Posted 12:00am October 14
by Marcus Mrowka
U-WIRE Washington Bureau Chief
In the most contentious debate so far, Democratic presidential hopefuls butted heads on Iraq, the economy and their credentials at last Thursday’s debate in Phoenix sponsored by CNN and the Arizona Democratic Party.
This marked the second debate in which retired general Wesley Clark participated, and he was a frequent target of attack by his Democratic colleagues on his past comments on President Bush, Republicans and the situation in Iraq. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Thursday before the debate showed Clark in the lead with 21 percent of respondents saying they would select him in the primary over his Democratic competitors.
“I’ve been very disappointed since Wes Clark came into this race about the various positions he has taken on the war against Saddam Hussein,” said Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) during the debate. “We need a candidate who will meet the test of reaching a conclusion and having the courage to stick with it.”
Clark tried to clear the differences about his past allegiances by saying that he did praise President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair for sticking with the war once it had begun but he said he always criticized the operation for its lack of troops and lack of a plan to deal with reconstruction.
“I would have voted for a resolution that took the problem to the United Nations,” Clark said. “I would not have voted for a resolution that would have taken us to war.”
Clark was also criticized for speaking at a Republican Lincoln Day dinner five months ago where he reportedly praised the president and his cabinet.
“I did not vote for George W. Bush; I voted for Al Gore,” Clark said. “When I did go into a Republican fundraiser, I was nonpartisan at that point.”
The nine Democrats spent much of the debate criticizing the present situation in Iraq and the struggling economy.
“It is four months since [the president] landed on the aircraft carrier in his flight suit and said the war was over,” said Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), during the debate. “We’ve almost lost 800 soldiers to injury since then and we’ve almost lost 100 soldiers who have been killed.”
Gephardt called on the president to seek more help through the United Nations. He said the United States needs the help of France, Germany and Russia to succeed. He said the president failed in building a strong international coalition.
“You remember on your report card, you had your English grade and your history grade, and then it says, ‘Plays well with others?’ He flunked that part of his grade school,” Gephardt said.
Gephardt also called the Bush tax cuts “a miserable failure.”
“The best thing that we can do that George Bush hasn’t done is close some of the corporate loopholes that gave billions of dollars to big corporations, and instead give tax cuts and loan guarantees to small businesses,” said Lieberman, answering a question on the economy.
“This president is at war with organized labor. We need to empower working people, which means when people who run big businesses violate the law, they need to be held responsible,” said Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.).
This was the first debate without Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who dropped out earlier in the week. The remaining candidates, former Gov. Howard Dean (D-Vt.), Lieberman, Edwards, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Clark, Gephardt, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.) and the Rev. Al Sharpton of New York will square off in the next debate on Oct. 26 in Detroit, sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus.