Debate three: domestic policy
It's been my contention that this election season isn't going to belong to domestic issues. The conventional wisdom about who's best for your wallet takes a back seat to finishing what we started in the war on terror. We've repeatedly been reminded what media post-analysis has declared to be the clinchers of elections past; jobs, income, economic growth, one domestic after another. I say that this year it's all bunk, MSM fantasies notwithstanding, and last night the candidates (and even Bob) agreed. Everyone was straining against the reins to dash off into foreign policy.
What else could the objective observer make of the debate? From the beginning, Schieffer's first question begged, whined, and pleaded for a foreign policy answer -
SCHIEFFER: Senator, I want to set the stage for this discussion by asking the question that I think hangs over all of our politics today and is probably on the minds of many people watching this debate tonight. And that is, will our children and grandchildren ever live in a world as safe and secure as the world in which we grew up?
Bob, in the world you grew up Hitler devoured half of Europe, the USSR swallowed a good chunk of the other half, and leftist ideology ignited nations across the globe claiming lives by the tens of millions in the process. Two superpowers developed enough weaponry to obliterate the planet many times over, we did air raid drills in elementary schools, and in areas high on the nuclear strike priority list children wore dog tags in the hope that someone could figure out where they'd been when they were incinerated. Our embassies were bombed, our people seized, and another psychopathic ideology was wedded to a religion and inflamed by bigoted demogoguery until it routinely spawned savage adherents bent on the murder of innocents across the planet. For God's sake Bob, when was that world ever safe?
Those of you playing along at home, simmer down - I know that what Bob really meant was "Please beat the living bejezus out of this dead horse, and remind us yet again what you've both said about homeland security a gazillion times", but he also knew that it would be a rocket back to Iraq and other topics from the foreign policy debates. This is a new debate, Bob, you don't need to segue.
SCHIEFFER: We are talking about protecting ourselves from the unexpected, but the flu season is suddenly upon us. Flu kills thousands of people every year. Suddenly we find ourselves with a severe shortage of flu vaccine. How did that happen?
Bush provides a very direct answer about the production contamination, and tangents slightly to discuss how law suits discourage more companies from providing vaccine. Kerry brings me the gold -
KERRY: This really underscores the problem with the American health-care system. It's not working for the American family. And it's gotten worse under President Bush over the course of the last years.
Five million Americans have lost their health insurance in this country. You've got about a million right here in Arizona, just shy, 950,000, who have no health insurance at all. 82,000 Arizonians lost their health insurance under President Bush's watch. 223,000 kids in Arizona have no health insurance at all.
All across our country -- go to Ohio, 1. 4 million Ohioans have no health insurance, 114,000 of them lost it under President Bush; Wisconsin, 82,000 Wisconsinites lost it under President Bush.
This president has turned his back on the wellness of America. And there is no system. In fact, it's starting to fall apart not because of lawsuits -- though they are a problem, and John Edwards and I are committed to fixing them -- but because of the larger issue that we don't cover Americans. Children across our country don't have health care. We're the richest country on the face of the planet, the only industrialized nation in the world not to do it.
I have a plan to cover all Americans. We're going to make it affordable and accessible. We're going to let everybody buy into the same health-care plan senators and congressmen give themselves.
Read that again to be sure that you really read it right - Kerry's pinning the vaccine shortage on a lack of health insurance. I have no idea how much vaccine health insurance creates annually, but I now suspect the answer would astound me. I would have been fascinated to hear what Bush 'turning his back on American wellness' has to do with vaccine shortages, but regrettably Kerry never addressed it.
Bush used a rebuttal to lay out the best line of the debate: "I want to remind people listening tonight that a plan is not a litany of complaints". He should have saved it for another 30-40 minutes, it would have thrown the momentum his way no matter what was happening.
SCHIEFFER: Senator Kerry, a new question. Let's talk about economic security. You pledged during the last debate that you would not raise taxes on those making less than $200,000 a year. But the price of everything is going up, and we all know it. Health-care costs, as you are talking about, is skyrocketing, the cost of the war.
