COLUMBUS, Ohio — President Bush said Saturday Democrat John Kerry's debate remark that U.S. preemptive military action should be subject to a "global test" would give other nations a veto over American national security decisions. Meanwhile, Kerry, speaking in Florida, accused Bush of "serious misjudgements" on the economy as well as the war in Iraq.
"When our country's in danger the president's job is not to take an international poll. The president's job is to defend America," Bush said.
Bush, on a bus tour of must-have Ohio, reacted for the second straight day to points the Massachusetts senator made in their Thursday night debate in Miami, an encounter many Americans thought Kerry won.
The Bush campaign's objective, with polls showing Bush with a modest lead before the Nov. 2 election, was to try to limit any Kerry momentum from the debate, with two more encounters between the candidates planned and a vice presidential debate scheduled in Cleveland Tuesday night.
"I think the first debate will be long remembered for the night when Kerry made some really serious tactical mistakes," said Bush campaign communications director Nicolle Devenish.
Kerry said in the debate that the United States had the right to take preemptive action abroad if it "passes the global test, where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you're doing what you're doing and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons."
Kerry also said he would not cede to others the right to take preemptive action "in any way necessary to protect the United States of America."
Kerry cited as an example President Kennedy's decision to consult with French President Charles de Gaulle over the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, and compared de Gaulle's favorable response with the skepticism Bush faces abroad over the Iraq war.
Bush called it the "Kerry doctrine" and summed it up this way: "He said that America has to pass a global test before we can use troops to defend ourselves." The friendly crowd responded with boos for Kerry.
"Senator Kerry's approach to foreign policy would give foreign governments veto power over our national security decisions," he said.
Kerry spokesman Phil Singer defended Kerry's comment by saying: "The global test is not asking for a permission slip. It's making sure that your decisions stand up to scrutiny and are backed by facts."
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Shift to economic focus
In closely divided Florida, epicenter of the disputed 2000 presidential election and a must-win state for Bush, accused the President of "serious misjudgments" on the economy as well as the war.
"In fact, the only people George Bush's policies are working for are the people he chooses to help," the Massachusetts senator said. "They're working for drug companies. They're working for oil companies ... and they're certainly working for Halliburton."
Halliburton, the Texas-based oil services giant run by Vice President Dick Cheney from 1995 to 2000 and the leading logistics contractor for the U.S. military in Iraq, is a favorite whipping horse for Democrats.
"He confuses staying in place with leadership," Kerry said. "But it's not just Iraq. Over the past four years he's made serious misjudgments here at home,"
Kerry cited a $1.3 trillion, 10-year tax cut he said mostly benefited the wealthy, job losses, high gas prices, rising college tuition, unaffordable health care and expensive prescription drugs.
A Boston millionaire who has served in the U.S. Senate for two decades, Kerry said he shared the middle class's "frustration that this administration seems to be in a constant state of denial that neglects the needs of these Americans."
Tax cut fight
He offered "a new choice" on jobs, health care, taxes and energy, saying he would roll back Bush's tax cut for Americans earning more than $200,000 a year to pay for his proposals.
Kerry would eliminate tax breaks that reward U.S. companies for sending jobs abroad, cut corporate taxes by 5 per cent, offer a new tax credit to jump-start the creation of manufacturing jobs, enforce trade laws and raise the minimum wage from $5.15 per hour to $7 by 2007.
Bush, traveling through Ohio, a state that has lost more than 200,000 manufacturing jobs since he took office in 2001, devoted much of his speech to his efforts to improve the U.S. economy, largely through tax cuts, and promote homeownership.
Bush rejected Kerry's tax cut roll back pledge.
"It makes no sense to tax the job creators as our economy is getting stronger," Bush said.
In his weekly radio address, Bush said that Monday in Iowa, he would sign an election-year tax cut. The roughly $150 billion tax cut will extend popular tax breaks for children and couples for five years but is criticized by Democrats because it has no provisions to offset the cost to the federal treasury.
Kerry said he would allow the importation of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada, provide affordable health care for many of the 44 million uninsured Americans and extend middle class tax cuts.
"If you asked President Bush, he'd tell you everything's just fine here at home," Kerry said. "Maybe that's true for his friends -- for Enron, for Halliburton, for the big oil industry."
He portrayed Bush, a fellow Yale graduate with a similar privileged upbringing, as unable to empathize with the middle class and a man who could neither see nor fix the country's economic problems.
"The real test of leadership is how you respond if things go wrong," Kerry said. "Do you face the facts ... or do you stick with your story and ignore reality?"
Look ahead to next debate
The switch from foreign matters to pocketbook issues comes as the campaigns look ahead to the candidates’ second face-to-face meeting on Friday, where undecided voters pose the questions.
The campaign opponents roared out of the first debate with sharpened attacks over Iraq and terrorism, hitting the campaign trail with more aggressive attacks and hoping to influence voters’ impressions of their performance.
Instant polls revealed that viewers thought Kerry performed more ably, and Democrats claimed a clear-cut victory. The Republican campaign said the president won in substance, if not style.
Both candidates seized the opportunity Friday to mock each other’s performance.
“He keeps trying to say, ’Well, we don’t want somebody who wants to leave.’ He says, ’We don’t want to wilt or waver.’ I don’t know how many times I heard that,” Kerry said at a Florida campaign stop Friday.
“Well, Mr. President, nobody’s talking about leaving, nobody’s talking about wilting and wavering. We’re talking about winning and getting the job done right,” Kerry said.
Bush, campaigning before an enthusiastic crowd, mocked Kerry’s debate comments about a “global test.” “Listen, I’ll continue to work with our allies and the international community, but I will never submit America’s national security to an international test,” he said.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.