National Public Radio Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate
Des Moines, IA, January 6, 2004
NEAL CONAN, host:
NPR News and the WOI Radio Group welcome you to a Democratic presidential candidates debate. I'm Neal Conan, and this is an NPR News special.
We're broadcasting live from the downtown Des Moines campus of Iowa State University. It's a cold and sunny day with a dusting of snow on the ground. Six Democrats who hope to challenge President George W. Bush next fall are here, seated at a U-shaped table in front of me. Starting at my left, former Governor Howard Dean of Vermont, Congressman Dick Gephardt of Missouri, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and former Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois. Wesley Clark declined our invitation. Senator John Edwards and Reverend Al Sharpton accepted but changed their plans.
This is a radio-only debate, so for the first time in this campaign there are no TV cameras and there's no audience. Before we begin, some obligatory language about the ground rules. I'll be asking specific questions to specific candidates, many of them selected from the thousands of e-mails sent in by NPR listeners. Because of time constraints, we ask that you hold your questions to one minute. There will be opportunities for follow-ups and rebuttals at my discretion, and we'll take short breaks every 15 minutes or so.
We have two hours, so we'll talk about Iraq and terrorism, about deficits and taxes. But we also want to step back from the news to ask about some broader issues: about your views of America and its place in the world, about the proper role of government, about who you are and how you think.
The first question is for Governor Dean. Forty years ago in his State of the Union address, President Lyndon Johnson declared an unconditional war on poverty. Both Democrats and Republicans have controlled the White House and Congress since then. Why are so many Americans still living in poverty?
Dr. HOWARD DEAN (Democratic Presidential Candidate): I think a lot of it has to do with the extraordinary corporate alliances and rapaciousness that this president has encouraged since he's been president. Medicare prescription benefits bill's a perfect example. Four hundred billion dollars charged to our grandchildren. Who are the beneficiaries? Not seniors. No, a hundred billion dollars goes to the pharmaceutical industry, $85 billion goes to HMOs and insurance companies, and the seniors get left holding the bag.
I was in North Dakota yesterday. Farmers up there are being forced off their land by big corporations who are buying up all the hog lot operations and the beef operations. This is a country which is a great country and business has been great for America, but business has responsibility, too, and this president believes that he is the president for the corporation, by the corporation and of the corporation. I think we need a president who's going to introduce programs like Lyndon Johnson did-Medicare, Head Start-that affect ordinary people and help them get ahead in life instead of catering to corporations whose chief executives are giving him $2,000 a whack to improve his campaign coffers.
CONAN: Congressman Gephardt, here's an e-mail we got from Henry Abbott(ph) in Flemington, New Jersey. He writes, 'Many Americans feel jaded about the political process and powerless to influence it, which is not the way this democracy was supposed to work. Why do you think that is? And what can we do to fix it?'
Representative RICHARD GEPHARDT (Democratic Presidential Candidate): Well, I think it goes to the question of the way we operate campaigns. We need campaign reform, and I'm proud to have led the effort in the House a year ago to get the McCain-Feingold campaign reform bill through the Congress. I actually brought John McCain to my office, and we together made phone calls to members of Congress to get them to vote for the bill. We got well over 200 Democrats, we got 15 or so Republicans. That's kind of the normal ratio on a question of reform in campaigns. And we got it done, and I'm proud we got it done.
There's more that we need to get done. People have given up on this system. They think that everybody is bought. They think that the special interests are running amok in the Capitol. And, you know, the Republican Party is selling the government to the highest bidder. We've got to change that perception and reality, and when I'm president we'll get more campaign reform.
CONAN: That was Congressman Gephardt. Senator Kerry, do you think there is any issue so important right now that it needs a constitutional amendment?
Senator JOHN KERRY (Democratic Presidential Candidate): I think it may be possible that in order to deal with the campaign contribution system, you may have to have a constitutional amendment. I think that the single greatest problem in America today with respect to why people are voiceless, why so many people can't have their agenda addressed is campaign funding. I have personally refused in all four elections to the United States Senate-I have voluntarily never taken political action committee money because I wanted to prove you can do it. Paul Wellstone and I together wrote the clean elections law, and I wrote and passed legislation in the 1980s and '90s that actually had partial public funding.
What's happened is the corporations across this country, whether it's Medicare, the energy bill--$50 billion of oil and gas subsidies for the energy companies at the expense of $18 billion added to the deficit. It's inexcusable. We're witnessing the greatest period of crony capitalism in the modern history of the country and we have to end it with campaign finance reform.
CONAN: But just let me follow up, Senator Kerry. Is there anything besides the money wrong with our political system? Redistricting, for example?
Sen. KERRY: Sure. Absolutely. There are a lot of things that are wrong besides that. But the biggest single reason why the voices of Americans, the average American, is not heard is because so much money flows into Washington. The lobbyists are parading through the halls of Congress. They actually wrote the Medicare bill. They were paid $139 million and they turned it into a $139 billion drug company benefit. It's one of the greatest modern examples of a feeding frenzy at the congressional trough that we've seen in any time that I've been there. And everyone in America understands what's wrong. George Bush is feeding that. We have to stop it.
And as president-you know, I've fought these interests all my life, Neal. I fought against Gingrich's efforts to cut the Clean Air and Clean Water Act. I led the fight to stop the drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. We have to stand up to these interests. I've done it, and I will.
CONAN: Congressman Kucinich, 50 years after Brown vs. Board of Education, America is resegregating in the schools and, according to the census, in our communities. How as president would you address that problem?
Representative DENNIS KUCINICH (Democratic Presidential Candidate): It's a great tragedy when you consider that resegregation carries with it an increasing divide in terms of not just educational opportunities, but after the fact, job opportunities. The first thing we must do is to start paying attention to our inner-city schools. Inner-city school systems are wanting for capital, they're wanting for resources.
We need smaller classroom sizes. We need better-paid teachers. We need to have a universal pre-kindergarten program. This will go a long way towards helping children age three, four and five be able to get five-day-a-week day care, which would include reading skills, educational and social skills. It would include nutrition. We need to start early. And we also need to have a fully paid universal college education so that young people will have the chance when they graduate from high school to be able to go on and pull themselves up by their bootstraps. This is all about a public educational system that works from age three all the way through to college.
CONAN: Thank you, Congressman Kucinich.
And here's an e-mail from Jeff Baris(ph) in Washington, DC, for Senator Lieberman. 'You've said in the past that separation of church and state means freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. How do atheists and secularists fit into that vision of American spirituality?'
Senator JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (Democratic Presidential Candidate): Yeah. Thanks very much for asking that question. This is a difference between individual behavior and the public square. And the great point of the First Amendment is that it protects every individual's right to worship or not worship as they choose. I always thought it was a remarkable, a brilliant act of principle when in the Declaration of Independence Jefferson wrote and the others signed that those self-evident truths-that we all have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as an endowment from our Creator. And one of those rights in America is not to believe in the Creator if you don't want to.
What I meant about freedom of religion in that sense and not freedom from religion is that there's been too much of an attempt, and too often from members of my party, to feel uncomfortable talking about faith or to try to exclude faith or expressions of it from the public square. The fact is, in America we're the most religiously observant in our individual lives nation probably in the whole world and we are the most religiously tolerant. Faith, in my opinion, is a source of strength and unity, and when we try to conceal it, we diminish our strength and divide ourselves.
CONAN: Senator Lieberman. And in the last election, Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College. Here's an e-mail for you, Ambassador Moseley Braun. It's from Charlotte Connely(ph) in Dallas. 'Would you support abandoning the Electoral College and electing our president by popular vote?'
Ambassador CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN (Democratic Presidential Candidate): Yes. The fact is that the Constitution-when our Constitution was written, the only federal office that was directly elected was the Congress. The Senate was elected by the state legislatures and, of course, the Electoral Congress elected the president. And so this was changed in 1918 for the Senate. I believe we're past time when the Electoral College needs to go and we have direct election. I was not here for that last election. I was in New Zealand serving as ambassador. You can imagine trying to explain what was going on back here at home to Kiwis who just didn't know we didn't have direct democracy in this country.
But I want to get to an earlier question. You asked a number of the candidates about campaign finance and the like. The real issue is, how do we keep our democracy alive? How do we make this a living Constitution? How do we invigorate our democracy? The fact of the matter is that as the non-traditional candidate in this race-I'm female, African-American-I've had the hardest time navigating the fund-raising milieu, I've had the hardest time dealing with the rules that seem to be calculated just to inspire those corporate contributions that Howard was talking about and lock out people at the grassroots level. I think getting the grassroots energized and giving them faith again that this process can work for everybody should be our number one goal.
CONAN: Ambassador Moseley Braun. Here's an e-mail question for Congressman Gephardt from Mike Harner(ph) in Rockford, Illinois. He writes, 'We hear all the time about waste in the federal government. Can you name a federal government spending program that you would cut completely-not decrease the rate of growth, not downsize, but actually eliminate?'
Rep. GEPHARDT: There are a number of programs that we have cut back on and eliminated when we led the fight-I led the fight for the Clinton economic program in 1993. We made cutbacks in a number of programs. One program that I would definitely cut out is the effort this administration is making to develop tactical nuclear weapons. I think it makes no sense. We should be trying to figure out how to get rid of nuclear weapons. I also would not launch into this Star Wars program that they're continuing to do. We should do research, as Clinton allowed us to do, but to go ahead with this program without any valid test that this is going to work does not make good sense.
So look, the way you get the budget straightened out is the way we did it in '93. You've got to get the economy to function. You've got to build jobs. You've got to get people back to work with good-paying jobs. That's what my plans will do.
CONAN: Governor Dean, Craig Graziano(ph) from right here in Des Moines, Iowa, has this e-mail question for you: 'The United Nations was founded in the middle of the last century. Are there changes that could now be made that would help it achieve its goal of world peace?' In other words, does the UN need reform?
Dr. DEAN: I think the UN has gone through a big period of reform. Could it use some more? Yes. I think that, for example, the election of Syria or Libya as the head of the Human Rights Commission in the United Nations is probably a sign that still further reforms are necessary.
