DETROIT – Sen. John Kerry (search) accused President Bush on Wednesday of presiding over an "excuse presidency," challenging Bush's credibility on jobs, the record national deficit and the war in Iraq.
"This president has created more excuses than jobs," Kerry told the Detroit Economic Club (search). "His is the excuse presidency -- never wrong, never responsible, never to blame. President Bush's desk isn't where the buck stops -- it's where the blame begins."
Kerry said that of the last eleven presidents, Bush was the only one to oversee a national job loss, and he said Iraq and the war on terror were no excuse. "Many of them faced more severe recessions, many of them faced bigger wars with bigger expenses," Kerry said.
Bush's Democratic rival focused on one of the president's biggest potential weaknesses -- a record of lost jobs and budget deficits during four years in the White House. And in a broader effort to sharpen critiques and fight back against Republican criticism, Kerry also went after Bush's handling of Iraq (search).
"We are punching back," Kerry said in an interview with radio host Don Imus. "I am absolutely taking the gloves off."
On Iraq, Kerry raised doubts about whether there could be national elections in January, given security problems in places like Fallujah, Ramadi and Najaf.
"I know that the people who are supposed to run that election believe that they need a longer period of time and greater security before they can even begin to do it," Kerry said. "So I'm not sure the president is being honest with the American people about that situation either at this point."
Kerry said Bush's actions have made it harder for the next president to withdraw troops and argued that Bush should be under more pressure to develop a withdrawal plan.
"What you ought to be doing, and what everybody in America ought to be doing today, is not asking me. They ought to be asking the president, what's your plan?" Kerry told Imus. "What's your plan, Mr. President, to stop these kids from being killed?"
When asked whether there were any circumstances under which the United States should have gone to war in Iraq, Kerry responded, "Not under the current circumstances, no. There are none that I see." He voted to authorize the administration to use force against Saddam Hussein but has said Bush used the authorization in the wrong way.
Later Wednesday in Madison, Wis., Kerry said he had warned Bush early on not to rush to war without the support of allies. "We told this president this, we said it to him in the beginning," he said.
Bush, who also has been campaigning in the Midwest, stayed home to appeal to a key election constituency Wednesday, hosting a White House concert and reception celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month.
The East Room was filled with Hispanic ambassadors, actors, sports figures and administration officials -- many of whom Bush noted in his remarks, which were sprinkled with Spanish.
"I think it's important to promote a diverse administration, to welcome all cultures," he said.
In Detroit, Kerry tried to reassure his conservative-leaning audience that he would be a friend to business if elected president.
"Our plan is pro-worker and pro-business," he said. "I'm an entrepreneurial Democrat."
Kerry's economic plan combines tax cuts with job incentives, improvements in scientific and technological development and programs to slow the rising cost of health care.
He has promised to halve the federal deficit -- now estimated at a record $422 billion for this year -- while rolling back tax cuts passed during the Bush administration for people making $200,000 or more.
"This president consciously turned a $5.6 trillion surplus into trillions of debt for our children," Kerry said. "George Bush accomplished all of it in only four years. Imagine what he could do in another four years. I want to be clear, my friends: I'm not saying that president wanted these consequences. But I am saying that by his judgments, by his priorities, by the decisions he's made he has caused these things to happen or to grow significantly worse. And he refuses to admit the error of those choices."
In Washington, Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said, "We've seen 1.7 million new jobs created over the last year and the last thing we need to do is turn back from those policies. ... The failed policies of higher taxes, more regulation, more litigation and more government control of people's lives would put the brakes on our economy."
The Kerry campaign had singer Sheryl Crow warm up the crowd in Madison. In Detroit, the candidate brought along a reminder that U.S. business can prosper under a Democratic president, receiving a glowing introduction from former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, who served in the Clinton administration.
Kerry's campaign views job losses and economic worries as a strong force that could push key Midwestern states in his favor. He is running ahead of the president in polls of Michigan voters, but is trailing the president in some other Midwestern states that have lost jobs, such as Ohio.