My question is, how can you or any president, whoever is elected next time, keep that pledge without running this country deeper into debt and passing on more of the bills that we're running up to our children?
Kerry successfully turns this question into a reflection on pay-as-you-go, and tries to convince viewers that he's actually said where he'll come up with the money to pay for everything he wants to do. He'd like them to believe that latching onto the jugular of "the rich" will provide utopia - but that's hardly surprising for a liberal.
Bush makes an awful PayGo joke, spouts the same old lines about tax gaps and Kerry's voting, and finally gets to the point that his plans will feature targetted growth and restrained spending.
SCHIEFFER: You know, there are all kind of statistics out there, but I want to bring it down to an individual. Mr. President, what do you say to someone in this country who has lost his job to someone overseas who's being paid a fraction of what that job paid here in the United States?
Bush can't seem to decide whether this was a jobs or education question (indeed, he seems unclear that there is any distinction), and Kerry calls him on it.
KERRY: I want you to notice how the president switched away from jobs and started talking about education principally. Let me come back in one moment to that, but I want to speak for a second, if I can, to what the president said about fiscal responsibility.
Being lectured by the president on fiscal responsibility is a little bit like Tony Soprano talking to me about law and order in this country. This president has taken a $5. 6 trillion surplus and turned it into deficits as far as the eye can see. Health-care costs for the average American have gone up 64 percent; tuitions have gone up 35 percent; gasoline prices up 30 percent; Medicare premiums went up 17 percent a few days ago; prescription drugs are up 12 percent a year.
But guess what, America? The wages of Americans have gone down. The jobs that are being created in Arizona right now are paying about $13,700 less than the jobs that we're losing. And the president just walks on by this problem. The fact is that he's cut job-training money. $1 billion was cut. They only added a little bit back this year because it's an election year.
They've cut the Pell Grants and the Perkins loans to help kids be able to go to college. They've cut the training money. They've wound up not even extending unemployment benefits and not even extending health care to those people who are unemployed.
I'm going to do those things, because that's what's right in America: Help workers to transition in every respect.
If anyone can pry an actual answer to the question out of that, please comment. I'm just not sure what things he's saying he's going to do - cut Pell grants and Perkins loans? What? Then again, thanks to that horrendous oaf Schieffer, there wasn't really a question for Kerry - it was a question about offshoring targetted at Bush's performance, so Kerry was free to use it as a blank check to ride Bush's ass.
SCHIEFFER: You know, many experts say that a president really doesn't have much control over jobs. For example, if someone invents a machine that does the work of five people, that's progress. That's not the president's fault. So I ask you, is it fair to blame the administration entirely for this loss of jobs?
I have to give Kerry points for the first part of his answer. Even though the question invited a more intellectually dishonest answer, he came off the attack long enough to give an honest one.
KERRY: I don't blame them entirely for it. I blame the president for the things the president could do that has an impact on it. Outsourcing is going to happen. I've acknowledged that in union halls across the country. I've had shop stewards stand up and say, "Will you promise me you're going to stop all this outsourcing? "And I've looked them in the eye and I've said, "No, I can't do that. "
What I can promise you is that I will make the playing field as fair as possible, that I will, for instance, make certain that with respect to the tax system that you as a worker in America are not subsidizing the loss of your job.
It's too bad that the honesty stopped there.
Today, if you're an American business, you actually get a benefit for going overseas. You get to defer your taxes. So if you're looking at a competitive world, you say to yourself, "Hey, I do better overseas than I do here in America. "
That's not smart. I don't want American workers subsidizing the loss of their own job. And when I'm president, we're going to shut that loophole in a nanosecond and we're going to use that money to lower corporate tax rates in America for all corporations, 5 percent. And we're going to have a manufacturing jobs credit and a job hiring credit so we actually help people be able to hire here.