Having said that, however, I think this president made an enormous mistake bypassing the United Nations on his way into Iraq. We are not going to give the United Nations veto power over our foreign policy, but the president's father showed that building coalitions is far more successful and will retain our moral leadership in the world, which this president has forfeited by humiliating not only our enemies but our friends.
So I view the UN as a very positive institution, a group of nations that we should work with, a place to resolve disputes, a place where diplomacy is always favored over violence, which I think is in general the right direction for the United States to follow. It's not perfect. I'm sure there are some additional reforms, such as qualifications for the Human Rights Commission, but I do believe that this president has misused the United Nations or not used it at all, and under a Dean presidency you could expect to see a significant increase in the role of the United Nations in world diplomacy.
CONAN: Congressman Kucinich, we just have about a minute left, so if you could keep this one a little bit shorter than normal. But I did want to follow up on the domestic spending cuts issue that I raised earlier. Is there a program that you would eliminate?
Rep. KUCINICH: I would say that the programs that I would cut would include a 15 percent reduction in Pentagon spending. The Pentagon budget is bloated for some of the same reasons that Dick Gephardt mentioned. But I think that what we need here is a program to challenge poverty, and my program to go from poverty to prosperity would include a living wage, creation of jobs through a new WPA-type program, universal health care for all, universal pre-kindergarten, universal college education for all, development of high-tech with energy and the environment, and canceling the relationship between the United States and the WTO and NAFTA. That would help us move in the direction of repairing our economy.
CONAN: Congressman Kucinich.
We're in Des Moines, Iowa, with the Democratic presidential candidates. I'm Neal Conan. This is an NPR News special.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is an NPR News special. I'm Neal Conan in Des Moines with Democratic candidates Carol Moseley Braun, Joe Lieberman, Dennis Kucinich, John Kerry, Richard Gephardt and Howard Dean.
Congressman Kucinich, you've called to get all US troops out of Iraq in 90 days. How will you convince the international community to step in and fill the void? Right now, the United Nations doesn't have so much as an office in Baghdad.
Rep. KUCINICH: Well, we understand clearly why the UN isn't involved right now, because the US spurned their involvement in inspections. And we know the UN doesn't have any incentives. What I'm talking about is providing the UN with an incentive, and that incentive would be that the United States would give up ambitions to control the oil, turn that over to the UN so the UN would handle that on an interim basis on behalf of the Iraqi people until the Iraqi people are self-governing.
The second part of my plan is that the United States would turn over to the UN the contracting process so that UN-there'll be no more Halliburton sweetheart deals. There'll be transparency in contracting, no more contracts going to administration favorites. And the UN would handle that on behalf of the Iraqi people until the Iraqi people were able to take over.
The next thing we would do is have the United States renounce any interest in privatization. That would go a long way to getting confidence of the world community.
And the final thing we have to do to get an agreement is to have the United Nations handle the cause of governance in Iraq, the construction of a new constitution and elections.
These are the preconditions which would enable UN peacekeepers to come in and bring our troops home. And I'm the only one in this campaign who is calling for the UN to come in and the US to get out. And that would happen within 90 days of the approval of my plan.
CONAN: Governor Dean, the target date for an American hand-over in Iraq is looming. This administration seems determined to make the July 1st deadline. How stable do the government and security in Iraq need to be for the United States to hand over?
Dr. DEAN: Certainly more stable than they are right now. I have grave concerns that, once again, political motives are overcoming common sense. I didn't want to go into Iraq in the first place. I thought it was a mistake and I thought that Saddam Hussein did not pose the kind of danger to the United States that, say, the Soviet Union did. But now that we're there, if we pull out precipitously, we may end up with a much greater danger. Al-Qaeda was not in Iraq before, but they are now, almost certainly. And if we pull out precipitously or if we turn over the Iraqi government to the Iraqis precipitously and al-Qaeda establishes a foothold in Iraq, we have a much more serious problem in terms of our defense than we did before.
So I think the first thing we need is elections. The Iraqi Council needs to represent Iraqi people. Many of the people are good people on the Iraqi Council, but some of them are not. And if they're going to write a new constitution, they're going to have to feel that the Iraqis-the Iraqi people are going to have to feel that constitution is written by Iraqis, for Iraqis and, because they were sent to write a constitution, on behalf of Iraqis.
So I think first elections, then hand-over. And I think the timetable for July 1st, the idea they're going to have a constitution ready by July 1st, is an idea that I think is unlikely and mostly driven by Karl Rove's political advice, which I don't think is particularly good in foreign policy.
CONAN: So what would your timetable be?
Dr. DEAN: You don't have a timetable in something like this. You leave when you can. I'm with Dennis. I don't believe we can pull out in 90 days. I believe we should pull out as soon as we can, but I can't give you-it's not responsible to give you a deadline because there's work to be done, and until the work is done, we can't leave.
CONAN: Congressman Gephardt, you said this spring that you felt sure the United States would find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. You, of course, were not alone in saying that. But you've also said you did not feel misled when the head of the CIA assured you about WMDs. Why not?
Rep. GEPHARDT: Well, I didn't just listen to George Bush. I talked to many people at the CIA, including the director. I talked to people that had been in the Clinton administration in the security apparatus, and they all shared the same view: that they were very, very likely that Saddam Hussein neither had weapons or components of weapons or the ability to quickly make weapons. So on that basis, I made the decision I made, and I made it because I thought it was the right thing to do. I've said from the beginning you can't pull politics into this, you've got to do what it takes to keep the people safe.
Now if weapons are never found, or components are never found, or the capacity to make them is never found, then we need to examine why the intelligence was wrong, if it was wrong. And it's why I've called for an outside blue-ribbon commission to do this so that we can improve our intelligence capacity for the future. I think that's a very essential part of this whole deal.
CONAN: Ambassador Moseley Braun, does it matter if the weapons of mass destruction are found at this point? What are the implications both for American credibility and for wherever those weapons may be?
Amb. BRAUN: I don't think this administration has any credibility when it comes to this issue. They have pandered to fear and, frankly, just missed the point altogether from the beginning in regards to an appropriate response to the tragedy of September 11th.
Instead of continuing to search out bin Laden, instead of continuing to go after al-Qaeda, instead of doing those things that would make the American people safe on the ground, helping the first responders to put an infrastructure in police and fire and hospitals and the like-instead of doing those things, instead we got duct tape and plastic sheeting and terror alerts at the bottom of our screen and a misadventure going into Iraq based on intelligence that at the time I have a hard time believing anybody really, really believed in.
Be that as it may, you know, it's done, and so the question now is, where do we go from here? I think that we need to come out as soon as we can. Whether they find weapons of mass destruction now or not I don't think will make all that much difference because we've got our young men and women in harm's way. But come out as soon as we can, but do it in a way that allows for the re-establishment of civil society in Iraq.
CONAN: Senator Kerry, Pakistani officials are accused of trading nuclear weapons technology to other countries, including Iran, North Korea and, as we heard today, possibly to Libya as well. Pakistan is also an essential American ally in the war on terrorism and, look at the map, it's crucial to any continuing operations in Afghanistan. How do you balance those two issues?
Sen. KERRY: It's complicated, but-excuse me-you have to balance them, and it's even more complicated than that. There have been two attempts on the life of President Musharraf. The specter of an Islamic radical state with nuclear weapons is unacceptable for the world, and that is what is at risk in Pakistan today. Pakistan has, frankly, misled the United States and the world with respect to its proliferation responsibilities for years. I remember meeting in Washington with President Zia and he lied to my face about what they were doing with respect to nuclear weapons. And that's when we put sanctions in place on Pakistan as a consequence.
I believe that you have to walk a very fine line, but I am convinced we can be tougher with Pakistan. There are steps that we could take now to deal with the northwest component, where Osama bin Laden is. We know he's up there. We have not pushed hard enough. And I think there are combinations of initiatives we could take with India that would also help us resolve the tensions in that area.
CONAN: Some follows. Ambassador Braun.
Amb. BRAUN: Senator Kerry is exactly right. When Benazir Bhutto was president, she swore directly to us that there was no nuclear rising going on, and we saw the O-rings on the Chinese boat in Karachi's harbor. The fact of the matter is Musharraf overthrew a democratically elected government there. We have to work with the Pakistanis but be very clear about the fact that our interests and their interests may not be coherent. There are rumors even that bin Laden is hanging out in the northwest territories there. So the fact of the matter is we have to, you know, take advantage of our-we have to relationship-build even with bad people. But at the same time, we have to be very clear about who it is we're dealing with.
CONAN: And, Governor Dean, you wanted to get in on this.
Dr. DEAN: I just wanted to bring up one other point about this. As we sit here, the president of the United States is refusing to have bilateral negotiations with the North Koreans, who almost certainly have a bomb already. This president is about to allow North Korea to become a nuclear power. The danger in that is not that the North Koreans will immediately attack us. The real danger is that they will do what Pakistan is accused of. They'll sell that weaponry to terrorists or to other countries like Libya or Pakistan for hard currency-a major national security threat. And this president is not defending this country the way he ought to be by refusing to engage in those kinds of deliberations because the hard-liners in this administration believe somehow North Korea's going to fall. Well, if they don't fall of their own accord and they end up with nuclear weapons, that's a pretty serious security risk for the United States of America.
CONAN: Congressman Kucinich.
Rep. KUCINICH: We have to consider the implications of this administration's policy of nuclear first strike and of developing new nuclear weapons, which was enunciated in their Nuclear Posture Review. Once the administration took that position, it lost credibility with the world community to ask any nation to disarm. As president of the United States, I would lead the way towards reasserting the primacy of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which calls for the United States and all nuclear nations to get rid of their nuclear weapons and for the non-nuclear nations not to develop them. That's how we can regain credibility. That's how we can help secure the world.
CONAN: And, Congressman Gephardt.
Rep. GEPHARDT: Back on Pakistan, I think this administration has failed a lot in doing something to stop the Saudi support for madrassas schools in especially Pakistan that is producing young terrorists coming forward. You've now had two attacks on Musharraf's life. This is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. They have nuclear power. This president is not doing enough to see to it that we don't face the imposition of nuclear weapons from other countries like Pakistan to the terrorists and finding their way into the United States.
