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Wisconsin Democratic Presidential Debate 2004

The following excerpts (edited by Flyby News) is of the 90-minute
Wisconsin Presidential Debate 2004
Sunday, Feb. 15 at Marquette University in Milwaukee.

For complete transcript, see:

Wisconsin [Democratic] Presidential Debate 2004

MIKE GOUSHA, MODERATOR: And welcome again to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the Marquette University campus for tonight's Wisconsin presidential debate.

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts
Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich
North Carolina Senator John Edwards
Reverend Al Sharpton
former Vermont Governor Howard Dean.

LESTER HOLT, MSNBC: And my question is to Representative Kucinich. Good evening, sir.

Ed Gillespie, chairman of the RNC, says "Democrats are going to run the dirtiest campaign in history." John Kerry's Web site responds that "the Bush White House is going to run a gutter campaign." We've still got nine months to go here, gentlemen. Is anything political or personal off-limits in your view?


I'm just hoping that Mr. Gillespie is not seeing the world in his own image. I'm hopeful that he has a desire to communicate to the American people what his party wants to do, to get people back to work, to get all the people in this country the health care they need, to enable our children to go to the public education schools that have the best education, and to enable us to bring our men and women back from Iraq.

LESTER HOLT, MSNBC: Reverend, thanks very much for being with us tonight. The president said he is going to meet with members of the 9/11 commission. If you were a member of the commission and not a candidate for office, what is the first question you would ask the president?

I would ask him, "Where is bin Laden?"


And I would ask him why we went to Iraq and did not put all of our energies behind finding bin Laden. And I am not just saying that as a quip..

CRAIG GILBERT [student]: Senator Kerry, a lot of people here blame trade policy for those job losses. And you voted for all of these -- a lot of these trade deals, NAFTA with Mexico and permanent trade relations with China.

Given all of the jobs that have fled to China and Mexico, would you vote the same way today?

KERRY: Let me make it very clear that in those trade agreements, we passed side-bar provisions, side agreements in NAFTA on labor and environment, central agreements in the China trade agreement on surge -- if there's a surge of imports, or if there's a dumping that takes place, we have things that we can do.

This administration refuses to do them, number one.

Number two, there's been a dramatic shift in the world and what has happened to jobs over the course of the last few years. Perhaps three or four years ago, I began talking about how it is critical that in any trade agreement, we now need to negotiate labor and trade, labor and environment standards.

..I have a $50 billion package that I'll make available for manufacturing incentives and for relief for the states in order to help create the jobs we need in America, as well as a $4,000 tuition tax credit for kids to be able to go to college..

GILBERT: But no regrets about those votes?

KERRY: I regret the way that they haven't been enforced, sure. I think...

GILBERT: Senator Edwards, let me just turn to you first. I mean, you said the other day that there are obvious differences between you and Senator Kerry on this issue.

What are they?

EDWARDS: This is one. This is -- the one you just asked about is an obvious example.

You know, Senator Kerry is entitled, as is Governor Dean, to support free trade, as they always have. The problem is there what we see happening, and it's NAFTA, which I opposed, plus a whole series of other trade agreements, have been devastating here in Wisconsin. Nobody has to tell me what the effect is of some of these bad trade agreements.

BORGER: Well, Congressman Kucinich, what do you say to people here in Wisconsin who want to keep paying lower prices at Wal-Mart and don't want to lose jobs?

KUCINICH: I want the people of Wisconsin to know that my first act in office as president of the United States will be to cancel NAFTA and the WTO and return to bilateral trade conditioned on workers' rights, human rights and environmental quality principles..

That's specific action that will regain real power for the American workers and for workers everywhere and to give the American people the ability to buy American-made goods.

I mean, let's face it. It's either we buy America or it's bye bye America. And I'm insisting that we have to provide a manufacturing base in this country so that people can have American- made goods to buy. They'll buy it if we make it here.

HOLT: Reverend Sharpton, we've heard about canceling NAFTA. We've heard about the need to protect jobs. Are those jobs that have been lost gone forever, or as president could you bring at least some, if not all, of them back?

SHARPTON: I think you can.

But let me say this: Not only would I cancel NAFTA, I've participated in those movements that opposed NAFTA in the beginning when Democrats were passing it and we raised the issue then that human rights was not part of what was being globalized.

..And I think that it is some kind of jaded proposition to say, "Should Americans want to pay more to not get products at a K-Mart from cheap labor, or even in some cases, slave labor abroad?"

