War trumps economy at Kerry stops

Seeking focus on jobs, Democratic candidate drawn into Iraq questions

April 10, 2004|By Jill Zuckman | Jill Zuckman,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Every day this week, Sen. John Kerry has tried to talk to voters about creating jobs and bolstering the economy as he campaigns for president.

And every day, Kerry has found himself drawn inexorably into questions of foreign policy and critiques of President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq.

Yesterday was no exception as Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, sought to emphasize job creation during a visit to the Greater West Town Community Development Project with Democratic Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and state Sen. Barak Obama, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate.

But earlier at breakfast with about two dozen Democratic donors, Kerry laid the blame for Iraq squarely before Bush.

"This administration has been gridlocked by its own ideology, its own arrogance," Kerry said in answer to a question about the situation there. "We can succeed, but, boy, it's a lot tougher than it has to be."

He also complained that the Bush administration "has stubbornly refused to involve other nations" in making decisions and handling the conflict.

"I think this has been a failure of diplomacy, a failure of foreign policy and a failure of creative leadership," said Kerry.

The Bush campaign said Kerry has no plans of his own, other than to launch personal attacks.

"Instead of showing the world and the enemies of freedom that America stands firmly behind the effort in Iraq, and is committed to victory, John Kerry made the political calculation to rail against the war on terror at every stop on the campaign trail without offering any credible alternative," said Nicolle Devenish, Bush's campaign communications director.

For Democrats, the economy and jobs have routinely topped their list of voter worries, while Republicans usually have succeeded when the subject is defense and foreign policy.

But this election year, Kerry has struggled to keep the spotlight on the loss of jobs as the death toll rises in Iraq and the Sept. 11 commission probes U.S. efforts in the months and years before the terrorist attacks.

At the Greater West Town vocational training center, Kerry gamely tried to keep the focus on work, decrying the shrinking pot of federal funds to finance the venture.

"The workplace of the United States of America is stressed as I don't think I've seen it stressed at any time. We're losing jobs overseas in record numbers. People are looking for work and can't find it," he said.

Kerry noted that Bush had proposed $2 billion in cuts to job training programs and Congress passed $1 billion in cuts. "And this year Bush is saying he's putting money in job training," Kerry said.

"The money curve has gone down the toilet the last few years," said William Leavy, the executive director and founder of the Greater West Town program. "We've really got to get this right at the federal level; we can't keep swimming upstream."

The solution to the nation's economic problems, Kerry said, is to roll back Bush's tax cuts for the top 2 percent in America and use the money to fund programs such as job training, as well as health care and education.

"When I'm president, I promise you, I am putting jobs first in America," Kerry said.

He also said he would overhaul the tax code and provide a tax cut to American businesses that stay in the United States.

"We're going to have an economy where people are not working for the economy, but the economy is working for Americans," Kerry said.

Kerry also met privately for 30 minutes yesterday afternoon with the Rev. Jesse Jackson to discuss urban economic issues, as well as how to turn out black voters in November.

As he seeks the presidency, Kerry is wooing African-American voters, who usually vote overwhelmingly for Democrats and could make the difference in a tight election.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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