CONAN: And I'll get to you just in a second, Senator Lieberman, but I did want to follow up with Congressman Gephardt. You and others have criticized the institutions of the madrassas, which you say are teaching anti-Western values. Where do we get off telling other countries how to run their schools?
Rep. GEPHARDT: When you're teaching people to be terrorists, when you're advocating behavior which is really terrorism, I think the whole world has a stake in changing that educational system. This is putting lives at stake all over the world. This is a manufacturing facility of terrorism, and the whole world has to take a stand against this, and it's being funded in large part by some members of the Saudi society, and we have to take a hard stand against it and get it to change, get it to move.
CONAN: And now, Senator Lieberman.
Sen. LIEBERMAN: Yeah, thanks. Who would have guessed that Pakistan would have brought forth each of us to offer a comment? Let me make two points about this. The first is that the most significant threat we face to American security in American lives in the coming period of history is from fanatical Islamic terrorism. They attacked us brutally on September 11th, 2001, but Osama bin Laden in his most insane moments does not contemplate conquering the United States of America. More likely targets are Islamabad, Pakistan and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. So working with General Musharraf-not perfect-is very important to our security.
Secondly, finally, this administration has been woefully disengaged from playing the kind of constructive mediating role we should be playing between Pakistan and India to resolve and mediate those conflicts which will be in everybody's interests.
CONAN: Senator Kerry. Then we'll move on to another part of the world.
Sen. KERRY: Well, at the end of my comment when I ran out of time, I raised the India issue. The United States, this administration, has been negligent, absent from the effort to put on the global agenda proliferation as a whole. We should have purchased all of the loose nuclear material, fissionable material in Russia today. We should have taken the initiative long ago, recognizing the Islamic realities in Pakistan to have worked with India to create a nuclear oversight capacity so that if there were an assassination or there were an overthrow, we know that the nuclear weapons can't fall in the hands of terrorists. This is one of the most glaring weaknesses in this administration's entire foreign policy, and they have left the world at much greater risk, including, obviously, the United States of America.
Dr. DEAN: Well...
Sen. KERRY: They are not making America safer, Neal, and I believe I bring to this race the deepest level of foreign policy experience and an involvement in arms control that can help to deal with these issues so that we, in fact, fight a legitimate war on terror.
CONAN: Governor Dean wanted to get in there.
Dr. DEAN: I want to make one quick point about this, since we're talking about Islamic terrorists. There is a civil war going on, but it's not between the West and Islam. It's inside Islam between the radicals and the moderates, and this administration continually acts to strengthen the radicals inadvertently. I think, in response to Dick's answer about the schools, everybody, including moderate Muslims, has an interest in making sure that the radicals are not teaching small children to hate Americans, Christians, Jews and moderate Muslims, and that is the place that we have to start. I totally agree with the comments that have been made about the Saudis. We cannot afford to have them teaching hate to the next generation of suicide bombers and terrorists.
CONAN: How do you convince them not to teach hate to the-how do you convince them to do that? How?
Dr. DEAN: We have to make it economically not worth their while to continue to do what they're doing. We have...
CONAN: Stop buying their oil?
Dr. DEAN: Well, that would be...
Unidentified Panelist: Yeah.
Dr. DEAN: Actually, you know what? That would be a terrific start. A renewable energy policy would go a long way to defending the United States of America. This president doesn't seem to think renewable energy exists.
CONAN: Ambassador Moseley Braun.
Ms. BRAUN: Well, some of us have a little foreign policy experience also, John, but the point needs to be made that it has happened before that we have intervened. You've asked the question about how can you teach people what to teach their children in their schools? Well, after World War II, we did as much for Germany as well as Japan to try to...
CONAN: After conquering those countries.
Ms. BRAUN: Well, but the point is we engaged to make certain that the kind of militarism that happened at that level was ended. And I think that that argues well for our ability to use our diplomacy in a variety of ways to create another kind of culture in the sense of America in these parts of the world.
CONAN: Congressman Kucinich.
Rep. KUCINICH: What credibility do we have as a nation trying to teach peace when we're involved in a war against Iraq at this very moment and the ongoing occupation, in trying to control the oil and privatize the country? The way that we teach peace is through example. We need to set aside policies of unilateralism and pre-emption. We need to set aside policies of nuclear first strike. And we need to engage the world, fearlessly and confidently, once again, not the America of duct tape and plastic, but the America of Francis Scott Key's land of the free, home of the brave.
CONAN: And I promise this will be the last one, Senator Lieberman.
Sen. LIEBERMAN: OK. I wanted to speak about Saudi Arabia. How do we convince them to stop supporting the madrassas? Because it's in their interests, because, you know, this is a classic case. You try to ride the back of the tiger, he's going to eat you up. If they don't stop the spread of radical Islam, they're going to be overthrown. The great victory that we will win in the war against terrorism is not just to capture and kill bin Laden, but it is to empower the great majority of Muslims to live better, freer lives, and we can only do that if the leadership, too often despotic, often sitting on top of gravely impoverished people, will allow us to help them open up. I proposed an international Marshall Plan for the Muslim world, very different from the 'do nothing' approach of the Bush administration.
CONAN: Senator Kerry, I did want to move on to another part of the world. Taiwan has scheduled what some are describing as a provocative referendum as a sign of restiveness, and some fear that it could lead them toward a policy of independence. When it comes down to it, will you stand with the rambunctious democrats in Taipei or with the autocrats in Beijing?
Sen. KERRY: You're asking me?
CONAN: Yes, sir.
Sen. KERRY: The United States has always had a one-China policy, notwithstanding how terrible we may understand their regime to be. And that has been a Republican president, Democrat president policy alike. I think it is the right policy.
At the same time, no president could possibly allow Taiwan to slip backwards from the democracy that it has achieved, and what we have succeeded in doing through the years is maintaining a balance, sort of what people have called a purposeful, constructive ambiguity where we've left it uncertain as to precisely what steps we'd take, but we've made it clear we will not tolerate any kind of invasion, any kind of effort to move backwards. I think now it's time for us to also be strong with Taiwan and make it clear that while we are supportive of the democracy and while we recognize the society they've built and a capitalist society, we are not going to permit them to declare independence, that that would be unacceptable. And I think the way we resolve it is to continue to push, as we did with Hong Kong, Macau and other places for a one China, two systems, and work through over the course of the future.
CONAN: Senator Lieberman.
Sen. LIEBERMAN: America is always strongest in the world when we stand by our principles, and the bedrock principle is freedom and democracy. So, yes, China's big. We have to work to manage our relations with them. Taiwan is small, but China is not a democracy. Taiwan is. And we have to stand with that rambunctious democracy. I was startled when the Bush administration-because the president of Taiwan, in the midst of a political campaign, when we know here, people sometimes do unusual things, called for a referendum on whether the Chinese missiles pointed from the mainland toward Taiwan should be removed. In response to that...
Sen. KERRY: But, Joe...
Sen. LIEBERMAN: ...the president turned his back on Taiwan. That was an outrageously unprincipled position for a president of the United States to take.
Sen. KERRY: But, Joe...
CONAN: Senator Kerry wanted to get back in.
Sen. KERRY: Well, just, Joe, surely, you would agree with me that they should not be encouraged or allowed to declare independence.
Sen. LIEBERMAN: No. I-yes. And because that's...
Sen. KERRY: You do agree with me.
Sen. LIEBERMAN: That's the nuance, but this was not a declaration of independence by the Taiwanese. This was a call for a referendum on whether the Chinese should remove the missiles from across the Taiwan Straits, and for the president, when China griped about it, to knuckle under, that's not what the leader of the greatest democracy in the world does.
CONAN: You're listening to NPR's radio-only debate with six Democratic presidential candidates. More of the issues and more of your e-mails after the break.
I'm Neal Conan in Des Moines. This is an NPR NEWS SPECIAL.
CONAN: This is an NPR NEWS SPECIAL. I'm Neal Conan.
With just two weeks of campaigning before the Iowa caucuses, we're joined here in Des Moines, Iowa, by six Democratic presidential contenders: Senator Kerry, Congressman Gephardt, Governor Dean, Ambassador Moseley Braun, Senator Lieberman and Congressman Kucinich.
We're going to switch subjects now and then talk a little bit about the economy and taxes. And, Governor Dean, Peter Farrian(ph) of Manchester, New Hampshire, e-mailed this question for you. 'You're proposing the elimination of President Bush's tax cuts, including the child tax credit. I'm the father of three children. My wife stays at home with them, and we have made great sacrifices to raise our family on one paycheck. How can you justify taking this money from us?'
Dr. DEAN: Ultimately, we will have a program of tax fairness for middle-class people, but the truth is the Bush tax cuts gave people who make a million dollars an average of a hundred and twelve thousand dollar tax cut. Sixty percent of Americans got a $304 tax cut. Now I grant you, some of this-caller, I'm sure, did get more than $304. The fact is we've got to balance the budget. I want health insurance for every single American. I have promised to fund special education, and there's some higher education programs that we want. If we're going to have jobs in America, we've got to balance the budget. If we're going to have a decent America joined with every other industrialized country in the world to have basic needs taken care of, we're going to have to do something about education, and we're going to have to do something about health care.
The truth was there was no middle-class tax cut for most people. For this individual, yes. But most people's tuitions have gone up more than $304. Their health-care premiums have gone up more than $304 because the president pushed costs down to local people. Their property taxes have gone up more than $304 because he didn't fund No Child Left Behind, and he didn't fund special education. So in the balance, while individuals like the caller will have higher taxes, the fact is that if I believe that if we were all paying the same taxes we paid when Bill Clinton was president, we could have the same kind of economy we had when Bill Clinton was president, and I think we cannot keep telling people we're going to give them all the programs they want and then there's not going to be any sacrifice of any kind.
CONAN: Joe Lieberman, you wanted to get in on this.
Sen. LIEBERMAN: Yeah. I mean, Howard and I have a disagreement on that. I don't know what he means when he says ultimately, we're going to have a tax reform program. We're running for president now. We have to tell people what we want to do. He would repeal the middle-class tax cuts. That would cost middle-class families in New Hampshire, average family, $2,000 a year that they work so hard for. He would take it back. They need it to pay health insurance increases and education and child care increases. I'm going to step beyond that. I'm the only one who's proposed a new middle-class tax cut for 98 percent of the income tax payers. It's fair, not just because the middle class is stressed, but because if you look at who's paying for government, less and less is being paid by the rich and corporations and more and more by the middle class. They need a break. I'm going to give it to them.
