The first of three presidential debates for the 2004 election took place on September 29 at 9 p.m. at the University of Miami Convention Center in Coral Gables, Florida.
The debate was led by PBS anchor Jim Lehrer. Before the debate began, Lehrer laid out rules to the audience regarding decorum and also identified the topics of the debate, which focused on foreign policy and homeland security.
Kerry focused on the lack of connection between the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism.
He said that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that Bush had rashly taken the United States to war. Kerry also said that Bush pushed alliances away and went into war without a plan for peace.
Bush emphasized his decisiveness as essential to leading the troops in Iraq. He brought up Kerry’s contradictions in his voting record and his platform.
Bush insisted that Iraq and the war on terror are related, and removal of Saddam Hussein made the world a better place. Bush said when Iraq is a free nation, America will be more secure.
Both candidates stressed that they had a better plan for the reconstruction of Iraq. They also discussed their plans for homeland security.
Kerry accused the president of making flawed decisions in regard to his tax cuts.
“This president thought it was more important to give wealthy people a tax cut than protecting our homeland security,” he said. “We don’t need tax cuts; we need America to be safe.”
Kerry also proposed a number of changes to homeland security, including adding two active duty divisions to the armed forces.
Bush responded to these proposals by saying, “I don’t see how he is going to pay for all these promises.”
Bush also focused on Kerry’s changes in opinion.
“The only thing consistent about my opponent’s opinions are that they are inconsistent,” he said.
He also criticized Kerry’s proposals for working with other nations.
“I am interested in working together and I do a lot of it, but I will not make decisions that are bad for America,” Bush said.
The candidates also debated the war in Iraq. Bush defended the war vigorously.
“A free Iraq is essential for the safety of this country,” he said.
In return, Kerry criticized the president’s plan for Iraq. He maintained that the president misled the American public and that Bush was not fit to lead the country anymore.
“I believe those troops deserve better than what they are getting today. I believe there is a better way to do this,” Kerry said. “Has the war in Iraq been worth the cost in American lives?”
Eastern students had different reactions to the debate.
“I wish both candidates would have stated more what they were going to do rather than what the other was doing wrong,” said sophmore Yoko Ndjali.
“[Kerry] ultimately proved that he is a more than a puppet with an unknown puppeteer, but rather, is an educated, informed, articulate man with a plan for change,” said sophomore Josh Meyer.
Senior Dan Blessing disagreed. “Whether you like Bush or not, you know where he stands on things.