Bush accuses Kerry of ‘shameless scare tactics’
Associated Press Writers
ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (AP) – President Bush accused John Kerry on Monday of employing “shameless scare tactics” on Social Security and the military draft just before voters go to the polls. In an interview with The Associated Press, Bush also said he’d be disappointed if the Iraqi people chose an Islamic fundamentalist government in free elections, “but democracy is democracy.”
“If that’s what the people choose, that’s what the people choose,” the president said, two weeks before facing his own re-election.
Asked in a wide-ranging interview if Iran and North Korea pose bigger threats now with their nuclear programs than when he took office, Bush said, “No, I don’t.” But then he said, “Let me rephrase that.” He said the strategy he has followed “makes them less likely to take action that would make the world more dangerous.”
He insisted he would not bring back the military draft, even if there were a crisis with North Korea or Iran. “I believe we’ve got the assets and manpower necessary to be able to deal with another theater should one arise,” the president said.
In his first interview since his debates with Kerry, Bush sat in his cabin on Air Force One, relaxing in a leather chair on a flight from Washington to New Jersey with his suit jacket off. While Democrats have carried the state in the last three elections, Bush said, “We have a shot.”
The Kerry campaign returned Bush’s criticism on Social Security and the draft.
“These points aren’t scare tactics, they’re facts,” said spokesman Phil Singer. “The fact is that he hasn’t explained where he finds $2 trillion for his plan to privatize Social Security, and he hasn’t explained how he is going to address the fact that the military is overextended and forced thousands of soldiers to involuntarily extend their deployments.”
Bush joined Vice President Dick Cheney in criticizing Kerry for mentioning during last week’s debate that one of Cheney’s daughters was a lesbian. “I thought it was over the line,” the president said. The candidates had been asked if they thought homosexuality was a choice. Kerry said no and he thought Cheney’s daughter would agree. Bush said he didn’t know.
Two weeks before the election, Bush said government officials remained concerned about the possibility of a terrorist attack to disrupt the voting. “We have no specific threat information. Otherwise we would have let everybody know. On the other hand we are on alert,” he said, especially because of the train bombing in Madrid before Spain’s elections.
“We’ve got to be mindful that one of the tactics of the enemy has been to attack during an election,” Bush said.
He reacted with mock alarm to the possibility that the Nov. 2 election might be inconclusive, subject to recounts and court fights like the one four years ago.
“Having gone through one election that didn’t end until mid-December, I certainly hope we don’t have to go through another,” Bush said, chuckling. “And so, therefore we will do everything we can to maximize our vote.”
Bush declined to offer a view about the U.S. Army Reserve soldiers in Iraq who refused orders to drive a dangerous route and are now under investigation. “That’s up to the military,” the commander in chief said. “The military will take appropriate action on both their concerns as well as their actions. … As I understand it, it’s a very rare incident.” Bush served in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War but did not go overseas.
Accusing Kerry of trying to scare Americans, Bush said he would make it a top priority of a second term to overhaul Social Security and keep it solvent as the baby boom generation retires and drains the fund’s reserves.
“I think this is an issue that is profound in nature and it is one that requires another campaign to make it clear that we have a crisis for our children and our grandchildren,” Bush said. “I want the Congress to have heard from the people after this election.”
“One of the things that obviously we’re now being confronted with are shameless scare tactics,” Bush said. “My opponent has said to youngsters that if George W. is elected – re-elected, there will be a draft. The American people heard me in the debate say clearly we will not have a draft. We will have an all volunteer army.
“And then just yesterday he pulled out the same old tired Social Security card,” Bush said. “He’s trying to scare our seniors. I tell the people in my stump speech that in 2000 they tried the same thing, if George W. gets elected, seniors won’t get their checks. Seniors got their checks. Seniors will continue getting checks. But it is wrong to try to scare people going into the polls.”
Kerry said Sunday that Bush was planning a “January surprise” attempt to privatize Social Security if re-elected. The president has proposed allowing younger workers to invest a portion of their Social Security taxes in private retirement accounts. That plan would take money from the fund that pays Social Security benefits, and Bush has not explained whether he would cut benefits or take other steps to make up the lost money.
Bush said he had already taken steps toward an eventual overhaul of Social Security by setting up a commission in 2001 headed by the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
“The next step is to take that commission report, bring people together, and say this is a problem for our children,” Bush said.
Bush defended his approach to North Korea and Iran, even though both countries are believed to have advanced their nuclear programs during his administration. He brought China and other countries into talks with North Korea and said Monday that “when you have five nations talking directly to North Korea, it’s more effective than just one nation talking to North Korea.” He noted that the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Britain were also “directly in talks with the Iranians” about Tehran’s nuclear policies.
“Having said that, North Korea and Iran are dangerous,” he said.
He said that when it comes to North Korea, Kerry “thinks we ought to go back to the days of bilateral negotiations – which failed under President Clinton.”
“Bilateral negotiations will undermine the five-party coalition we have,” he said.