CONAN: Everybody wants to get in on this. Senator Kerry, I think you were next.
Sen. KERRY: Well, Howard Dean's and Dick Gephardt's proposal to get rid of the tax cut raises taxes in several different ways, and his argument that he just made doesn't make sense. If their property tax went up and if other taxes have gone up mainly because of the tax cuts of the wealthy, nothing that Howard is proposing lowers that burden. In fact, he's going to add to it, because the person with the child credit loses their child credit. You lose the 10 percent bracket and you're taxed at 15 percent instead of 10 percent, and he reinstates the marriage penalty.
So Howard Dean has a program to raise people's taxes beyond the increases they've already paid in tuition, because he's not lowering the tuitions, beyond their health-care costs-those are up. And so he's going to increase the burden on middle-class America.
CONAN: I think we have to give Governor Dean an opportunity to respond.
Dr. DEAN: I'll take that, and then I hope Dick response because we're on the same side on this one as well. I think, respectfully, what John just said is hogwash. The reason the taxes have gone down is because George Bush cut $304 of taxes for 60 percent of Americans. In return, they got higher college tuitions; in Iowa, $816 increase in the last year; higher health-care premiums and higher property taxes. If I do this the way I want to do, everybody's going to have health insurance in America. That's exactly the middle-class person that wrote in about their kids. They're going to have health insurance they can afford. Those three kids are going to be able to afford college, which they can't do not. I think my way of running the tax program and making sure that all middle-class people can send their kids to college, can have adequate health insurance and will reduce their property taxes because we'll fully fund special education.
Sen. KERRY: Now Howard just suggested...
Dr. DEAN: Middle-class people get a better deal from President Dean.
CONAN: Excuse me, Governor Dean, yeah.
Sen. KERRY: Howard just suggested it was hogwash. It's not. Angela Runkel(ph) lives right here in Des Moines. She's a reservist and a nurse. She earns $55,000 a year with her husband. She has five kids. She already has health care. She's not going to be helped. She's going to pay an additional $2,200 of taxes. April Baylog(ph)--she's a coder over here at the hospital. She's going to pay an additional $1,900. These people can't afford Howard Dean's increase in taxes.
CONAN: Let's get some other voices in. That was Senator John Kerry. Dennis Kucinich.
Rep. KUCINICH: First of all, we have to recognize that the Bush tax cut removed much of the progressivity from our tax system. It placed the Treasury in record deficits and it was part of anti-growth economic policies, and together with the war, it has made a shambles of our economy. As president of the United States, what I would do is to move forward with a progressive tax act of 2005, which would ensure an equal tax burden on all taxpayers. It would provide tax relief for workers and families. It would provide for a $2,000 simplified family credit. It would close the corporate loopholes, and it would eliminate the Bush tax cuts that went to the people in the top bracket. That, together with a single-payer universal health-care system, can help restore our economy.
CONAN: We'll go first to Ambassador Moseley Braun and then to Congressman Gephardt.
Ms. BRAUN: Well, first to Dennis, thank you, Dennis, because you're exactly right. Dennis is exactly right. And part of the dirty little secret in all of this is that the conversation about the income tax misses the point that 80 percent of the American people pay more in payroll taxes than they do in income taxes. And so for the average working person, the burden on their payroll tax has gone up because of the health-care costs, because of the tide of the workplace, and their costs have gone up because of the shifting from the national government to state and local governments. So that income tax refund that you may have gotten, you've seen your fees and charges and license plate fees and everything else has gone up, and that is part of the end of the progressivity that Dennis talks about that we have to redress and get some balance.
CONAN: Congressman Gephardt.
Rep. GEPHARDT: I want to respond directly to Senator Kerry's basic argument. I think that we need to help everybody with health-care insurance. That's what my plan does. And to go against your argument, I'm going to give $3,000 to the average family in economic benefits instead of the five or $700 that they get under the Bush tax cuts. Further than the...
Sen. KERRY: But ...(unintelligible) health care...
Rep. GEPHARDT: Let me finish. Let me finish. Further than that, you have a proposal that you've put out to have a holiday from people paying their Social Security tax and companies from paying the tax. I think that's a risky proposal. I don't see how we beat George Bush if we're going to undermine the Social Security system as part of our tax system.
CONAN: I think now Senator Kerry gets a chance to respond.
Sen. KERRY: That was a proposal that was put out when we were first talking about the tax cuts, because 20 million Americans don't pay income tax. That's what Carol Moseley Braun was talking about. And the only way to get them a benefit, so they actually got some money back in their pocket and could pay their bills, was to give them a refundable payroll tax credit on a one-year basis check. It does nothing to undermine Social Security; in fact, it strengthened the purchasing power in the economy.
But coming back to this issue that you and Howard are doing, look, here's the reality. Here in Iowa, tuitions have gone up $1,800. Health care has gone up about $800 out of pocket expenses. You're going to add to those people's burden the-taking away the child credit, taking away the 10 percent bracket. Everybody in Iowa will pay additional taxes at 15 percent, and the marriage penalty be reinstated. Now there's a terrific message.
Unidentified Panelist: All right.
CONAN: Senator Kerry, I'm afraid...
Sen. KERRY: Democrats in America, if you get married, you ought to pay more taxes. I think it's wrong.
CONAN: We'll go to Senator Lieberman and then to Governor Dean.
Sen. LIEBERMAN: There is something that all of us agree on. We want to deny George Bush a second term and give America a fresh start. I don't know of a case where a Democratic candidate for president has been elected who called for a massive increase in taxes on the middle class. These are our people. This is what America is all about. They are hurting more today than I have ever seen them hurting in my adult life; health insurance premiums choking them, child care impossible to pay for, education, the cost of living generally. They need the tax cut that we fought for over the last three years, and frankly, they need more. And again, that's why I'm proposing an additional tax cut; $2,700 more under my plan in the pocket of the average family of four in New Hampshire than Howard Dean would leave there. They worked hard for it. They ought to be able to keep it.
CONAN: Governor Dean.
Dr. DEAN: Let me make two points briefly. First, I don't know Angela Runkel, but if she has five kids, she's going to have to send them to college, and under my plan, she's a whole lot better off than she is under Senator Kerry's plan.
Sen. KERRY: Under what plan?
Dr. DEAN: Secondly...
Sen. KERRY: Wait, wait, wait. What...
Dr. DEAN: Under the plan I have to help people with $10,000 a year per kid for four years to help them get through college. And that...
Sen. KERRY: Well, I have a plan to get through college, too, Howard.
Dr. DEAN: But...
CONAN: If you would let him finish, sir, please.
Dr. DEAN: And that is...
Sen. KERRY: The issue is what about their tax burden now?
CONAN: Senator Kerry, if you would let Governor Dean finish.
Dr. DEAN: No, the issue is that there are too many politicians who've run for president over the years who have promised everybody everything and then say, 'But we've got to balance the budget.' And that's what we're seeing right here. I want to balance this budget. I balance budgets. That's what governors do. If we don't balance the budget in this country, we're not going to have jobs. We're not going to have prosperity. You cannot promise people tax cuts, college education, health care and whatever else you want and say, 'Oh, it'll all be fine.' That's what George Bush is doing. I want fiscal responsibility in this country, but I want to help middle-class people send their kids to college. You cannot have tax cuts and help people send their kids to college at the same time.
CONAN: If you'll allow me, I'll take the follow on this. Governor Dean, you have made the following campaign promises: new health-care plan, more money for education, more money for police officers, homeland security, the fight against AIDS. You think the United States should buy back the entire uranium stockpile held by the former Soviet Union. Even if you do repeal the Bush tax cuts, surely, that's not going to be enough to pay for all that.
Dr. DEAN: Well, as a matter of fact, it is. The Bush tax cut is $3 trillion, 2.4 trillion in money taken out of the Social Security Trust Fund and put into the deficit and $600 billion of additional interest costs. Three trillion dollars not only does all those things that I talked about, but it also leaves enough money to begin to start the process of balancing the budget.
Sen. KERRY: Can I respond?
CONAN: Well, let's get Congressman Kucinich. We've not heard from him for a bit, and then we'll go to Senator Kerry and then to Congressman Gephardt.
Rep. KUCINICH: It's interesting...
CONAN: Go back over to that side of the table, too.
Rep. KUCINICH: It's interesting to hear Governor Dean's assertion about how he will try to balance the budget when he refuses to admit that there needs to be cuts in the bloated Pentagon budget. I don't see how in the world, when you have something that, at this point, takes up about 50 percent of the discretionary budget of this country...
CONAN: Congressman Kucinich is holding up a pie chart which is not truly effective on the radio.
Rep. KUCINICH: Fifty perce-well, it's effective if Howard can see it. Fifty percent of the budget's taken up by defense. How are you going to balance the budget if you refuse to cut the bloated Pentagon budget?
CONAN: Governor Dean?
Dr. DEAN: Actually, the reason I don't think we can afford to cut the Pentagon budget is we're not safe enough. I'm with Dick Gephardt.
Rep. KUCINICH: So would you increase it?
Dr. DEAN: As I was about to say, I'm with Dick Gephardt. I don't believe we ought to build a tactical battle field of nuclear weapons because they're not effective against terrorists. I don't think we should build out “Star Wars” because it's failed too many tests. But our soldiers aren't getting paid enough. We don't have adequate intelligence, either human intelligence or cyberintelligence. We don't have adequate special ops forces, which is the the forces we really need to attack terrorism is. So I don't think that you can say you're going to cut the defense budget and still defend the United States of America. I don't want to build some of the programs that you don't want to build, but their needs are there, and I don't think we're going to have a net cut in the defense budget.
CONAN: Senator Lieberman.
Sen. LIEBERMAN: Somebody made the point about paying for the tax cuts. It's a good point. Look, George Bush just passed these tax cuts and didn't pay for them. That's why we have the largest deficit in our history that people are going to pay hundreds of billions of dollars for for years and generations to come. The additional tax cut that I'm proposing for 98 percent of the income tax payers in America, the broad middle class, I'm asking the top 2 percent to pay for it. It's fiscally responsible.
