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Kerry hits back at Bush, Cheney over leadership
Updated: 2004-03-09 11:26

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry blasted the White House on Monday for "bad, rushed decisions" like the war with Iraq that he said had cost American lives.

In a heated campaign tit-for-tat, the Massachusetts senator exchanged charges and countercharges with U.S. President Bush who called him "deeply irresponsible" for proposing intelligence cuts, and Vice President Dick Cheney, who accused Kerry of being too indecisive to be commander-in-chief.

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate, Senator John Kerry (D-MA), reaches out to shake hands with supporters behind the stage at a campaign rally in the Centro Ybor Open Air Market Plaza in Tampa, Florida March 8, 2004. [Reuters]

At a Republican fund-raiser in Des Moines, Iowa, Cheney spoke of a conversation he had with a soldier who told him "indecision kills."

"Indecision kills," Cheney said. "These are not times for leaders who shift with the political winds, saying one thing one day and another thing the next. We need a commander-in- chief of a clear vision and steady determination."

Kerry, a decorated Viet Nam War veteran who commanded a Navy Swift boat in the Mekong Delta, hit back at first with irony, telling a rally in Tampa, "Vice President Cheney ... attacked me and I'm just quaking up here."

But he quickly turned serious.

"He then invoked a soldier's comment to him that indecision kills," Kerry said. "Well, let me tell you something Mr. Cheney, Mr. President, bad, rushed decisions kill too."

Winding up a Southern swing through Florida and three other states -- Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana -- that hold nominating contests on Tuesday, Kerry earlier predicted Republicans would try to "tear down" his character and said some foreign leaders had privately confided they hoped he would beat Bush.

He told supporters in Fort Lauderdale he expected a tough 8-month campaign in which Republicans would make an effort to malign him and his wife, outspoken heiress and philanthropist Teresa Heinz Kerry.

"I am convinced that we have the ability to win this race," Kerry said. "It's going to be hard fought, they're going to do everything possible to tear down my character personally (and) Teresa. That's the way they operate."


Kerry noted how Republicans turned on one of their own in 2000, when U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, another decorated Viet Nam War veteran who survived six years as a prisoner of war, ran against Bush for the party's nomination.

"They even tried to challenge John McCain's tenure as a prisoner for six years ... they tried to besmirch his character, so I expect everything," he said.

Bush and his Republican allies have already tried to portray the Yale-educated son of a diplomat as a Northeastern liberal elitist, a chronic waffler and a fence-sitter.

"I'm a fighter," Kerry said. "And I'm ready for it, and I'm not going to let them change the subject. The subject is America, the oneness ... our kids, our future, all of the issues that are staring us in the face."

Without naming anybody, Kerry said he had received words of encouragement from leaders abroad who were eager to see him defeat Bush on Nov. 2.

"I've met foreign leaders who can't go out and say this publicly, but boy they look at you and say, 'You've got to win this, you've got to beat this guy, we need a new policy,' things like that," he said.

Kerry has challenged Bush on almost all aspects of foreign policy, from Iraq, where he accuses the administration of going to war as a first resort not a last, to Haiti, where he said he would have sent an international force to support ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

"Senator Kerry's foreign friends may prefer him as U.S. president, but the election is in the hands of the American people," said Bush campaign spokesman Terry Holt.

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