Sen. Edward Kennedy accused President Bush Wednesday of hyping concerns about the nation’s retirement program just as he did on Iraq and urged Democrats to stand up to the “politics of fear.”
The leading liberal voice in Congress, Kennedy said Democrats, who lost the race for the White House for a second time in a row, must do a better job promoting their basic unifying values without mirroring Republicans in order to rebound from last November’s election defeats.
“We have an administration that falsely hypes almost every issue as a crisis,” the Massachusetts Democrat said in a speech prepared for delivery at the National Press Club. “They did it on Iraq, and they are doing it now on Social Security.”
“They exploit the politics of fear and division, while ours is a politics of hope and unity,” Kennedy said.
“In the face of their tactics, we cannot move our party or our nation forward under pale colors and timid voices,” said Kennedy, who at 72 has become an elder statesman in the Democratic Party.
“We cannot become Republican clones,” he said. “If we do, we will lose again, and deserve to lose. As I have said on other occasions, the last thing this country needs is two Republican parties.”
The 2004 White House race saw Bush re-elected and Republicans increase their majorities in both the Senate and House.
Kennedy helped John Kerry, Massachusetts’ junior senator, rally to capture the Democratic presidential nomination, and a number of Kennedy aides joined Kerry’s campaign.
With Democrats still seeking to regroup after the election defeats, Kennedy urged them to speak out.
“If the White House’s idea of bipartisanship is that we have to buy whatever partisan ideas they send us, we’re not interested,” he said.
As Bush prepares to begin his second term, one of his top goals is to restructure the Social Security retirement program to allow workers to invest part of their payroll taxes in stocks and bonds.
The administration contends that the move is needed to help keep the retirement program afloat for younger workers. Critics accuse Bush of exaggerating the problem and also complain that his plan would inject too much risk into a program that has helped keep retired people out of poverty.
In winning re-election, Bush captured 51 percent of the popular vote, and left Democrats wondering what they could have done differently on such divisive issues as gay marriage and abortion rights.
Kennedy, in his prepared remarks, voiced particular concern about abortion.
“I yield to no one in my commitment to a woman’s right to choose,” Kennedy said. “We cannot — and should not — criminalize women or their doctors for making that choice.”
On Iraq, Kennedy said, “I do not retreat from the view that Iraq is George Bush’s Vietnam.”
“The administration turned away from pursuing Osama bin Laden and made the catastrophic choice instead to bog down American forces in an endless quagmire in Iraq,” Kennedy said.
“I’m convinced John Kerry could have worked with the international community to end that war and bring our troops home with honor.”