Secondly, when you repeal all the tax cuts of the last three years, you also repeal some tax cuts and incentives for small businesses to make the kinds of investments that'll help us create some of the jobs, millions of jobs, that have been lost under George W. Bush.
CONAN: Ambassador Moseley Braun and then Senator Kerry.
Ms. BRAUN: You know, to ask the old-what used to be called the Ronald Reagan question, are you better off now than you were four years ago? The fact of the matter is under the last Democratic president, we had an economy that was working and beginning to work better than ever for all of the American people. Now because of the trickle-down economics of this administration, they passed this tax cut. Frankly, the permanent parts of it will go to benefit the people who need it the least. Dennis' point is well-taken. It's a matter of progressivity and fairness, and we do not have tax fairness. We don't have tax fairness at the national level, and the tax shifting to state and locals is absolutely reprehensible. So getting a balanced budget, having some fiscal responsibility, making certain that our tax code and our economy works for every American is the goal that those of us who are running to replace George Bush want to achieve.
CONAN: Ambassador Moseley Braun. Senator Kerry.
Sen. KERRY: Neal, Angela Runkel and millions of other people in this country are not going to be better off tomorrow, next year, the year after under Howard Dean's and Dick Gephardt's plan, because they're going to pay additional taxes now on top of the health-care costs, on top of the tuition costs, other life costs they have today. But here's the more important thing. In balancing the budget, Howard Dean has just said he wants to balance it. He said four years, he said five years. He wants to balance the budget in a shorter period of time than Bill Clinton did. We balanced the budget with Bill Clinton, but we learned we don't have to take it out of the hides of the middle class. I believe that we can balance the budget, cut the deficit in half in four years, but close loopholes for these corporations that go to Bermuda, one of which incidentally was in Ver-many of which were in Vermont, where Howard Dean gave up tax revenue...
CONAN: Senator Kerry.
Sen. KERRY: ...to create a snowy Bermuda in the fields of Vermont. It's wrong.
CONAN: I wanted to get back to Congressman Gephardt on this question. Go back to the original e-mail question we got from Peter Farrian in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Rep. GEPHARDT: Peter caused a lot of trouble here today. yeah.
CONAN: He certainly did. He's got a lot to answer for, but you said in the candidates' debate two days ago here in Des Moines that you are ready to tell the country if they like the Bush tax cuts, vote for Bush. Are you telling Mr. Farrian of Manchester, New Hampshire, that he should vote for George Bush?
Rep. GEPHARDT: I put it in a comparison. I say if you like the Bush tax cuts, you think that's the best as it gets, then vote for George Bush. But if you want health care that can never be taken away from you, vote for me, because I have the best plan on health care. But I want to go back to some of the points that have been made here. If we're going to beat George Bush, we've got to take him on on questions like Social Security and Medicare. I think John's proposal on what I think will undermine the Social Security Trust Fund will not allow us to beat George Bush. The Republicans have wanted to get rid of Social Security and privatize it, and I've said many times that I think Howard's position on Medicare is one that won't allow us to defeat George Bush. Howard was with the Republicans in the mid-'90s when they were for a $270 billion cut in Medicare, which would have devastated the program. He said Medicare was the worst federal program ever, the worst thing that ever happened. I don't see how we can beat George Bush with that position.
CONAN: And there, I'm afraid we're going to have to leave it for now. You're listening to the NPR-WOI Democratic presidential debate from Des Moines, Iowa.
I'm Neal Conan. This is an NPR NEWS SPECIAL.
MR. CONAN: This is an NPR News Special. I am Neal Conan in Des Moines. This is the second hour of the Democratic presidential candidates debate from NPR News and the WOI Radio Group. If you are just joining us, six of the leading Democratic contenders are here at Iowa State University's campus in a very chilly downtown Des Moines for what our researchers tell us is the first radio-only debate since 1948 -- no TV cameras, no audience. Instead of a line of lecterns, the candidates are seated at a U-shaped table. On my right, former ambassador Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois; Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut; Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio; Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts; Congressman Dick Gephardt of Missouri; and former governor Howard Dean of Vermont.
The candidates have a minute to respond to questions and, within limits, to call on them for brief rebuttals and follow-ups. We'll take short breaks every 15 minutes or so, and we'll conclude this debate with closing statements. We've already talked about a lot of the issues, but a candidate is much more than a compilation of position papers. Personality, character, and experience are all critical to any president's ability to govern, and these are the kinds of things that voters want to know about before they make their choice.
Here is an e-mail that comes from Steven Mulcher (sp) in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and-about the role of religion has played in your life, Senator Kerry. Can you give us an example of a political decision you made as a result of religious conviction despite the fact that is was unpopular, and Steven Mulcher adds that he is a former Republican and now votes Democratic as a result of his deeply held traditional religious values.
SEN. KERRY: Well, my life has been impacted, as I think most people here would tell you. I was an altar boy. There was a period in my life where religion was a huge part of my life and I thought, perhaps, as a young man, of going into the priesthood. That changed. My experience in Vietnam had a profound impact on my views and, to a certain degree, made me question for a period of time. And then I came back to practice that had a deeper and more fundamental understanding of my own relationship. But I have always separated it from public life. I've always viewed that as critical. I think I am who I am. My entire person is affected by my belief structure, by the values given to me both through my parents and through religion, but I don't make decisions in public life based on religious belief, nor do I think we should. I think that there is a separation of church and state, and whatever the doctrine of your state is has to guide you, but you don't make it based on that.
MR. CONAN: Congressman Kucinich.
REP. KUCINICH: When our country was founded, our founders anticipated a separation of church and state, but they never anticipated that we would be separate from spiritual values, and my spiritual principle is I try to bring it into a material world. I think that's actually why we're here on this planet-so that we can bring spiritual principles into the material world and thereby help to sanctify our (bliss ?) in the material world. The Gospel of St. Matthew, Matthew 25, where he talks about, you know, whatever you do for the least of the brethren-that ought to guide some of our socioeconomic policy in this country. When I was hungry, did you feed me? When I was homeless, did you shelter me? You know, there are things that we ought to do to bring spiritual principles into our public policy.
MR. CONAN: And, Senator Lieberman.
SENATOR LIEBERMAN: Well, let me say how thrilled I am that we're having this discussion and how grateful I am to the questioner who, if I heard it right, said he changed from Republican to Democrat because of his traditional religious values. Religion matters to people. It's part of me-that it informs but doesn't determine things that I do in politics. That's what it does for most Americans, but the important point is, we've got to talk about it, otherwise, the Republicans will get away with convincing people that they have some kind of monopoly on values and faith; in fact, they don't. What's environmental protection, which the Bush administration has been so miserable about-it's a faith-based initiative to protect God's creation. What about the least among us? When you think that George Bush did America's national treasury, give it to people that don't need it because they're so wealthy, and the least among us are hungry and homeless that --
MR. CONAN: Ambassador Moseley Braun.
MS. MOSELEY BRAUN: I was really blessed as a child. My father would take us-after mass, he would take us to other churches and synagogues and temples, and so I grew up knowing the unifying kind of-having a sense of unifying spiritually among all the world's great religions. I have, in my own professional life, however, actually had suffered being shunned in my church because of my position and favor of freedom of choice for women. And my position to favor-or against the death penalty. It's almost oxymoronic that you've got the two working against each other. But I had a situation in which I actually had to go to mass one morning and see my name in the bulletin as someone to be called for having done a thing that was against doctrine. So I think you have to keep them separate-separation of church and state is what keeps this country great.
MR. CONAN: Congressman Gephardt?
REP. GEPHARDT: I'm a Democrat because of what I learned in the Baptist Church that I grew up in St. Louis, and it was the gospel of caring about the poor first. I grew up in a poor family, but my parents always talked about people that were poorer than we were and what we could do to help them. And that is what I think we all can do. I don't want to force my religion on anybody, but I certainly have tried to conduct myself in public life according to the religious beliefs that I learned in that Baptist Church.
MR. CONAN: Here is an e-mail question that we have for Governor Dean from Rhonda McLean (sp) in Dell City, Oklahoma. She writes-“Many reporters have commented about how you have a quick temper. How will this affect your ability to act as president?” And, Governor Dean, people, not just your opponents, are worried about this. What do you think?
DR. DEAN: Well, the first thing I'd say is in order to assuage my quick temper, I'm going to answer some of the charges that were flurried at me at the end of the last discussion. We do not give tax breaks to Bermuda in Vermont. I do believe in a balanced budget, and I think we ought to have one, and I think we can do it in six to seven years, and Bill Clinton believed in the same thing. It is true, I said Medicare is the worst program that was ever invented, because you can't administer it properly. When my father died, I couldn't read the bill, and there are an awful lot of people get bills from Medicare they can't understand. Of course, we're going to keep Medicare. It's one of the great programs that ever was. Of course, I'm not against Social Security. These things get [inaudible] political raises, and they are simply nothing more than political charges.
Now, how about my temper?
MR. CONAN: How about it?
DR. DEAN: Our campaign really is based on hope, not anger. I think people have a right to be angry at George Bush for the things he's done to ordinary people. But our campaign is about empowering enormous numbers of people to have hope again. You know, we raised a lot of money-not as much as George Bush-George Bush is the front-runner in this race. But we've gotten-we are trying to get two million people to give us $100. That's how you beat George Bush-is not to get those big checks he's getting. Get two million people to give you $100 apiece. We are empowering people, ordinary Americans, to take their country back. And I think two million people would gladly cough up the price of a one-way bus ticket from Washington, D.C. to Crawford, Texas.
MR. CONAN: Okay, Senator Kerry, you wanted to respond?
SEN. KERRY: Well, I do want to respond, because there's an important point here. I was not saying that he gave tax breaks to Bermuda. But Governor Dean has made a point of going around the country talking about Kenny Lay and the boys at Enron, and how bad it is to give these tax breaks. The fact is that while governor in Vermont, he brought captive insurance companies to the state and wanted to compete with Bermuda's tax breaks. The Clinton administration tried to fight back, because it took $100 million off the tables. We tried to close that loophole. Governor Dean fought against the closing of that loophole. So those are the tax breaks that in fact make the burden on the average taxpayers, like Angela Runkles (sp) and others, much greater. And that's what I'm fighting to close.
