Video: Kerry's domestic policy plan

updated 8/24/2004 1:37:44 PM ET 2004-08-24T17:37:44

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry accused President Bush’s campaign and political allies on Tuesday of conducting a campaign of “fear and smear” to avoid talking about jobs, health care and the war in Iraq.

“You can’t lead America by misleading the American people,” said Kerry, who has been struggling in recent days against charges — denounced by Democrats as smear tactics — that he lied about his actions in Vietnam that won five military medals.

“They have no plans, no positive vision and no understanding of an urgent and undeniable truth, a strong America begins at home,” Kerry said in a speech blocks from the site of next week’s Republican National Convention.

The Massachusetts senator’s speech appeared part of an effort to refocus the campaign onto domestic and foreign policy issues, many of which trend his way in the polls. By his own words, it was also an attempt to preempt next week’s Republican National Convention in New York.

'The narrow interests of a few'
Despite what GOP speakers may claim, he said, “every step of the way, George W. Bush has put the narrow interests of the few ahead of the interests of most Americans.” He said the administration has favored tax cuts for the rich, given special access to polluters, rewarded companies that send jobs overseas and sided with big oil.

Next week, he predicted, “they’ll bend over backward with last minute proposals and last minute promises for all they haven’t done and pretend they’re not who they are.”

Kerry delivered his speech at New York’s Cooper Union, the site of President Lincoln’s 1860 speech against slavery that helped thrust him into national prominence.

Kerry said his plan would preserve middle-class tax cuts, reduce the cost of health care, education and energy, and increase the federal minimum wage.

The Democrats also promise to close the pay gap between men and women and help families balance competing demands at home and at work.

Steve Schmidt, spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, said the Kerry record displays support for tax hikes, not tax cuts.

“John Kerry says the blueprint for his economic agenda was his vote for the biggest tax increase in American history he supported in 1993,” Schmidt said.

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The 1993 vote was in favor of President Clinton’s plan to cut the deficit by $469 billion over five years, including some tax increases. It passed by one vote without any GOP support.

While he seemed eager to talk about domestic and foreign policy issues, Kerry got in a few shots at the controversy over his service in Vietnam.

“My duty ... is to be a president and commander in chief who finds the truth and tells the truth instead of misleading the American people, hiding behind front groups, saying anything and doing anything to avoid the real issues that matter, like jobs, health care and the war in Iraq.”

The Kerry campaign says Bush used a newly formed veterans’ group not subject to campaign spending limits to attack his character. Those veterans say Kerry distorted his war experiences to win the medals, but their accounts in a television ad have been disputed by Navy records and veterans who served on Kerry’s boat.

Video: Bush weighs in on ads

'Bad for the system'
Bush on Monday criticized television spots run by all independent political groups as “bad for the system.” Asked specifically about the anti-Kerry ad aired by the veterans’ group, the president said, “That means that ad, every other ad.”

Schmidt said Kerry has stood by while similar independent groups aligned with Democrats have spent millions on ads against the president.

“John Kerry has been relentlessly negative,” he said. “John Kerry has refused to condemn those ads.”

The charge and countercharge saw both sides produce veterans whose accounts differ on the incidents that led to Kerry’s war commendations.

In Oregon, several pro-Kerry veterans called on a Clackamas County district attorney’s office employee to resign after he appeared in an ad sponsored by an anti-Kerry group. Alfred French said in the ad and swore in an affidavit, “I served with John Kerry. ... He is lying about his record.” French subsequently acknowledged he relied on the accounts of other veterans and did not witness Kerry in combat.

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