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Bush: Kerry Would 'Weaken' U.S.

"You hear all that and you can understand why somebody would make a face," Bush said, in a self-deprecating reference to criticism that he scowled during the first debate.

Throughout the speech, Bush assailed Kerry's record of voting against many weapons systems, the 1991 Persian Gulf War and other defense initiatives. "Kerry has looked for every excuse to constrain America's action in the world," Bush said. "He has built a record of weakness."

President Bush derided what he called John F. Kerry 's impulse to "retreat." (Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

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While Kerry voted against the 1991 Gulf War and many defense bills, he has supported numerous increases in defense spending and voted for multilateral action in Kosovo, Bosnia and Somalia, as well as for the 2002 Iraq war resolution.

Bush reached back to comments from the early 1970s to portray Kerry as someone who would bow to international pressure and require a "global test" before protecting the nation. In doing so, he misrepresented Kerry's stated position: the Democratic nominee has repeatedly said he would consult with but never allow other nations to veto U.S. actions.

With Friday's debate expected to also include domestic issues, Bush escalated his attacks on Kerry's plans for taxes, health care and spending. He portrayed Kerry as a big-government liberal who wants to tax Americans to build a bigger, more intrusive government.

Many of Bush's charges were misleading, including that Kerry would raise taxes on all Americans; Kerry has said he would raise taxes for those making more than $200,000 a year but reduce them for most everyone else, including corporations. Bush also said that Kerry is planning a move toward "Clinton care," a reference to President Bill Clinton's failed attempt to create a health care system with more government funding; Kerry would dramatically expand the federal health care system, but the system would rely mainly on private companies to provide coverage and care. Bush warned of consumers facing limited choices and "rationed care," neither of which Kerry advocates.

Finally, Bush said Kerry would increase spending by $2 trillion or more. "That's a lot of money -- even for a senator from Massachusetts," Bush said, to thunderous applause and laughter, repeating Cheney's exact words from the night before. What he did not mention is that budget experts say the president has proposed even more additional spending, perhaps $3 trillion.

Staff writer Chris Jenkins, traveling with Edwards, contributed to this report.

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