That's, to me, as a descendent of slaves, like saying, "Well, let's not end slavery because the product will be where we can afford it better." It is immoral; it is against our interests; it is outright indecent to work people around the world at those wages to justify K-Mart prices.


GOUSHA: And welcome back, everyone. We've been talking about the economy, trade practices. And since we're from Wisconsin, we have to spend a little time on taxes, because Wisconsin is consistently ranked as one of the top 10 states in the country for the highest tax states.

Governor Dean, you want to repeal all of President Bush's tax cuts.
How do you think that's going to win you votes in Wisconsin?

DEAN: Well, because the middle-class people never got a tax cut. If you make a million dollars a year, you got $112,000 back from the president. Sixty percent of us got $304.

And my question to Wisconsinites is, did your property taxes go up more than $304 because the president cut higher education money?

How about your health care premiums? Did they go up more than $304 because the president cut half-a-million children off health care, and a million adults? Somebody had to pay that health care, so hospitals pass it to your insurance company and then right on to you.

How about your college tuition? Did that go way up because the president cut all that money out of the budget?

The middle-class people didn't get a tax cut in this country. There was no middle-class tax cut. And I believe that the majority of the people in this country would gladly pay the same taxes they paid when Bill Clinton was president if only we could have the economy that we had when Bill Clinton was president.

GOUSHA: So you're saying to repeal the Bush tax cuts is not a tax increase on the middle class?

DEAN: That's exactly right. Since the middle-class people never got a real tax cut -- they got increased college tuition, increased health care costs and increased property taxes -- if you repeal the Bush tax cut, you would be able to balance the budget in this country and have jobs again, and have enough money left over to have every man, woman and child in America have health insurance, and fully fund special education, which would lower your property taxes even further.

GILBERT: A lot of health care needs out there, seekers, prescription drugs, the uninsured kids, we've got a big budget deficit.

So let's talk a little bit about priorities, Congressman Kucinich. What would you do first? What health care need would you take care of first as president?

KUCINICH: As a member of Congress, I've introduced legislation, H.R. 676, to create a universal, single-payer, not-for-profit health care system. Do you know that Americans are already paying for a universal standard of care? We're not getting it -- $1.6 trillion in this country goes for health spending.

Of that $1.6 trillion, $400 billion a year goes for the activities of the for-profit sector -- corporate profits, stock options, executive salaries, advertising, marketing, lobbying, the cost of paperwork -- 15 to 30 percent.

I want to put all that money in the for-profit sector into health care so that everyone in America is covered for all medically necessary procedures, plus dental care, vision care, mental health care,
long-term care, a fully-paid prescription drug benefit.

The American people can have that if they have a president who is ready to show the leadership toward that, and I am, and I will be.


HOLT: Question to Senator Kerry and on the issue of education and regarding the No Child Left Behind Act. You voted for it. Now you are outspoken against it. Similar pattern on the Patriot Act and war.

Since the candidates seem to agree credibility is an issue, how should voters reconcile those inconsistencies, or what the chairman of the RNC called hypocrisies?

KERRY: Well, they are not inconsistent at all. The goals of the No Child Left Behind Act are worthy goals. We want to raise accountability in our schools. We want to raise standards. We want teachers to be highly certified.

But what we don't want is to have it implemented the way it is being implemented by George Bush. He's making it punitive. He's disrespecting teachers. And he's walked away from his own promise to fully fund No Child Left Behind..

..I will change the Patriot Act. And we have the good common sense, may I add, to put in the Patriot Act a sunset clause so it dies automatically at the end of this year and we'll change it.

But let me just say about the budget also, I have promised to not balance the budget in four years. I don't think anybody's going to do that. If they're telling you that, they can't.

I have promised to cut the deficit in half in four years, which is precisely what George Bush -- what Bill Clinton did. And the same people who helped Bill Clinton put together that plan, the very same people in the White House, the Treasury Department, the OMB, are the same people who are working with me right now to put my plan together. The numbers are real. It's a promise that can be kept.

And if Americans liked the eight years of Bill Clinton's economy, they're going to love the first four years of John Kerry's.

GOUSHA: Thank you.

Anybody else up there think he can balance the budget in less than four years? I'm curious.

Congressman Kucinich?

KUCINICH: Well, first of all, let's look at what's happening.

Over $1 trillion in tax cuts, most of it going to the wealthy, a war in Iraq that's trending toward $200 billion, a $400 billion a year Pentagon budget. What this administration is saying is, "Let them eat war."

And what I intend to say is this, the priorities of the country will be to do something about our trade deficit, to save our jobs -- that's why I have to cancel NAFTA and WTO, restart the American economy.

