President Tells Californians His Rivals Want Tax Hike
As his first advertisements hit the airwaves in other states, President Bush hit the hustings in Central and Northern California on Thursday with his dual political messages -- one version for official events and a more partisan one for campaign appearances.
As has been the practice of recent presidents, Bush combined the two on his schedule, which allows him to charge only part of his travel costs to his reelection campaign.
During the official event, a “conversation on the economy” at Rain for Rent, an irrigation and water services company in Bakersfield, Bush avoided mention of his reelection bid or his presumed Democratic opponent, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts. But his remarks reprised themes that are part of his campaign speeches -- in particular, that Democrats want to raise taxes and expand the federal government.
“If you’re interested in somebody finding work, you’ve got to put forth policies that encourage economic expansion, pro-growth policies,” Bush said, sitting on an outdoor platform with the company president, several workers and other local businesspeople. “Not policies that grow the federal government but policies that grow the small-business sector of our economy.”
And although the economy was the main topic, Bush gave his view of the perils the country has faced since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- describing, in the process, his administration’s foreign policy.
“The attack hurt our economy, and the attack also changed our psychology in a way,” Bush said. “Whoever has the honor of holding the Oval Office must take every threat seriously, must deal with threats before they become imminent, must be firm with our resolve to keep American secure, must never relent to the enemies that would harm us because of what we love.”
A few hours later, in Santa Clara, Bush delivered a more pointed message to campaign donors gathered at the city’s convention center.
Referring to Kerry by name, he said: “My opponent has not offered much in the way of strategies to win the war, or policies to expand our economy. So far, all we hear from that side is a lot of old bitterness and partisan anger. Anger is not an agenda for the future of America.”
Since Kerry emerged as the likely Democratic nominee, Bush and his aides have sought to cast him as a Washington insider who would raise taxes and waver in the face of national security threats. He elaborated on those themes in Santa Clara.
“The tax relief we passed is working. My opponent has plans for those tax cuts. He wants to take them away,” Bush said. “He would use that money to expand the federal government. I have a better idea: To keep this economy growing and to create jobs, the tax cuts must be permanent.”
The president accused Kerry of treating the war on terrorism as “far less of a military operation and far more of an intelligence-gathering, law enforcement operation.”
Another theme Bush touched on in both speeches was his vision of the United States as an “ownership society.”
“My opponent is against personal retirement accounts, against putting patients in charge of Medicare and against tax relief,” Bush said. Bush and his supporters use the term “ownership society” to promote the idea that Americans should have more control over their assets -- for instance, through the partial privatizing of Social Security through use of individual retirement accounts.
Bush opponents say that and other policies, while potentially attractive to the wealthy, could hurt the middle-class and poor.
Earlier, in Bakersfield, Bush discussed the issue in a more neutral way as he talked about economic recovery: “We began to recover from the attacks on September the 11th because we’re a strong people. We’re resilient because there’s an ownership society, a culture of ownership in America.”
The Kerry campaign responded to the Bush visit by setting up a conference call with reporters that included Rep. Cal Dooley (D-Hanford).
Dooley, whose district includes parts of Bakersfield and Fresno, said it was “somewhat ironic that President Bush would be making one of his campaign stops touting his economic plan in ... an area that has been referred to as the Appalachia of the West.”
The unemployment rate in Kern County, which includes Bakersfield, was 13.6% in January, and Dooley said the region was one “that has benefited least from the president’s economic plans.”
In a sign that his reelection campaign is fully underway, Bush halted his motorcade for about 10 minutes as he headed to the airport in Bakersfield and left his limousine to shake hands with schoolchildren from North Beardsley Elementary School who were waving flags along the route.
Bush was spending the second of two days in California, a trip that included three campaign fundraisers.
The president has raised more than $150 million for his reelection, far more than Kerry. But the Democrat’s campaign said Thursday it would seek to raise $80 million before the party’s national convention in late July. The fundraising effort will include a 20-city tour by Kerry that is to start in late March with stops in San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles and Sacramento.
Bush traveled to his Texas ranch after his stop in Santa Clara.
Times staff writer Maria L. La Ganga contributed to this report.