The second thing that we can do is provide a fair trade playing field. This president didn't stand up for Boeing when Airbus was violating international rules and subsidies. He discovered Boeing during the course of this campaign after I'd been talking about it for months.
Today, if you're any kind of business, you pay taxes wherever you make the profits. German courrier DHL is coming here to do business, and their US profits will be taxed in the US, not Germany. If American auto maker Chevrolet opens a plant in Germany, it will pay taxes in Germany, not the US.
Subjecting the Chevrolet plant to double taxation then is not creating a fair playing field - quite the opposite in fact, it's penalizing the American company for being an American company (punishing Americans for being American is a persistant Kerry theme). How many jobs does that company then have for anyone when tax gouging serves to make it uncompetitive?
Lower corporate tax rates may be a bullet point within any given company's choice to move operations abroad, but it pales in comparison to payroll expenses. Being gang raped for wages and benefits five to ten times higher than can be paid abroad is a driving force in moving jobs out of the US - lower taxes are just a perk. How about doing something about unions that justify their existance with little else but extortion anymore? Oh, wait, they donate and vote Democrat, don't they...
The fact is that the president had an opportunity to stand up and take on China for currency manipulation. There are companies that wanted to petition the administration. They were told: Don't even bother; we're not going to listen to it.
The fact is that there have been markets shut to us that we haven't stood up and fought for. I'm going to fight for a fair trade playing field for the American worker. And I will fight for the American worker just as hard as I fight for my own job. That's what the American worker wants. And if we do that, we can have an impact.
Plus, we need fiscal discipline. Restore fiscal discipline, we'll do a lot better.
China's currency policy is a genuine threat, but Kerry's straining to get back to foreign policy. Domestically, all we have is that he'll create a fair playing field for workers by raising costs on their employers; he'll get their companies into markets by pricing their products out of them. Have a seat John, I think your blood sugar's off.
SCHIEFFER: Both of you are opposed to gay marriage. But to understand how you have come to that conclusion, I want to ask you a more basic question. Do you believe homosexuality is a choice?
Simple question. Insightful question. Perhaps one of the most (only?) thought-provoking questions of the debate. Bush's answer, loosely - "I don't know, but we should respect and treat them fairly either way." Kerry's answer, loosely - "No, Cheney's daughter is a dyke. Not that there's anything wrong with that." The "Low-Class Contrievance" prize goes to Kerry, and he knew it - he was visibly trying to talk himself out of saying it as he was saying it.
SCHIEFFER: Senator Kerry, a new question for you. The New York Times reports that some Catholic archbishops are telling their church members that it would be a sin to vote for a candidate like you because you support a woman's right to choose an abortion and unlimited stem-cell research. What is your reaction to that?
KERRY: I respect their views. I completely respect their views. I am a Catholic. And I grew up learning how to respect those views. But I disagree with them, as do many.
I believe that I can't legislate or transfer to another American citizen my article of faith. What is an article of faith for me is not something that I can legislate on somebody who doesn't share that article of faith. I believe that choice is a woman's choice. It's between a woman, God and her doctor. And that's why I support that. Now, I will not allow somebody to come in and change Roe v. Wade.
I'll leapfrog the complete absence of any role for a President in Supreme Court decisions so that I can harp on the key gripe with this reply. I can respect the integrity of someone who says that a fetus is not life, so abortion is ok, and I can respect the integrity of someone who says it's a life from conception, so abortion is not ok, but even today he does not seem to even grasp the extent of moral equivocation required to say "I believe that abortion is infanticide, but I think infanticide should be ok for people who disagree." To claim such a position is to disavow any claim to the sanctity of innocent life. This position above all others nails the 'hypocrite' label to Kerry's forehead.
BUSH: I think it's important to promote a culture of life. I think a hospitable society is a society where every being counts and every person matters. I believe the ideal world is one in which every child is protected in law and welcomed to life. I understand there's great differences on this issue of abortion, but I believe reasonable people can come together and put good law in place that will help reduce the number of abortions.