Reverend Sharpton and I agree on a massive public works program because the idea is you have to keep creating wealth. And you create more wealth by putting people back to work. We need to have a major energy initiative.

We can create 3 million new jobs just in changing America's economy to solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, green hydrogen. I mean, we have to start looking, how can we create new wealth in this country? At the same time, stop the waste.

A tax cut to the wealthy is waste. A war is waste. Expanded Pentagon budget is waste. I'm talking about a new direction for America. That's how you straighten out our budget.

GOUSHA: Reverend Sharpton, I'll give you a couple seconds and then I want to ask a question. Go ahead.

SHARPTON: OK, I think that the other thing that you must raise when you're discussing cutting the deficit -- and I agree with Senator Kerry. No one can do it in four years. But it's also what is your priorities while you are doing deficit spending?

If my family and I are in debt, it's one thing for me in debt to invest in my two daughters' college education. It's another thing in debt for me to go to Las Vegas and roll the dice and have a gambling weekend. What this administration is doing is not only bringing us deeper in debt, they are irresponsibly spending money while we're in debt.

And I think that we need to have the right priorities in terms of job development, in terms of health care, and in terms of public education, and in urban planning..

GOUSHA: ..We want to spend some time on the war in Iraq. Let's do that with the first question going to Craig Gilbert.

GILBERT: Governor Dean, you said in a recent debate about U.S. casualties in Iraq that those soldiers were sent there by the votes, in this case, of Senator Lieberman, Senator Edwards and Senator Kerry. Do you believe that because of the way they voted to authorize force in Iraq that they share some degree of responsibility for the war and its costs and casualties?

DEAN: ..So I think anybody who votes to send somebody to war, or in my case, ..I vigorously opposed the Iraq war, and I differ from Senator Edwards and Senator Kerry in that area. But I think any of us who support sending troops have a responsibility for what happens to those troops.

GILBERT: Let me turn to you, Senator Kerry, because you said your vote wasn't a vote for what the president ultimately did. But you did vote to give him the authority, so do you feel any degree, any degree of responsibility for the war and its costs and casualties?

KERRY: This is one of the reasons why I am so intent on beating George Bush and why I believe I will beat George Bush, because one of the lessons that I learned -- when I was an instrument of American foreign policy, I was that cutting-edge instrument. I carried that M-16.

I know what it's like to try to choose between friend and foe in a foreign country when you're carrying out the policy of your nation.

And I know what it's like when you lose the consent and the legitimacy of that war. And that is why I said specifically on the floor of the Senate that what I was voting for was the process the president promised..

GILBERT: But what about you? I mean, let me repeat the question. Do you have any degree of responsibility having voted to give him the authority to go to war?

KERRY: The president had the authority to do what he was going to do without the vote of the United States Congress. President Clinton went to Kosovo without the Congress. President Clinton went to Haiti without the Congress.

That's why we have a War Powers Act. What we did was vote with one voice of the United States Congress for a process. And remember, until the Congress asserted itself, this president wasn't intending to go to the United Nations. In fact, it was Jim Baker and Brent Scowcroft and others and the Congress who got him to agree to a specific process. The process was to build a legitimate international coalition, go through the inspections process and go to war as a last resort.

He didn't do it. My regret is not the vote. It was appropriate to stand up to Saddam Hussein. There was a right way to do it, a wrong way to do it.

My regret is this president chose the wrong way, rushed to war, is now spending billions of American taxpayers' dollars that we didn't need to spend this way had he built a legitimate coalition, and has put our troops at greater risk.

GILBERT: You cast the same vote, Senator Edwards, is that the way you see it?

EDWARDS: That's the longest answer I ever heard to a yes or no question. The answer to your question is of course.

We all accept responsibility for what we did. I did what I believed was right. I took it very, very seriously.

I also said at the same time that it was critical when we got to this stage that America not be doing this alone. The president is doing it alone. And the result is what we see happening to our young men and women right now. We need to take a dramatic course. We will take a dramatic course.

And by the way, Senator Kerry just said he will beat George Bush; not so fast, John Kerry. We're going to have an election here in Wisconsin this Tuesday. And we've got a whole group of primaries coming up. And I, for one, intend to fight with everything I've got for every one of those votes..

GLORIA BORGER: This is to Congressman Kucinich.

President Bush last week said that yes, he had expected to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that he was using the same intelligence that had been provided to President Clinton, also the same intelligence that had been used by the heads of other nations.

Do you believe that the president knowingly lied to the American people? And if so, why would he do that?

