Misstatements risen to the status of classics in last debate, and some fresh ones too
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) – The last presidential debate highlighted words President Bush forgot he had spoken, a meeting John Kerry thought never happened, but did, and a refusal on both sides to back off questionable statements that have practically become classics through repetition.
Kerry claimed once more that Bush has lost 1.6 million jobs, about twice as many as have actually disappeared. The persistent discrepancy comes from his not saying that the losses he speaks of are in the private sector, and are mitigated by job gains in public service. He let go of another regular misstatement, however, this time using an accurate figure on the cost of the Iraq war.
Bush again declared of his opponent, “He voted to increase taxes 98 times,” which should not be taken at all to mean Kerry has voted for that many tax increases. Independent analysis has found the list of 98 includes multiple votes for single measures and votes that set targets without having any effect on the tax code.
Beyond those familiar features of the debates, ads and more, the candidates slipped or stretched in fresh ways in their final encounter before the Nov. 2 election.
Kerry accurately quoted Bush as saying he does not think much about Osama bin Laden and is not all that concerned about him. The president protested: “I just don’t think I ever said I’m not worried about Osama bin Laden. It’s kind of one of those exaggerations.”
But in March 2002, Bush indeed said, “I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he is on the run.” He described the terrorist leader as “marginalized,” and said, “I just don’t spend that much time on him.”
Kerry, trying to show Bush has paid too little heed to civil rights, stated flatly, “This is a president who hasn’t met with the black congressional caucus.” Actually, Bush met the Congressional Black Caucus at the White House within two weeks of taking office, and called his opponent on it.
Also in the debate:
– Kerry declared, “I have a plan to cover all Americans” with health insurance, but even his campaign does not contend his blueprint would eliminate the ranks of the uninsured. Independent analysts say full implementation of Kerry’s plan would extend coverage to about 25 million of the nearly 45 million uninsured.
He also said Bush has cut Pell grants, but later altered the accusation when the president pointed out accurately that about 1 million more students are getting the aid than when he took office. Kerry then said Bush has not raised the maximum Pell grant as much as promised.
“They’re not getting the $5,100 the president promised them,” he said. Education Secretary Rod Paige said the month after Bush took office that the maximum grant for first-year students would go up by more than half, to $5,100. But the maximum now is $4,050.
– Bush talked about how he signed the bill creating the Homeland Security Department, putting that on his list of actions that have made the country safer. But he was a convert to that cause, at first opposing the massive government reorganization.
– Kerry reverted to what is believed to be the accurate figure for the cost of the Iraq war so far, after he and his running mate John Edwards had been suggesting $200 billion had already been spent. “America now is paying, already $120 billion, up to $200 billion before we’re finished and much more, probably,” Kerry said, citing solid budget figures and a plausible scenario for the months to come.
– Kerry sharply criticized Bush on port security inspections of ship cargo, saying “95 percent come in today uninspected. That’s not good enough.”
Kerry’s claim ignores that the manifests of all U.S.-bound cargo are screened before they reach American ports and all high-risk cargo is identified. U.S. officials then physically inspect the high-risk cargo – which accounts for about 5 percent of the overall total.
On whether the inspections are adequate, a new report by the Homeland Security Department internal investigator that surfaced Wednesday concluded federal inspectors of oceangoing shipping containers still need to improve their detection equipment and search procedures to prevent terrorists from sneaking weapons of mass destruction into the United States.
– Bush acknowledged his current support for a constitutional amendment mandating marriage as a union between a man and a woman without acknowledging that back in the 2000 Republican primary, he said the issue of banning gay marriage belonged to the states. It’s a position Vice President Dick Cheney still holds today.
“So if a state were voting on gay marriage, you would suggest to that state not to approve it?” Bush was asked back in 2000. “The state can do what they want to do,” he said then. “Don’t try to trap me in this state’s issue like you’re trying to get me into.”
He said Wednesday, “I proposed a constitutional amendment” on the issue, although technically he came on board the proposal floated in Congress.
Associated Press writer Siobhan McDonough contributed to this report.