Democratic presidential candidate Michael S. Dukakis, seeking to press home what his campaign is claiming as a clear victory in Sunday’s presidential debate, charged Monday that rival George Bush “sees no challenges, he offers no solutions” and would “lead America nowhere” if elected.
Dukakis revived one of the Democrats’ most potent issues from campaigns past by suggesting that, if Bush were elected, he would “raid Social Security trust funds” to balance the federal budget.
Dukakis aides conceded that they have no direct evidence for the charge.
Charge Based on ‘Logic’
They said that they based it on “the logic” of Bush’s budget proposals and two pieces of evidence: Bush’s voting record and his failure during the debate to accept Dukakis’ challenge to rule out that budget-balancing strategy.
Dukakis addressed an enthusiastic noon rally in downtown Cleveland, where John F. Kennedy had spoken after meeting Richard M. Nixon in their first 1960 debate. He then traveled to a second key state, New Jersey.
At both stops, he hailed the debate as “the best 90 minutes of the campaign.”
“Last night, we got down to the real issues in this campaign,” he said. “The American people finally had the chance to look beyond the slogans and the labels, the photo opportunities and the flag waving.”
Dukakis listed the issues that have been at the center of his campaign--such as health care and college opportunity--and criticized Bush for offering no specific proposals. “These are challenges George Bush can’t even see,” he said.
Dukakis’ campaign entourage was buoyant throughout the day, feeling, as senior adviser Kirk O’Donnell said, that “we have the advantage” coming out of the debate.
As a measure of how pleased it is, the campaign showed two 30-second TV commercials featuring Dukakis during the debate. One highlights his call for a guarantee that “when you get a job in this country, it comes with health insurance.” The other featured his closing statement.
Campaign manager Susan Estrich told reporters that the campaign’s polls and focus groups Sunday night showed that the debate had noticeably improved undecided voters’ impression of Dukakis. Campaign aides tied that gain to Dukakis’ offering of specific proposals on key issues.
Attacks ‘Getting Stale’
The polling indicated also that Bush’s repeated attacks on Dukakis as a “liberal” are “getting stale,” O’Donnell said.
Just in case, however, Dukakis added to his speech here a defense of his ACLU connection. Bush, he said “suggested I agreed with every position ever taken by the American Civil Liberties Union. That’s nonsense, and he knows it. Two months ago, I signed one of the toughest child pornography laws in the United States of America.”
In addition, he added: “I’ve always supported tax exemptions for religious institutions. I certainly don’t support Oliver North, whom the ACLU is defending.”
Dukakis made his remarks too late in the evening for the network news shows to record, apparently in an effort to keep TV news reports focused on his attacks on Bush.
While defending Dukakis on the ACLU issue, campaign aides continued to try to keep Bush on the defensive, both on Social Security and on factual misstatements the Republican nominee made during the debate.
Social Security has been one of the Democrats’ best weapons for years. Dukakis laid the groundwork for the charge by asking Bush during the debate to pledge that he would not raid the Social Security system to balance the budget. Bush did not respond to that challenge.
Social Security is a political mine field, particularly for the GOP, and Dukakis lost no time in shoving Bush toward it.
“I asked George Bush to explain” how he planned to balance the budget without touching Social Security, Dukakis told the cheering crowd in Cleveland, adding that Bush said “not one word.”
Point to 1985 Bush Vote
Aides later noted to reporters that Bush in May, 1985, had cast the deciding vote in the Senate in favor of a Republican budget plan that would have cut Social Security cost-of-living increases. Democrats used the same vote against several GOP senators in 1986, when the Democrats retook control of the Senate.
In addition, said spokesman Dayton Duncan, “Social Security is the only place left with any give” if Bush is serious about not raising taxes and not spending less on defense programs.
The contention that Bush would raid Social Security is “just a lie, and he (Dukakis) knows it,” said Bush campaign manager Lee Atwater. “It’s typical of the kind of underhanded campaign he’s running.”
During the debate, Bush had listed three weapons systems he says he opposes, the Navy’s AF-6 attack plane, the DIVAD air defense system and new equipment to increase the power of the Minuteman 3 nuclear ballistic missile. But, Dukakis aides pointed out, all three of those programs already have been canceled.
Defense of Marcos Hit
Dukakis aides hit Bush on his statements defending former Philippines President Ferdinand E. Marcos and his defense of Reagan Administration dealings with Panamanian strongman Manuel A. Noriega.
Bush said Sunday that Marcos “was down there fighting Japanese imperialism” during World War II. Dukakis aides noted newspaper reports, quoting U.S. Army documents, indicating that the guerrilla unit Marcos claimed to have led collaborated with the Japanese.
On Noriega, Bush said that there “was no evidence” that “Noriega was involved in drugs, no hard evidence, until we indicted him” earlier this year. Dukakis aides said State Department officials have testified that they had “hard evidence” at least by 1984 of Noriega’s involvement in the drug trade.