Dean Tackles Kerry's Record
Sharpton, hoping to draw votes especially from South Carolina's large black community, provided one of the evening's sharpest sound bites. At the end of the lengthy discussion of Iraq, he said it was no surprise that Bush had said in the State of the Union address that as long as he was president, the United States would never wait for "permission" from the United Nations or other nations to act on behalf of its own security.
"It's no wonder he doesn't need permission," Sharpton said. "He doesn't think he needs votes from the American people to be president."
Competing in a state where thousands of manufacturing jobs have disappeared and where many blame the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for the loss, Lieberman was the only defender of that pact, even though Kerry and Dean had given it strong public support. "It was not a mistake," Lieberman insisted, saying exports contributed to the growth of 22 million jobs during Bill Clinton's presidency.
Dean said trade agreements should be revised to "globalize the rights of workers" and protect environmental standards, not just to ease investments in foreign countries. Kerry said he would provide American workers "a fair playing field," while Bush is "selling them out."
Edwards said it would be dishonest to claim that any steps would protect all endangered jobs. But he said he would be more vigilant than others because "this is personal to me," having grown up in a textile mill worker's household. "I've seen what it does to communities and what it does to families," he said.
Kucinich said all these promises fell short because "you can't fix those treaties." He repeated his promise to reject NAFTA and the World Trade Organization if elected. His motto, he said, is "Buy America or bye-bye America."
Even though the campaign has moved into more conservative states, including Arizona, Oklahoma, Missouri and South Carolina, several of the candidates reiterated liberal positions. Dean again criticized the USA Patriot Act, which broadens government surveillance powers, as a threat to "fundamental liberties."
Edwards, pressed on his opposition to same-sex marriage, took pains to emphasize his support for legislation that would protect gay people's rights in employment and other areas. He said the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy should be revised.
Kerry defended his support of affirmative action, despite comments he made a decade ago that suggested he understood the concerns of those who said it had outlived its usefulness. "There were a great many questions in the country about how it was being implemented. We wanted to keep it. I've always supported it," he said.
The candidates have been invited to debate Monday evening in Missouri, but it was not clear how many might participate. Another debate is planned before the Feb. 17 Wisconsin primary.
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