Bush has not. “This president is making it tougher every single day by just not understanding and not being honest about what’s going on,” he said.
The Bush campaign wasted no time in responding. Ken Mehlman, Bush’s campaign manager, said Kerry’s Iraq comments, taken with his vote to give Bush war authority and another against the more than $87 billion to fund that effort, have devolved “into complete and total incoherence.”
In a telephone news conference, Mehlman quoted Imus as saying after the interview, ” ‘I asked him a number of questions about Iraq and I can’t tell you what he said.’ “
Mehlman said Kerry’s comments on the economy painted “more pessimism” and offered only “rehashed old, tired ideas of higher taxes, of more regulation and of more government control of people’s lives.” He stressed that 1.7 million jobs have been created this year, leaving aside the jobs lost since Bush took office.
Kerry, during a raucous rally later in Madison, Wis., another pivotal state, vowed to fight a more effective war on terror than Bush.