MR. CONAN: All right. And with that, I am afraid we're going to have to bring the previous hour to a close this hour, and move on to some other segments.
Here's another e-mail that we have, and let's put this to Congressman Kucinich: “It's clear from the last several elections the United States is divided, close to half Republican, half Democrat. What do you believe you have to offer those conservative voters that make up just about half the country, maybe a little bit more, maybe a little bit less, and how will you make sure that you represent the country as a whole?”
REP. KUCINICH: Well, it's important for a president to represent the country as a whole. And the world view that I bring to the presidency is looking at the world as one, as interconnected and interdependent. And as president of the United States I will easily appeal to conservatives, because I was one of the leaders in the House of Representatives in trying to knock down the Patriot Act, which I voted again, and which I introduced legislation to overturn, and in which as president I instructed the Justice Department to seek to repeal. As president of the United States, I think I will appeal to conservatives as someone who wants to conserve the air, wants to conserve the water, wants to conserve jobs, wants the United States' sovereignty to be protected by withdrawing from NAFTA and the WTO. These are the kinds of values which I think have the possibility of winning the White House.
And so my candidacy has the broadest reach. I can bring in Greens on the environmental issues, Natural Law Party members on environmental issues; Libertarians on the Patriot Act; and I can bring in Reform Party members on trade; and bring in disaffected Democrats who want an old, unreconstructed FDR Democrat back in the White House.
MR. CONAN: Senator Lieberman, I think you have some experience with closely divided elections. How would you appeal to the other half of the voters?
SEN. LIEBERMAN: Yes, this is a fundamental problem. I want to go back to one of the first questions you asked about why are people turned off to politics in this country. My colleagues gave some answers about campaign finance reform-right. But part of the blame is on politicians. We too often act in reflexibly partisan ways, unwilling to acknowledge that maybe sometime the folks on the other side of the line are actually right, and we ought to work with them to get something done. In this election I've said we shouldn't try to replace the polarizing leadership of George Bush with polarizing Democratic alternatives.
I'm a unifier. I've worked for 30 years in public life to reject the extremes on both sides of the aisle. I know that you've got to find common ground based on shared values to get something done, particularly at this critical moment in our nation's history when we are challenged by terrorists abroad, and we have the most difficult economic time for our people here at home. We have got to grow and protect the middle class, and that means working across party lines. I'm proud to be a Democrat. But my first loyalty is to the United States of America, and that's what I want to unite the people to make better.
MR. CONAN: You talked about polarizers. Are there polarizers in this room?
SEN. LIEBERMAN: I'm afraid Howard Dean has said a number of things that are polarizing. He has represented anger. Anger has fueled his campaign. I love the enthusiasm of his supporters. He's done an incredible service to our party and our political system by bringing a lot of them in. But we have got to go beyond that. We have got to unite our party in the first instance, and you have to send a message of unity, constructive ideas and hope. That's the way to beat George Bush's negativism and extremism and divisiveness. America suffers when we are not united.
MR. CONAN: Governor Dean?
DR. DEAN: I would submit, Joe, that's just what I'm doing. As you know, today Bill Bradley endorsed me-a month ago Al Gore endorsed me-two people who fought bitterly for the nomination four years ago, as you are well aware. If I can begin to breach the gap between Bill Bradley and Al Gore, and bring in people who have served long periods of time in Washington, and all the enthusiastic supporters we have, then I think I may be the right candidate to beat George Bush.
Let me just say one other thing: I agree with the commendation. Bill Clinton did a fantastic job as president, because he had extraordinary political skills bringing people together. But you cannot accommodate to the right wing led by people like Tom DeLay. Their values are not the values of the American people. And I think that it's time to stand up to those folks' values.
I truly believe that the right wing of the Republican Party puts the interests of their own party and their own power and their own vision for America ahead of the interests of the United States of America. And I agree with you. I'm proud to be an American. I believe-and I have a history as governor of working with Republican senates and Republican houses and Democratic, so forth and so on. But when people are unreasonable and put their own interests before the interests of America, then I say it's time to stand up. That is not the time to accommodate them.
MR. CONAN: Congressman Gephardt wanted to get in.
REP. GEPHARDT: I don't think we can beat George Bush if we maintain a position on trade like George Bush. And I think Howard and John and Joe frankly have shared the same position that George Bush has-on NAFTA, on China. I was against those treaties. I think it's the wrong way to go. I've talked about the position that Howard had on Medicare. I just don't see how we beat George Bush if we are espousing a Republican position on deeply cutting Medicare.
But let me-here's the way to beat George Bush: We have got to have bold ideas on health care, on energy, on international minimum wage. We have got to get this economy moving again. We have got to show people that we can actually get real jobs in this --
MR. CONAN: We're running out of time, and let's let Ambassador Moseley Braun finish up this segment.
MS. MOSELEY BRAUN: I want to take the “men-only” sign off the White House door-not just for myself, but in order to invigorate this democracy and give people some thought that this government-that leadership of this government can come from some quarters other than George Bush and “George Bush-lite”-that we have an alternative vision of the direction of this country, and it's one of perfecting our democracy and expanding it, so that voices that right now are not being heard will have a chance to be heard, so that we can have the kind of progressivity and tax fairness that we've talked about earlier; so that we can have the interests of American workers put first, so that we can have real family policies and real family values and support for education and the like. So that's what I think-that's what my candidacy is about, and that's why I want to be president.
MR. CONAN: I'm Neal Conan. This is an NPR News special. When we come back, we'll cover more of the issues and hear more of your e- mails.
MR. CONAN: This is an NPR News special. I'm Neal Conan. Welcome back to our radio-only debate. We are joined here in Des Moines, Iowa by six of the Democratic presidential contenders-Governor Dean of Vermont, Congressman Gephardt of Missouri, Senator Kerry of Massachusetts, Congressman Kucinich of Ohio, Senator Lieberman of Connecticut, and Ambassador Moseley Braun of Illinois.
SEN. KERRY: Actually, it doesn't.
REP. GEPHARDT: Let me just --
MR. CONAN: Quickly.
REP. GEPHARDT: I have more experience than anyone here in dealing with the Republicans. I had to deal with Newt Gingrich. I had to deal with Tom DeLay and the likes of that. And I know it's difficult with some of these folks. But I think I have the ability to change the atmosphere in Washington, in Congress, with people like John McCain and others that you can work with.
MR. CONAN: The issue of gay marriage; we're going to ask for a yes or no from each of you. Do you think marriage is only between a man and a woman? Congressman Kucinich.
REP. KUCINICH: No. I support gay marriage.
MR. CONAN: Senator Lieberman.
SEN. LIEBERMAN: Yes, I think that marriage is only between a man and a woman.
MR. CONAN: Ambassador Moseley Braun.
MS. MOSELEY BRAUN: No.
MR. CONAN: Senator Kerry.
MS. MOSELEY BRAUN: People should be able to marry who they want to spend their lives with and who they want to form a family with.
MR. CONAN: Senator Kerry.
SEN. KERRY: I have personally believed that, but I think the law of equal protection requires to afford rights to people. Whether you call it marriage or not is up for grabs, but you have to have the rights.
MR. CONAN: Congressman Gephardt.
REP. GEPHARDT: I'm not for gay marriage. I think the answer here is civil unions. Some states, like Howard's, have done that. And if states decide to do that, because this is a state question, I think the federal government ought to conform their laws to --
MR. CONAN: A lot more than a yes or a no. Governor Dean.
DR. DEAN: We chose not to do gay marriage in our state. But I think that's up to the individual states. And, oddly enough, you know who has that position? Dick Cheney.
MR. CONAN: If those of you who think that-who are opposed to gay marriage-how is a separate category for gay couples, called civil unions, different from separate but equal? Senator Lieberman.
SEN. LIEBERMAN: It's a heck of a question, and it's part of why I've said that the states-I supported the Defense of Marriage Act, which President Clinton signed. It said that marriage for federal purposes is a union between a man and a woman. States are free to find other decisions, but other states don't have to follow those decisions.
It's hard for me to see the difference between civil unions and marriage. I do think there's a ground here for recognizing the reality. I know gay and lesbian couples that have long-term, mutually committed relationships. We have to find some way to protect their rights in those relationships. If one is ill, the other has a right to visit them. They have other kinds of rights in that relationship. Maybe-domestic partnership laws may be the way to do it.
MR. CONAN: Ambassador Moseley Braun, you said it wasn't different.
MS. MOSELEY BRAUN: It's not different. It's not different. I mean, they made up the word “miscegenation” to describe marriage between blacks and whites. And we could come up with a word today to describe gay marriage other than gay marriage. But the fact of the matter is it's the same thing. And that's the problem with the issue.
There's a difference between the religious institution, which churches and religions will decide upon for themselves, and the legitimate rights before the law. And the law ought to treat people the same and respect their personal and private choices. Those choices are a matter of fundamental privacy and liberty and can't be decided on a state-by-state basis.
But I want to take a few seconds also, Neil, to clarify one other thing. I've heard statements about international relations, more experience than the Republicans, more experience internationally. I have served in the state legislature. I've had as much experience with Republicans, Dick, as you have; served with Denny Hastert in the Illinois legislature before I got to the United States Senate.
REP. GEPHARDT: Dennis is no Tom DeLay.
MS. MOSELEY BRAUN: (Laughs.) Well, that's true. And John, I mean, I've not only served as ambassador to New Zealand but studied trade under the auspices of the European Community. So I have international experience, as much if not more than anybody else, as well as legislative experience at the state and local level.
MR. CONAN: Senator Kerry, separate but equal? Is civil union separate but equal for gays?
SEN. KERRY: It doesn't have to be, no. It depends on how you deal with the question of the rights and what the terminology is. I think marriage is a term that kind of gets in the way of this discussion.
But there is a distinction between church-sanctioned marriage and what rights the states give. A state itself can afford different rights. The rights is what's critical. It's equal protection under the law that is at stake here.