KUCINICH: I think that this administration knew full well that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, with al Qaeda's role in 9/11, with the anthrax attack on this country, that Iraq had neither the capability nor the intention of attacking the United States, that Iraq was not trying to get uranium from Niger and that, in fact, Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction.

This is the singular issue upon which this election will turn. And I, as the only one up here who voted against the war and voted against the Patriot Act, as the ranking Democrat on a subcommittee that has jurisdiction over national security, an investigative subcommittee, I never saw any evidence that suggested that there was a reason for this country to go to war against Iraq.

It was wrong to go to in; it's wrong to stay in; it is time that we start talking about bringing our troops home, bringing those guardsmen, guardswomen, those reservists back home. Stop this war; get out of Iraq.

BORGER: So I take it the answer is yes that the president knowingly lied to the American people?

KUCINICH: The president lied to the American people.

BORGER: And why would he do that?

KUCINICH: Well, you know what, I can't speak for the president. But I can speak as the next president of the United States...


.. to say that I intend to bring those troops home by going to the U.N. and giving up control of the oil, letting the U.N. handle that on an interim basis on behalf of the Iraqi people, letting the U.N. handle the contracts. . . The United States must renounce privatization. We have to ask the U.N. for help in developing a constitution and new elections in Iraq. We must pay for what we destroyed, pay for a U.N. peacekeeping mission, and provide reparations for innocent civilian non-combatants who lost their lives.

This is the plan to get out of Iraq. We can get out of Iraq, and I'll lead the way.

HOLT: I'd actually like to let Reverend Sharpton follow up on that very question. Do you think that the president knowingly lied, and if so, why?

SHARPTON: Well, first of all, I think that if he didn't know he was lying and was lying, that's even worse.


Clearly, he lied. Now if he is an unconscious liar, and doesn't realize when he's lying, then we're really in trouble.


Because, absolutely, it was a lie. They said they knew the weapons were there. He had members of the administration say they knew where the weapons were. So we're not just talking about something passing here. We're talking about 500 lives. We're talking about billions of dollars.

So I hope he knew he was lying, because if he didn't, and just went in some kind of crazy, psychological breakdown, then we are really in trouble.

Clearly, you know, I'm a minister. Why do people lie? Because they're liars. He lied in Florida; he's lied several times. I believe he lied in Iraq.



HOLT: And Reverend, you'll recognize, obviously, calling someone a liar is a very serious charge. ..So it does lead to the question: Why would he lie?

SHARPTON: Well, first of all, Lester, let us look at the facts. The facts are that what they presented to the United Nations, what they presented to the world was not so. You can only assume that they had to know if they said that they knew where the weapons were, that they knew they didn't know where they were.

And now to come back and tell us that Saddam Hussein is a cruel, despicable person, which we all agree, but we believed him when he told us he had them. Can you imagine me telling you that I believe somebody that you should never believe, and I brought 500 people to their deaths believing in a man that was as despicable as Hussein, and this is who we're going to have over the troops' lives in this country?

I think that this is absolutely outrageous. Why he lied? I think we should give him the rest of his retirement to figure that out and explain to us.



CRAIG GILBERT: Senator Kerry, President Bush a week ago on "Meet the Press" described himself as a war president. He said he's got war on his mind as he considers these policies and decisions he has to make. If you were elected, would you see yourself as a war president?

KERRY: I'd see myself first of all as a jobs president, as a health care president, as an education president and also an environmental president. And add them all together, you can't be safe at home today unless you are also safe abroad. So I would see myself as a very different kind of global leader than George Bush..

I think there is an enormous agenda for us in fighting an effective war on terror. And part of it is by building a stronger intelligence organization, law enforcement, but most importantly, the war on terror is not going to be completely won until we have the greatest level of cooperation we've ever had globally.

The worst thing this president does is his lack of cooperation with other countries.

So I will lead in a different way, and I will not just sit there and talk about the war. I'll talk about all of the issues and provide solutions for America.

GOUSHA: Congressman Kucinich?

KUCINICH: As president, I will see myself as a peace president. And I think we have to change this metaphor of war in our society. We have to quit talking about addressing problems "a war on this, a war on that." We already see this last war was not necessary.

I think we're in a new era in the world where we can see the world as one, the world as interconnected and interdependent. The world's waiting for a United States president who's ready to create a sustainable structure for peace, and as president, I will do that.

I'll work to eliminate all nuclear weapons and confirm the Non-Proliferation Treaty. I'll sign the Biological Weapons Convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the small-arms treaty, the land mine treaty.