That was the gist of his whole answer, and he even forged an opportunity to compliment Teresa in the process; a glaring contrast to "Cheney's daughter's gay."
SCHIEFFER: Health insurance costs have risen over 36 percent over the last four years according to The Washington Post. We're paying more. We're getting less. I would like to ask you: Who bears responsibility for this? Is it the government? Is it the insurance companies? Is it the lawyers? Is it the doctors? Is it the administration?
BUSH: There's a systemic problem. Health-care costs are on the rise because the consumers are not involved in the decision-making process. Most health-care costs are covered by third parties. And therefore, the actual user of health care is not the purchaser of health care. And there's no market forces involved with health care.
The emphasis above highlights what I think we'll see becoming a greater component of discussion on health care in coming days. Health care professionals are more than willing to talk about cost and quality issues from their perspective, and the lack of decision power in the hands of patients and providers is a recurring theme in both. There's an interesting idea that both costs and quality could be brought into dramatically more favorable positions by realigning the relevant systems in health care, but that's a whole different post - in the meantime, keep an eye out for discussion of this angle of the issue.
The rest of his answer was health savings accounts, tort reform, and some badly phrased prattling about medicine's information infrastructure. Kerry on the other hand bemoaned the administration's refusal to eliminate new drug development.
SCHIEFFER: You have, as you have proposed and as the president has commented on tonight, proposed a massive plan to extend health-care coverage to children. You're also talking about the government picking up a big part of the catastrophic bills that people get at the hospital. And you have said that you can pay for this by rolling back the president's tax cut on the upper 2 percent. You heard the president say earlier tonight that it's going to cost a whole lot more money than that. I'd just ask you, where are you going to get the money?
In the short form, that says "I don't think you've denied this strenuously enough. Do so now." Kerry obliges. Bush aborts a snide swipe at the MSM a bit too late.
SCHIEFFER: We all know that Social Security is running out of money, and it has to be fixed. You have proposed to fix it by letting people put some of the money collected to pay benefits into private savings accounts. But the critics are saying that's going to mean finding $1 trillion over the next 10 years to continue paying benefits as those accounts are being set up. So where do you get the money? Are you going to have to increase the deficit by that much over 10 years?
Bush gives an assurance to seniors, and then floats the totally wacky notion that maybe Social Security funds could be accruing compound interest. Kerry pipes up to complain that doing so would be paying the piper for ever getting suckered into this ponzi scheme, and insists that he can find a way to dodge the piper for presumably at least one term.
SCHIEFFER: Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, says there's no way that Social Security can pay retirees what we have promised them unless we recalibrate. What he's suggesting, we're going to cut benefits or we're going to have to raise the retirement age. We may have to take some other reform. But if you've just said, you've promised no changes, does that mean you're just going to leave this as a problem, another problem for our children to solve?
Why yes, Bob, it does.
KERRY: Not at all. Absolutely not, Bob. This is the same thing we heard -- remember, I appeared on "Meet the Press" with Tim Russert in 1990-something. We heard the same thing. We fixed it. In fact, we put together a $5. 6 trillion surplus in the '90s that was for the purpose of saving Social Security.
Well no, John, you didn't "fix it". If you'd fixed it, there wouldn't be a problem lingering today, would there? You may have accomplished a surplus (and by "you", I refer to congress and the Gingrich-led budgets that the Republican congress laid on Clinton's desk), but you didn't use the surplus to jump Social Security into some track with a more fiscally sound model than simply continuing to pay it out of the general fund.
Kerry followed this up with more whining about Bush taking his foot off the throat of "the rich", and yammering about jobs. Bush answered this (yet another) non-question by refuting the class envy tax cut rhetoric.
SCHIEFFER: I'm told that at least 8,000 people cross our borders illegally every day. Some people believe this is a security issue, as you know. Some believe it's an economic issue. Some see it as a human-rights issue. How do you see it? And what do we need to do about it?
