On Oct. 3, Democratic presidential hopeful, John Kerry, clashed with Republican incumbent, George W. Bush, in the first of three policy debates.
The debate, which was held at the University of Miami and moderated by Jim Leher of PBS’ ‘NewsHour,’ focused on foreign policy, with two future debates slated to outline the candidates’ domestic policies.
The war in Iraq and the ongoing threat of terrorism were key issues in the debate.
Bush defended the war in Iraq as a necessary response to terrorist threats and repeatedly asserted that taking Saddam Hussein out of power was the right thing to do.
‘A free Iraq will be an ally in the war on terror, and that’s essential,’ Bush said. ‘A free Iraq will set a powerful example in the part of the world that is desperate for freedom … A free Iraq is essential for the security of this country.’
Kerry, meanwhile, attacked Bush for diverting American resources from the war in Afghanistan, saying that Bush made ‘a colossal error of judgment.’
‘We have to be smart,’ Kerry said. ‘Smart means not diverting your attention from the real war on terror in Afghanistan against Osama bin Laden and taking it off to Iraq where the 9-11 commission confirms there was no connection to 9-11 itself.’
Kerry also criticized Bush for mismanaging the war in Iraq by forsaking a policy of forming strategic alliances and, instead, assuming nearly all of the responsibility for carrying out an extremely costly war.
‘[Bush said] to America that he was going to build a true alliance, that he would exhaust the remedies of the United Nations and go through the inspections,’ Kerry said.
However, according to Kerry, Bush failed to live up to his promises, and the alliances that he spoke of were far weaker than Americans were led to believe.
‘On the day that we went into that war … it was principally the United States of America, Great Britain and one or two others,’ Kerry said. ‘Today we are 90 percent of the casualties and 90 percent of the costs.’
Bush countered that ‘there [are] 30 nations involved, standing side by side with our American troops,’ and accused Kerry of ‘denigrat[ing] the contributions of those who are serving … with American troops in Iraq.’
Supporters of both Kerry and Bush claimed the debate as a victory for each candidate, but polls taken shortly after the debate showed Kerry as the winner.
This was a positive sign for democrats, for whom John Kerry’s declining poll numbers had been somewhat disheartening.
‘I thought Kerry made a good presentation of how he stood on the issues, which I was a little unclear on before,’ said John Lee, a second-year history major. ‘Now, I’m much more comfortable with him as a candidate. Compared to Bush, he seemed much more presidential. He kept his composure at the end when it seemed that Bush was just grasping at straws.’
Bush was not without student support, however.
‘Kerry repeatedly would not answer the questions,’ said Chase Heibel, a first-year biology major. ‘He tried to follow up on previous questions or ignored them. Bush stuck by his convictions and answered the same way all along.’
Steven Mailloux, a professor of English and comparative literature and UCI Chancellor’s Professor of Rhetoric, said that the debate was difficult to call.
‘What I saw was a draw,’ Mailloux said. ‘There were no major gaffs and we saw that each candidate had different strengths. What came across was two different visions of national policy