America will join the International Criminal Court. I'll sign the Kyoto Climate Change Treaty.

And furthermore, in getting rid of the Patriot Act, I'll call upon Americans to bring forth the essential courage which we have in our hearts.

My presidency will be about the end of fear and the beginning of hope, about a new hope in America for a nation that can work with the nations of the world so that we can achieve security here at home.


BORGER: This is a question I'm going to pose to Governor Dean and then to Senator Edwards. How do you believe that history will ultimately judge the war in Iraq?

DEAN: I think we don't know the answer to that question yet. I think we -- the first question is, does the means justify the end, or the ends justify the means? And I think it does not.

I do not think we were told the truth about why we went to war in Iraq, and I think that's a huge problem.. ..We simply don't know how history will judge the war in Iraq, but we do know that we're going to pay with a lot of lives and a lot of American money to find out.

BORGER: Senator Edwards, too early to say?

EDWARDS: I think it's impossible to know. It depends entirely on what course of action we take. If I'm president and we do the things that need to be done to internationalize the effort, get on a real time table for the Iraqis governing themselves and providing their own security, there is at least the potential for a foothold for democracy -- I think at a minimum, the presence of a pluralistic government that will move us in that direction..

GOUSHA: Senator Edwards, thanks.

Let's hear from another student from Marquette University.

LESTER HOLT: ..I'll ask this of Senator Kerry. You say you oppose gay marriage. As you know, the highest court in the state of Massachusetts has ruled against civil unions, which you support. If it were to come before you today for a vote, the issue of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as that between a man and a woman, would you vote yes or would you vote no?

KERRY: Well, it depends on the terminology, because it depends on what it does with respect to civil unions and partnership rights.

..And the question is whether or not that can be put in the Constitution. We will see what will happen. But my personal opinion has been -- is today that marriage is between a man and a woman. I'm for civil union. I'm for partnership rights and the full measure of nondiscrimination within those rights.

HOLT: So on a constitutional amendment defining marriage between a man and a woman, your vote would be?

KERRY: Well, it depends. Not a federal one. You're talking about federal or state? I mean, there's a difference between the two.

I believe the states have a right to make up their own mind, and it ought to be left up to each state individually, period.

GOUSHA: Craig Gilbert?

GILBERT: This is for Senator Edwards.

Senator Kerry, Governor Dean, and President Bush all grew up in pretty well-to-do families, went to prep school and Yale. You've put your working-class background at the center of your campaign. Are you saying that it's harder for them to understand the problems, the concerns of ordinary people than it is for you?

EDWARDS: No, what I am saying is if you have lived this, as I have --we talked earlier in this debate about the loss of jobs. See, I have seen up close what happens to a family, to a man or a woman who worked in a mill all their lives, 30, 35 years, supporting their family, doing what was right, when they lose their job.. ..So do I think it's relevant? Absolutely, I think it's relevant. I think it has to do with your own personal experience, what you've seen, what you'll get up every morning fighting for as president of the United States.

I think Howard Dean and John Kerry have good hearts. They want to do the right thing. They believe in many of the same things that I believe in. But I think it matters to have lived it, and I have lived it.

GOUSHA: Quickly, Reverend Sharpton.

SHARPTON: I think that people that have lived it can understand it. But I think bad people come from all economic backgrounds and all races, and good people are good people. I think that people can have a prep school background and be very compassionate. I think people can be poor and be very cold-hearted.

GOUSHA: ..The final question tonight -- a lot of people feel this and a lot of people talk about this -- that America is polarized today, that we are deeply divided as a nation. I'm wondering what role, if any, do you think that this nominating process has played in making us a divided nation?

KUCINICH: I think the nominating process can be a vehicle by which we can heal this country. And as president, I intend to address all the polarities in America, whether it's race, color, creed, sexual orientation, and show how the real strength in America is in its unity.

I mean, the first motto of this country, "e pluribus unum"-- out of many, one -- suggests the real power of America is when we unite.

And so, America needs a president who is ready to help unite along racial lines, recognizing what happened -- the injustices done to African-Americans hundreds of years ago, recognizing the injustices done to Native Americans, recognizing what we must do to lift up this country economically and socially, recognizing the very divide that's occurring today along sexual orientation.

I mean, why shouldn't people who happen to be gay, or lesbian, or bisexual, or transgendered have the same rights as all other Americans? I mean, for God's sake, this is America. Let's be America.

And as president, I'm going to remind the people of this country what America is about..

GOUSHA: Thanks to the candidates, the panelists and Marquette University.

The primary is Tuesday.

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For the complete transcript, see:

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