MR. CONAN: Doesn't the state issue something called a marriage certificate?
SEN. KERRY: It can. But it could also issue a civil union certificate, as they did in Vermont.
MR. CONAN: To everybody, men and women as well?
SEN. KERRY: It could. This is something the legislature is going to have to-our state has now applied to find out whether the Supreme Court of the state, in fact, allows that. And that's a good legal question. I don't have the answer.
MR. CONAN: Congressman Kucinich.
REP. KUCINICH: When I was a student at Cleveland State University, the head of our drama program there was gay. And his partner, who is now his life partner-they've been together for 30- some years-together they had a relationship that was as powerful as any marriage between any two people I've ever seen. It's incredible.
And, you know, we have to understand that in this world two people can be deeply in love and that, if they had that kind of commitment, they should be permitted to be married.
Now, to say that you've got to go from state to state to achieve that right absolutely vitiates who we are as a nation. We are united states. Our first motto is, “Out of many, we are one.” And it includes diversity-diversity racially and as we as with respect to sexual orientation. So, we have to live out who we are as a nation.
At times, that's difficult for us to do. So the leader and a president ought to be the one who helps to bring compassion to this country. And helps heal this country, and helps heal the divisions that come up over these issues.
MR. CONAN: Governor Dean, thousands of students who are undocumented immigrants graduate from U.S. high schools every year, and in many states these students cannot afford college because they are not allowed to pay instate tuition. Should illegal immigrants be entitled to government benefits, including drivers licenses, health care, and education?
DR. DEAN: In some cases, yes.
MR. CONAN: In which ones?
DR. DEAN: Well, you want to stay here all day? Let me-let me just-the cases that you just talked about is an obvious one. Many of the kids that you just talked about are illegal immigrants have been in kindergarten right through high school. Some of them don't even speak Spanish very well, in the case of Spanish-speaking immigrants. Those kids are essentially American; they're going to be here. I'm in favor of something called earned legalization. That is, if you've been here for a long time, no matter how you got here, you've been a good person, you haven't gone to jail, you've worked hard, you've paid your taxes, I think you've already proven you can be a good citizen.
I know those people out there who are worried about immigration, but the truth is, except for those out there with Native American blood, every single person here is an immigrant, whether you came willfully or whether you didn't come willfully. We're all immigrants.
Carol says it best. I'm not going to steal your line, but it's a wonderful thing and I wish you'd share it wish us about what your mom told you. We, immigrants made this country because of their extraordinary energies, into a great country and I think we need to recognize the extraordinary qualities of people who come here. And those people who are going to make good citizens should have an opportunity to have earned legalization that would entitle them to benefits like the ones you just talked about.
MR. CONAN: Ambassador Moseley Braun, did your mother say it in 30 seconds?
MS. MOSELEY BRAUN: She did. She said it doesn't matter if you came to this country on the Mayflower or a slave slip, through Ellis Island, or across the Rio Grande, we're all in the same boat now. And that is exactly the point.
MR. CONAN: Senator Lieberman?
SEN. LIEBERMAN: Thanks, Neal. Just to response to your question, there is a particular piece of legislation in Congress that deals with this. It's called the Dream Act. I'm proud to be a sponsor of it, and it says that children of undocumented immigrants finishing high school can qualify for in state tuition and then work their way to permanent status.
I mean, in most cases their parents came to this country for the same reason my grandparents did: to find a better life, to make a better life for their families, and to enjoy freedom. And they will contribute enormously to America. So we ought to fix that inequity, open the doors, and bring in a whole new generation of Americans.
DR. DEAN: I just want to make one very fast point.
MR. CONAN: This is Governor Dean.
DR. DEAN: I'd like to do that, and I agree with Joe, but I think the feds should pay for it because I hate unfunded mandates. So we ought not to-I think that should be the law. I support the Dream Act, but I think that it needs to be federally funding because we can't let states have to, force them to pick that up.
MR. CONAN: Congressman Kucinich.
REP. KUCINICH: Immigrant workers came across this country recently on a freedom ride. And what they asked for, and what I support, is legalization on the road to citizenship, the right of immigrant workers to reunite with their families, protecting the rights of immigrants in the work place, and protecting the civil rights and civil liberties of all.
You know, we have to-I supported the Immigrant Children's Health Improvement Act, which would use Medicaid and other benefits to cover legal immigrants' children, and pregnant women. I supported the USA Family Act, which would grant permanent, legal permanent status to immigrants.
We have to remember where we've come from as a nation. We're a nation of immigrants and we need to support the rights of immigrants today.
MR. CONAN: Congressman Gephardt, the issue of drivers licenses for undocumented workers is a big issue in the border states-Texas and New Mexico, Arizona, California. Do you agree that undocumented workers should have access to drivers licenses?
REP. GEPHARDT: Obviously, it's a state decision. I do think that there are good reasons to move in that direction because you can find out who folks are if people submit to a drivers license. At least you have a way to find out who they are, to make them responsible for anything that happens as a result of their driving behavior. So I can see that it's an answer.
I do think the earned legalization bill that a number have mentioned that I wrote with the Hispanic Caucus is the right approach. I think when people have been here for five years, worked for two years, paid their taxes, obeyed all the laws, that they deserve the right to get into legal status.
However, I also believe that we need to enforce the immigration laws that are on the books. After 9/11 I asked the immigration service how many visa overstays they thought were in the country. They said they didn't know. They had no idea. That's not a good answer. So, if there are laws on the books they need to be enforced. But some legalization makes sense.
MR. CONAN: Senator Kerry, the southern border has become extremely dangerous for illegals crossing over. What policies would you implement to create an orderly and safe border?
SEN. KERRY: I'd do a number of things. Number one, I'd fulfill the promise that George Bush has broken, which is to actually implement immigration reform. I would negotiate immediately with President Vicente Fox to try to complete that task. We need stronger border control. We need a guest worker program. We need to prevent people from dying in the desert to come over here to work. And part of that problem is our employer enforcement in the United States itself. We need a guest worker program that is effective. We can do that.
But, most importantly, this administration has let all Americans down with respect to not just border security, border patrol, but homeland security. And this is part of it. You have to know who's in this country. You have to know who's coming in and how.
We're not inspecting trucks. We're not inspecting containers. We're not doing the job we ought to be doing in terms of port security. We have fire fighters all across the country, fire houses that are understaffed. We need a government that's serious about homeland security, and I would provide that.
MR. CONAN: This is an NPR News special. I'm Neal Conan in Des Moines with the Democratic presidential candidates for the only radio debate of the campaign. We'll be back with more after a short break.
MR. CONAN: This is an NPR News special. I'm Neal Conan in Des Moines, with Democratic candidates Carol Moseley Braun, Joe Lieberman, Dennis Kucinich, John Kerry, Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean.
We are going to conclude this debate with closing statements. But first we have a few minutes left, and a question again for all of you: Should there be a limit on snow mobile use in Yellowstone Park and in other state and national parks? Yes or no? Congressman Gephardt?
REP. GEPHARDT: Yes.
MR. CONAN: And Senator Kerry?
SEN. KERRY: Absolutely yes.
MR. CONAN: Congressman Kucinich?
REP. KUCINICH: Yes.
MR. CONAN: Senator Lieberman?
SEN. LIEBERMAN: Yes, absolutely. This is one of the countless ways in which the Bush administration has desecrated our great national wildlife and open space.
MR. CONAN: Ambassador Moseley Braun?
MS. MOSELEY BRAUN: Absolutely. This administration's environmental policies have been so bad, and this snow mobile issue I think is the epitome.
MR. CONAN: And Governor Dean?
DR. DEAN: Yes, but-and the but is that limitation should be left up to the professionals in the National Park Service and now the Congress.
MR. CONAN: And let me ask you a follow-up question: Have any of you ever been on a snow mobile? Governor Dean?
DR. DEAN: Yes.
MR. CONAN: Congressman Gephardt?
REP. GEPHARDT: Yes.
MR. CONAN: Senator Kerry?
SEN. KERRY: Yes.
MR. CONAN: Congressman Kucinich?
REP. KUCINICH: Yes, but gracelessly. (Laughter.)
MR. CONAN: Senator Lieberman?
SEN. LIEBERMAN: You know, I always try to be a little different. No.
MR. CONAN: Ambassador Moseley Braun?
MS. MOSELEY BRAUN: Yes.
MR. CONAN: Water increasingly is a cause of tension in the West. What water there is has to satisfy the needs of fast-growing cities and industrialized agriculture. Governor Dean, how would you decide where to assign this limited resource?
DR. DEAN: I wouldn't. I don't think that's the business of the president of the United States to decide who gets what water. I think the first thing to do is to put in some conservation programs. That's an essential problem. The second thing is that there's a law that exists now, and the law ought to be followed. Ultimately if we don't solve the water problems through issues like conservation, then growth is limited, and I think the folks in cities like Phoenix and Albuquerque and Southern California have to deal with that. We cannot continually pipe water down from Northern California and places like that. We have got a limited resource. We have got to take care of it now, and conservation is going to be the key.
MR. CONAN: Isn't it government's job to broker the interests of agriculture and urban interests?
DR. DEAN: It may be. But there are very, very complicated water laws that have been in place for well over a century that are going to be incredibly difficult to overturn. Ultimately we are going to be able to get some more water, through things like desalinization, which is very expensive. But we are not doing much for conservation. We need to do a lot more.
MR. CONAN: Senator Lieberman, Americans continue to build their homes and businesses in fire-prone areas, on flood plains, and on beaches which are susceptible to hurricanes. It costs taxpayers through taxes and insurance premiums millions and millions of dollars. How can this be addressed?
SEN. LIEBERMAN: You've stumped me. I guess I'd have to say I'd talk to the experts. You can do it with some zoning laws, but that's local. To some extent when you get to a crisis stage of course the federal government enters with things like flood insurance.
MR. CONAN: And the Army Corps of Engineers does have an influence.
SEN. LIEBERMAN: And the Army Corps does. So I'm going to take advice from you after the time is over about what my program as president should be in this regard.
MR. CONAN: Congressman Gephardt, every summer there are terrible wild fires in the United States, particularly in the West. People lose their homes. Whole communities are disrupted. Increasingly larger amounts of money are spent to control these fires. What would your federal policy be on fighting and preventing expensive wild fires.
