The White House and Sen. John Kerry traded their harshest accusations since
the 2004 presidential race on Tuesday, with President Bush accusing the Democrat
of troop-bashing and Kerry calling the president's men hacks who are "willing to
U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass, speaks in support
of California gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides at a rally held at
Pasadena City College in Pasadena, Calif., Monday, Oct. 30, 2006.
The war of words, tough even for this
hard-fought campaign season, came after Kerry told a group of California
students on Monday that those unable to navigate the country's education system
"get stuck in Iraq."
The two parties are searching for any edge amid indications Democrats could
take back the House and possibly win control of the Senate in next week's
midterm elections. Though neither Bush nor Kerry is on any ballot, the
bitterness with which they fought each other as 2004 rivals spilled over as both
campaign hard for their parties in a race shaped in large measure by public
doubts about the Iraq war.
White House press secretary Tony Snow was asked about Kerry's comment at his
regular briefing with reporters, and had clearly come prepared with a lengthy
attack. He said the quote "fits a pattern" of negative remarks about U.S.
soldiers from the decorated Vietnam veteran and suggested that whether
Democratic candidates ¡ª particularly those running on their military service
backgrounds ¡ª agree with their 2004 standard-bearer should be a campaign litmus
Bush, campaigning later in Georgia, said Kerry's statement was "insulting and
it is shameful."
"The members of the United States military are plenty smart and they are
plenty brave and the senator from Massachusetts owes them an apology," Bush said
during an appearance for a former GOP congressman, Mac Collins, who is trying to
oust Democratic Rep. Jim Marshall (news, bio, voting record). There were boos at
the mention of Kerry's name and cheers at Bush's call for an apology.
Kerry, who is considering another run for the White House in 2008, angrily
At a hastily arranged news conference in Seattle, Kerry said: "I apologize to
no one for my criticism of the president and of his broken policy."
Kerry said the comment in question was "a botched joke about the president
and the president's people, not about the troops ... and they know that's what I
was talking about."
It came during a campaign rally for California Democratic gubernatorial
candidate Phil Angelides. Kerry opened his speech at Pasadena City College with
several one-liners, saying at one point that Bush had lived in Texas but now
"lives in a state of denial."
He then said: "You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study
hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well.
If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."
That, Kerry said, was meant as a reference to Bush, not troops. Kerry said it
is the president who owes U.S. soldiers an apology ¡ª for "a Katrina foreign
policy" that misled the country into war in Iraq, failed to adequately study and
plan for the aftermath, has not properly equipped troops and has expanded the
"I'm sick and tired of a bunch of despicable Republicans who will not debate
real policy, who won't take responsibility for their own mistakes, standing up
and trying to make other people the butt of those mistakes," he said. "It
disgusts me that a bunch of these Republican hacks who've never worn the uniform
of our country are willing to lie about those who did."
Unsubstantiated allegations about Kerry's Vietnam War heroism from a group
called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth figured prominently in the 2004 Kerry-Bush
Other Republicans issued demands for an apology from Kerry.
GOP Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record), like Kerry a decorated
Vietnam veteran and a potential 2008 rival, said while campaigning for
Republican candidates in Indiana that "the suggestion that only the least
educated Americans would agree to serve in the military and fight in Iraq is an
insult to every soldier serving in combat today."