Bush: "We're working on it." Kerry: "Middle-class families have higher tax burdens, and tax cuts wiped out by health care costs and tuition increases, and incomes are lower. Oh, yeah - and I'll work on that alien thing."
Kerry and Edwards marvel at this phenomenon of things becoming more expensive over time. They seem to harbor some suspicion that it is reasonable for the costs of all things to remain fixed, or trend downward. They just can't fathom how something could reasonably be more expensive today than it's ever been. Who wants to tell 'em?
SCHIEFFER: The gap between rich and poor is growing wider. More people are dropping into poverty. Yet the minimum wage has been stuck at, what, $5. 15 an hour now for about seven years. Is it time to raise it?
Perhaps it's time to raise it, Bob, and then again perhaps it's not. The whole premise that minimum wage is pegged to any gap between rich and poor isn't entirely flawed, but is misleading; at the very least, it's inappropriate for the question to assume the premise. Since raising minimum wage raises the cost of every single thing whose cost includes the salaries of minimum wagers, the overall effect is to diminish the buying power of everyone by a similar proportion.
Kerry proposes to gradually raise minimum wage from $5.15 to $7. This will raise the labor cost of any good or service relying on minimum wage labor by over 1/3, and many common consumer goods have the cost of minimum wage built into them several times. As increased costs fall on businesses, increased prices trickle into the market in response - the gains of minimum wagers are eroded by... the gains of minimum wagers. On the other hand, the person earning $7 now is making almost $2 above minimum wage; they will then find themself making only minimum wage.
Minimum wagers see their buying power increase only until the increased cost of goods trickles into the market; thereafter they're hardly better off, and everyone else is worse off. The greatest impact is, of course, on families and those who have managed to just get their heads above water in the first place.
This isn't to say that minimum wage increases don't have their place in a sensible policy; perhaps it is time to raise it. To suggest however that a raise has anything to with 'narrowing the gap between rich and poor' carries the implied suggestion that it pulls the poor closer to wealth; the reality is that it pulls everyone but minimum wagers closer to poverty. That's not an improvement.
The rest of Kerry's response - he pretends that the increase results in increased buying power, tries to rekindle the battle of the sexes, and whines about the tax cut again. Bush thinks it's another education question.
SCHIEFFER: Mr. President, I want to go back to something Senator Kerry said earlier tonight and ask a follow-up of my own. He said -- and this will be a new question to you -- he said that you had never said whether you would like to overturn Roe v. Wade. So I'd ask you directly, would you like to?
BUSH: What he's asking me is, will I have a litmus test for my judges? And the answer is, no, I will not have a litmus test. I will pick judges who will interpret the Constitution, but I'll have no litmus test.
KERRY: Well, again, the president didn't answer the question.
Yes, John, he did. He gave the most appropriate answer to the question that he could. It is not within the scope of a President's power to overturn Supreme Court decisions. A President's only legitimate input into the process is arguably engineering a desired ideological balance with judicial selections. That's why y'all threw a hissy fit over Estrada, remember? It's inappropriate to make judicial appointments based on ideology, or a judge's position on one particular decision or issue.
I don't think I'd have to do much digging into the ethics of this issue to discover that there is no exemption for Democrats, but Kerry declared that he would nominate to protect abortion. He proceeded to lament the jobless rate among blacks, high school dropout rate of hispanics, and his six dozenth jab at No Child Left Behind funding. I'm still trying to divine the connection to Roe vs. Wade. In the sequence of rebuttals, Kerry whaps me with a stunner -
KERRY: You don't measure it by a percentage [funding] increase, Mr. President, you measure it by whether you're getting the job done.
Then why do you manufacture opportunities to state that "Bush has underfunded" No Child Left Behind every chance you get, and diminish the results of the program? Why is it that whenever someone suggests that we test teachers to see if they're getting the job done, Democrats react as if slapped? Why is it that any complaint about education is met by your party with a stock response of "throw more money at it"? It doesn't have anything to do with the teacher's union voting Democrat, does it?