REP. GEPHARDT: I think the policy in the Clinton administration was a better policy than the one that we have been following in the Bush administration. The Bush administration has frankly given in to the special interests-on logging, on building roads into pristine areas. And I think they have increased the problems in this area. So I think the policies that were followed by the Clinton administration, by the national parks in that time, were a better policy than we have been following now, and I think it was much less dependent on special interest involvement in the setting of the policy.
MR. CONAN: But if it costs more money to go in and remove brush that is dangerous, would you be in favor of that?
REP. GEPHARDT: If that's the proper thing to do, then if that's-then we ought to spend the money to do it. We've got to preserve our forests.
MR. CONAN: Senator Kerry, obesity in America has reached epidemic proportions. Is it a matter of health and a matter of economics, since the health care costs of obese people are disproportionately high? Is obesity, do you think, now, a medical crisis and should the President of the United States take action on it?
SEN. KERRY: Yes, I believe the president should take leadership-should show leadership. It is a national crisis. In fact, there are enormous problems, overall, in our health system. As a consequence of it, diseases that come from it-diabetes, heart disease, and so forth-we drive up the cost of the medical system as a consequence of our bad practices, and I will lead on that in my health care plan. I have a wellness education component to it, which his critical; and a quality-of-care component, which we have to do.
But I want to come back again, just quickly, on the environment. The governors of the country have come up with a smart program about so-called “red zones” with respect to forests, and this administration has ignored it, and they have gone the other way by opening up forests to greater destruction, greater logging. We need to have a responsible environmental leadership in this country. This is the worst environmental presidency in the modern history of our country, and they are going backwards on clean air, backwards on clean water, backwards on flood insurance. I wrote the flood insurance laws of the country. We improved it; there's a lot more we can do; and we need a president who is going to do that.
MR. CONAN: Senator Lieberman, you wanted to get in.
SEN. LIEBERMAN: Very briefly, on obesity-obesity is killing hundreds of thousands of people every year. It's the second greatest cause of preventable deaths other than tobacco. I've got a program on this. The one point I want to mention-I've called on the Federal Trade Commission to conduct an investigation about the marketing of unhealthy foods to children-young children-just as, over the years, I've called on Hollywood and the entertainment industry to stop pushing graphic violence and inappropriate sexual behavior on our children. It's wrong.
MR. CONAN: All right. We're going to push the envelope a little. Ambassador Braun and Congressman Kucinich, very brief comments.
REP. KUCINICH: Yes, a universal single-payor health care system would help cover everyone with any health problems. Part of it is preventive health care and health education is important and nutrition education as well. And the more Americans know about these things, broader choices they can make for their own health. My universal health care plan, which I've introduced in Congress, HR676, provides for covering all medically necessary conditions, and obesity would be one of them.
MR. CONAN: And Ambassador Moseley Braun.
MS. MOSELEY BRAUN: Well, Dennis took my answer-single payor, single payor, single payor. The fact of the matter is we have to have comprehensive, universal health care in this country that will allow people to get wellness and prevention to address things like obesity. But let me make a point here also-we're not talking about Big Brother telling people what to do. What you are talking about, however, is providing people with health alternatives through a single-payor system that gives guaranteed health care coverage for everybody.
MR. CONAN: As per your request, we've left time at the end of the broadcast to allow each of you a closing statement. We began the program in alphabetical order; we'll end it the same way. Governor Howard Dean of Vermont.
DR. DEAN: Thanks very much. I know there are people all over the country listening to this, but I wanted to talk for a moment to the people in Iowa who, 13 days from now, will have enormous influence on who the next president is. I'd like your support; I need your vote; I want to put a new face on the Democratic Party; I want to put a new face in the White House; I want to have a country that was like the country that we all believed in when we were 21; a president of the United States who is going to stand up for what's best in America, not cater to what's worst in America. The front-runner in this campaign is George Bush and all the powerful people who contribute millions to his campaign, while the American people suffer. This campaign is about empowering ordinary people and giving them hope again. The Constitution of this country says the people control this country. Our campaign shows that. We've raised a lot of money, and that's great, but the most important thing to me is that one-quarter of all the people who have sent us money in the last quarter were under 30 years old. You have the power to take this country back. I hope you'll use it wisely. I need your help on January 19th in the Iowa caucuses. Thanks very much.
MR. CONAN: Governor Howard Dean, now Congressman Richard Gephardt.
REP. GEPHARDT: I, too, would like to take a moment to address the Iowa listeners and ask them for their vote on January 19th, and I think that I can lead this country in the right direction. I think I have the most experience of any of the candidates in all of the issues, but I've taken that experience and translated it into bold but realistic ideas. My health care plan will get all 43 million Americans who don't have insurance covered with good health insurance. My energy plan I call “Apollo 21,” would make us independent of Middle Eastern oil in 10 years, and a lot of the 2 million jobs my plan would create would be created here in the Midwest, here in the states like Iowa that need good jobs. I have an international minimum wage proposal that would get conditions for labor and environment up in other countries, and I have a teacher corps idea-I'd say to young students, “If you'll train to be a teacher, we will pay your college loans.” Finally, we are all tied together. Martin Luther King said it best-“I can't be what I ought to be until you can be what you ought to be.” That's how I'll decide all issues.
MR. CONAN: Congressman Gephardt. Now Senator John Kerry.
SEN. KERRY: George Bush has taken America in a radically wrong direction. Yes, we can't beat him by being “Bush Light,” but we also can't beat him by being light on national security or light on fairness for middle-class Americans. We can't go back to big tax increases on working families and in a time of great peril in our country, we need a president who has the judgment and the temperament to be able to win the trust of the American people that we Democrats know how to make the nation safe. Here at home, we also have to build trust again. We talked about it here today, about standing up to powerful interests, fighting against giveaways and corporate abuses. I've been making those fights all my life, from taking on Richard Nixon to end the Vietnam War to stopping George Bush from giving Alaska away to the oil companies. As president, I'll finish the mission of making health care a privilege and not a right. So to Iowa I say the decision is in your hands. You start it off. This is the most important election of our generation. I ask you to stand with me in this fight, and I pledge every day as president, I will fight for fairness, decency, and common sense in our country.
MR. CONAN: Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.
REP. KUCINICH: Thank you. The Iowa and New Hampshire elections are, in effect, a referendum on this country's policies in Iraq. I stand alone among all the candidates in this race in Iowa in calling for the United States to get out of Iraq. I've had a plan on my website now for almost three months, which explains how we can get the U.N. in and the U.S. out of Iraq. It's possible to do that. And we have 130,000 troops who are counting on us; many of them mothers and fathers who are counting on us to bring them home; not to leave them there for any reason whatsoever. We need to get the U.N. in and the U.S. out. My election is going to be a continuation of my leadership. I was the first with a plan to get out of Iraq; the first to oppose the war; the only one in this race who actually voted against the war; the first to oppose the Patriot Act-the only one in this race who voted against the Patriot Act; the first to promote with -- (inaudible) -- NAFTA, the WTO; the first to draft a plan for single- payor universal health care; and the first to talk about 100-percent parity for our farmers. This is an election where we can reclaim America. My election is about the end of fear, the beginning of hope, and reclaiming our great country. Thank you.
MR. CONAN: Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.
SEN. LIEBERMAN: Thank you, Neal, for a great debate. It's been serious, but these are serious times and serious choices that the voters have to make this year. This is the future of the greatest country in the world that's on the line, and we're challenged today. We all want to deny George Bush a second term and give America a fresh start. I've said from the beginning, I'm the one who is best able to do it, because by my record of 30 years' experience, I can take him on where he's supposed to be strong-on security and values-and then defeat him where we know he's weak-on his failed economic policy and on his socially regressive and far right social policy. I presented new ideas-I'm the only Democratic candidate, the only one, who would give new tax cuts to the middle class and pay for it. I'm the only Democratic candidate, only candidate, who has proposed a bright new idea-paid family and medical leave. And another bold new idea-to create an American Center for Cures that will have as its goal-and this is my moon shot program-to cure some of the chronic ailments that plague and kill thousands-hundreds of thousands of people-millions of people-in our country. We can restore hope to America through unity and progress, and that's why I'm running for president.
MR. CONAN: Senator Lieberman. Finally, Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois.
MS. MOSELEY BRAUN: I am the clearest alternative, of all the candidates, to George Bush. It's time for new voices, for change in the way that decisions get made-not conflict but collaboration; not arrogance but the ability to listen. I have the experience and the vision to do the job of president. I can create jobs because I understand how the economy works and how we-and give us a real balanced budget as well. I can pass a comprehensive single-payor health care legislation, because I've worked through the process. I can help lead our country in the direction of peace and prosperity and progress. My entire public life has been built around building bridges and bringing people together to make government work for people, to give this country the progress and the direction to make certain that our generation leaves the next generation of Americans no less liberty, no less privacy, no less opportunity and hope than we inherited from our parents. Many people struggle with the sacrifice so I could stand as a candidate for president, and I want to make certain that we continue to move this country-it's a great country-forwarding the direction of inclusion and tapping all of the talent that we have to bring to bear on making our country work for everybody.
MR. CONAN: You've been listening to the NPR-WOI Democratic presidential debate. Our thanks to all the candidates who participated here today-Governor Howard Dean of Vermont; Congressman Dick Gephardt of Missouri; Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts; Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio; Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut; and Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois. One position I know they will all share is to encourage all of you to register and to vote. President Bush has no significant challenges for the Republican nomination, so we do not anticipate a Republican candidates debate, however, NPR has invited President Bush to come and share our airwaves. We have received thousands of e-mail questions from NPR listeners across the country. As you heard, we read many of them during our program today. We thank all of you who took the time to write in.
Finally, I'd like to thank all the NPR staff who helped plan and produce this event, our colleagues at the WOI Radio Group here in Iowa, the staff of the Greater Des Moines Partnership and Iowa State University, who were so generous with their time and their facilities, and all of the volunteers who contributed their time and energy, thanks to you all. I'm Neal Conan in Des Moines. This has been an NPR News Special.
Copyright 2004 Federal News Service, Inc.