Democratic presidential hopefuls rally, challenge Bush’s policies

SBy Thomas Conlon Six Democratic presidential candidates rallied Friday in St. Paul, a stop on a road they hope leads to Washington, D.C.

The challengers criticized several of President George W. Bush’s policies on an array of topics – including the economy, national security, foreign policy, health care and education – hoping to raise enough support to help the party reclaim the White House next year.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich and the Rev. Al Sharpton made appearances in front of 400 Democrats gathered at St. Paul’s Radisson Riverfront hotel for the summer meeting of the Association of State Democratic Chairs and a presidential forum.

U.S. Sens. Joe Lieberman and John Kerry and U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt spoke to attendees via satellite television.

Kucinich called for giving free tuition to all college students at public universities.

“College students are painfully aware of an uncertain future, an unsafe world and struggling to pay costs,” he said.

Dean and Kucinich both claimed to oppose the Iraq war before it began, unlike many of their challengers. All the candidates said U.S. foreign policy has cost the country respect in the world by not working with other nations.

“As president, we will sign international treaties. We will join the International Criminal Court,” Kucinich said.

All candidates except Lieberman said the tax cuts were a big mistake. “We can grow the economy again by investing in education, homeland security and health care, combined with tax cuts that truly benefit the middle class and not the wealthy Americans in Bush’s plan,” Lieberman said.

“Bush’s tax cuts are a grab by powerful economic interests. That means cuts in services, education, housing, health care, veterans’ benefits. I’ll cancel the tax cuts,” Kucinich said. “Bush will bankrupt this country and mortgage our future; we’re not creating jobs.”

“This president of the United States is running the country like Enron was run,” Dean said. “Promise everyone tax cuts now, and when the time comes to pay the bill, we’re in trouble. Four-hundred and fifty billion-dollar deficits don’t generate jobs.”

Kerry knocked Bush for numerous broken promises. “Social Security is not more secure today: We have deficits, no health care, a weak prescription drug proposal and no action on pollutants – only tax cuts,” he said. “Ask average Americans if they’re better off than two and a half years ago on job security, health care, environment, safety in the world, schools … the answer is no.”

Candidates also agreed on stronger domestic violence programs, keeping or expanding gun laws and attacking the unfunded mandates and priorities of Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” legislation, which added testing requirements for K-12 education.

Three other announced candidates, U.S. Sens. John Edwards and Bob Graham, and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, were not at the meeting.

Student response

University student event volunteers voiced preferences for candidates and issues, particularly Kucinich’s tuition-free college proposal, but were concerned with accessibility and costs.

Erik Smith, a first-year University geology graduate student, said Kucinich’s tuition-free proposal is a good idea, but questioned how the government would pay for it.

“I think we need to keep tuition costs low instead,” he said.

Smith said Dean was the most attractive candidate based on his strong antiwar stance and belief that the Bush tax cuts will not benefit most Americans.

“Dean will address the cause and not the symptoms of these problems,” he said.

Andrea Bejarano, a junior at Metropolitan State University and an event volunteer, said she wished the candidates would address higher-education issues.

“They seem to be more focused on younger children,” she said. “I know in Minnesota, Gov. (Tim) Pawlenty has cut financial aid. I hope they don’t forget about us.”

Tom Conlon is a freelance writer for The Minnesota Daily.

The freelance editor welcomes comments at [email protected]