SCHIEFFER: Senator, the last debate, President Bush said he did not favor a draft. You agreed with him. But our National Guard and Reserve forces are being severely strained because many of them are being held beyond their enlistments. Some of them say that it's a back-door draft. Is there any relief that could be offered to these brave Americans and their families?
If you became president, Senator Kerry, what would you do about this situation of holding National Guard and Reservists for these extended periods of time and these repeated call-ups that they're now facing?
I can understand how National Guardsmen and Reservists could get comfortable with earning a check and benefits for the advertised one weekend a month, and how they are inconvenienced -- severely in many cases -- by call-ups. I'd really prefer that my commitment remained one weekend a month were I in their shoes. I just can't empathise with someone who is shocked to discover that the job they sought in the armed forces turned out to be a job in the armed forces.
Your question wasn't about that though, it was about giving Kerry a clear invitation to use the phrases "stop-loss policy" and "back door draft", while opening a channel back into foreign policy. Kerry wouldn't miss it for the world, and furthermore reminds us that "the president broke faith to the American people in the way that he took this nation to war", and Bush took "his eye off of Osama bin Laden". Bush counters with the increasing role of Iraqis, an anecdote about Reservists, and slaps Kerry with the Global Test again.
SCHIEFFER: You said that if Congress would vote to extend the ban on assault weapons, that you'd sign the legislation, but you did nothing to encourage the Congress to extend it. Why not?
Bush panders to pro- and anti-gun factions, followed by Kerry pandering to pro- and anti-gun factions.
SCHIEFFER: Affirmative action: Do you see a need for affirmative action programs, or have we moved far enough along that we no longer need to use race and gender as a factor in school admissions and federal and state contracts and so on?
Of course he does, Bob. An article of liberal Democrat faith is that progressing beyond racial discrimination requires institutionalizing racial discrimination. Bush goes back to
SCHIEFFER: You were asked before the invasion, or after the invasion, of Iraq if you'd checked with your dad. And I believe, I don't remember the quote exactly, but I believe you said you had checked with a higher authority. I would like to ask you, what part does your faith play on your policy decisions?
Since Bush didn't answer "I legislate from the scripture" or "God plants instructions directly into my brain", the answer doesn't really mattter. Kerry, on the other hand, has heard of God and successfully says he respects Bush's faith (that is, without getting hit by lightning).
SCHIEFFER: Senator Kerry, after 9/11 -- and this is a new question for you -- it seemed to me that the country came together as I've never seen it come together since World War II. But some of that seems to have melted away. I think it's fair to say we've become pretty polarized, perhaps because of the political season.
But if you were elected president, or whoever is elected president, will you set a priority in trying to bring the nation back together? Or what would be your attitude on that?
More points to Kerry - he pays a classy compliment to Bush here. Not enough to take the pall off of the Dyke Cheney remark, but it sounded genuine. However, the question forces him to pretend that division in this country isn't inflamed by Democrats' increasingly shrill driving of wedges between any two groups available, or that divisiveness isn't a mainstay of its populist appeal. He didn't convince any conservatives. Bush charitably points out bipartisan efforts, and the fact that there was division in 2000 also. He seems to be prempting an accusation that he had something to do with division.
SCHIEFFER: We've come, gentlemen, to our last question. And it occurred to me as I came to this debate tonight that the three of us share something. All three of us are surrounded by very strong women. We're all married to strong women. Each of us have two daughters that make us very proud. I'd like to ask each of you, what is the most important thing you've learned from these strong women?
It's a soft fat one over the plate, and both candidates knocked it over the wall (though there's little doubt Bush hit his farther). Each worked in a good parting joke. Bush, as ever when discussing his family, came across as very genuine; in comparison, Kerry came off a bit contrieved. He revealed that he sometimes takes himself too seriously (no, really), and got in one more compliment to the Bush family without looking like Eddie Haskel.