A Few Questions for the Presidential Candidates

In my last column, I posed questions for vice presidential candidates Dick Cheney (search) and John Edwards. This week, questions for Sen. John Kerry and President George W. Bush:

For President Bush:

— In the 2000 campaign, you clearly stated that you believed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill was unconstitutional, saying, “I think it does restrict free speech for individuals." As president, you signed that very bill into law. You took an oath of office to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Did you sign a law you believed to be unconstitutional, violating your oath of office? Please explain this reversal.

— You also said in 2000 that you trust Americans to spend their own money more than you trust the government. But during your first term, with your party in control of both houses of Congress, you’ve spent more taxpayer dollars (adjusted for inflation) than Bill Clinton (search), Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon — more than every administration since Lyndon Johnson (search). That’s true no matter how we measure “spending.” 

Even when we adjust for defense and homeland security spending, you’re still the biggest spender in four decades. You’ve increased funding to such non-conservative causes as the National Endowment for the Arts, the Departments of Health and Human Services and Education, the Peace Corps, and of course the prescription drug benefit (which your administration pushed through Congress based on misleading information about its cost). 

Given your professed views on government spending, how do you justify growing government faster than any president in 40 years?

— You ran in 2000 as a “free trade president.” Since you took office, you’ve imposed tariffs on steel, shrimp, furniture, lumber, sugar, lingerie, wire, computer chips, catfish, cotton, textiles, clothing, and flowers, to name just a few. You also signed a $190 billion bill to reinstate the federal farm subsidies program, which was scheduled to be phased out. Are these the policies of a “free trade president?”

— You said before taking office that yours would be “an open administration.” But your administration is classifying documents (some 44.5 million your first two years — more than all of Bill Clinton’s second term) at a rate unparalleled by any other president. Many of these documents are later “declassified” when it has become politically convenient for your administration. Some have, in fact, called your administration the most secretive in history. Do you, or do you not, believe in transparent government? Please address the secretiveness of your administration.

— Your campaign is fond of painting your opponent as a “flip-flopper.” How do you explain your own reversals on the four campaign promises listed above?

— Do you believe an atheist or an agnostic could make a good president? Is there any religious affiliation or belief system someone could subscribe to that you believe should automatically preclude them from being president?

For Sen. Kerry:

— You said in 1992 that affirmative action was “inherently limited and divisive,” and that it fosters “a perception and a reality of reverse discrimination that has actually engendered racism.”  Today, you’re on record asserting that “preserving affirmative action is a civil rights priority.” 

What has changed between 1992 and 2004 to make you change your opinion? Are blacks and women worse off now than they were then?

— Referring to Republicans’ push for pro-life judges on the federal bench, you lamented, “the systematic targeting of any judicial nominee who does not meet the rigid requirements of litmus tests imposed …” 

But according to The Associated Press, you said in a speech last January, “If you believe that choice is a constitutional right, and I do, and if you believe that Roe v. Wade is the embodiment of that right ... I will not appoint a justice to the Supreme Court of the United States who will undo that.” 

Isn’t that a litmus test? Or does the phrase “litmus test” only apply to opponents of abortion?

— You’ve demagogued the outsourcing issue throughout the primaries and so far in the general election. You’ve said corporate executives who export manufacturing jobs overseas are “Benedict Arnold CEOs.” But you and your wife still own 4 percent of the H.J. Heinz Corporation, which  operates 57 factories overseas, but just 22 here in the United States. The Hill newspaper reports that your campaign has accepted $370,000 from the CEOs of companies that heavily outsource jobs to other countries. 

Given your vigorous opposition to outsourcing, are you prepared to ask Heinz to close all of those overseas factories, or to sell off your stake in Heinz if it doesn't? Will you give back campaign contributions from corporate executives whose companies outsource?

— Could we please get a straight answer from you on your vote to authorize war with Iraq?  Knowing everything you now know — the truth about weapons of mass destruction, the cost and length of reconstruction, the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and the determination of the insurgents, but also that we’d capture Saddam Hussein — with the full benefit of hindsight, would you have voted for or against war with Iraq? How long should we remain involved in Iraq’s reconstruction? Is there a ceiling to the number of U.S. casualties or cost to U.S. taxpayers at which point you’d pull us out?

— You recently said of the Patriot Act: “We are a nation of laws and liberties, not of a knock in the night. So it is time to end the era of John Ashcroft. That starts with replacing the Patriot Act with a new law that protects our people and our liberties at the same time. I’ve been a District Attorney and I know that what law enforcement needs are real tools not restrictions on American’s basic rights.”

Eloquently put. So why did you vote for it?

— You’ve said on the campaign trail: “From the moment I take office, I will stand up to the special interests and stand with hardworking families so that we can give America back its future and its ideals.”

Great! But according to the Washington Post, you’ve raised more money from paid lobbyists than anyone else in the United States Senate. You also raised twice as much money from corporate lobbyists as your nearest rival in the Democratic primary. Why should voters believe the one man on Capitol Hill most beholden to lobbyists when he says he’s the one that will stand up to them?

Radley Balko maintains a weblog at: www.TheAgitator.com.

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