A little more than three months after Iowa launched Sen. John F. Kerry on a virtually unbroken primary-season winning streak, the Democratic presidential candidate returned Sunday to say thank you and to once again challenge President Bush with a signature line from the Iowa caucus race: “Bring it on!”
In his half-hour speech at Veterans Memorial Auditorium here, Kerry criticized the Bush administration’s policy banning the release of photographs of the coffins of American service members killed in the war in Iraq. He outlined how he would roll back Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy in favor of healthcare and education programs and foreshadowed a three-day “Jobs Tour” that was set to begin this morning at a West Virginia coal mine.
Kerry’s attack on the Bush administration for not allowing the dissemination of pictures of troops who died in the Iraq war was the sharpest and most direct of the campaign.
The candidate first described a recent incident in which two government contractors, a husband and wife, lost their jobs because a photo they had taken of the dead being loaded onto a military transport plane was published in the Seattle Times.
“I believe that keeping faith with those who served also requires us to understand the sacrifice they are making and to honor that when they come home, to the fullest measure,” Kerry said. “We shouldn’t hide that from America.
“If they are good enough to go and fight and die, they are good enough to be received home with full honors in America,” he said.
Bush has said that photographs of the coffins returning home -- a common evening news tableau during earlier wars -- are not being allowed because he wants to respect the privacy of the families of the dead.
Kerry made his remarks in the Iowa capital, a transition point between a Southern tour that focused on the environment and the Midwestern jobs sweep.
The candidate greeted a cheering crowd of more than 1,000 followers with the same thanks -- “I love you Iowa!” -- that Kerry delivered on the night of Jan. 19, when a come-from-behind caucus victory propelled him into a lead that other Democrats could not overcome.
“I want to thank you for beginning here in Iowa, the road to the beginning of the end of the Bush administration,” he added.
Although Bush and his supporters have spent more than $50 million in television ads that depict Kerry as a tax-happy liberal who has voted many times against key weapons systems, the Massachusetts senator told his Iowa audience that it was the president who was out of touch with the mainstream.
“There is nothing conservative about this administration,” Kerry said. “There is nothing conservative about running up deficits as far as the eye can see. There is nothing conservative about piling debt on the shoulders of our children. There is nothing conservative about crossing that fine line between church and state.”
Iowa was the first of five states Kerry was scheduled to visit over four days -- all of which analysts expect to be closely contested in the Nov. 2 general election. The Democrat’s message was that he would look out for the middle class, though the average American was being hurt by Bush’s policies.
To make the point to the friendly Des Moines audience -- packed with union members, volunteers and politicians such as Iowa’s Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack and Sen. Tom Harkin -- Kerry ran through a series of statistics compiled by his staff.
He said incomes for the average Iowa family had dropped by about $7,000 since Bush took office, while debt increased by $9,000 and annual healthcare expenses jumped $800.
Kerry’s solution? “I know if we roll back that unaffordable tax cut for the wealthiest top 2% of Americans we can take that money and we can lower the cost of healthcare for all Americans, and we can provide coverage for those 43 million” Americans who do not have healthcare, he said.
He also described his plans for giving the middle class relief via tax credits for child care, medical coverage and college tuition, savings that Kerry said effectively would expand on tax cuts already in place.