GIBSON: Going to go to the final two questions now, and the first one will be for Sen. Kerry. And this comes from Sarah Degenhart.
QUESTIONER: Sen. Kerry, suppose you are speaking with a voter who believed abortion is murder and the voter asked for reassurance that his or her tax dollars would not go to support abortion, what would you say to that person?
KERRY: I would say to that person exactly what I will say to you right now.
[He's stalling a little here...struggling to find the proper nuance no doubt...]
First of all, I cannot tell you how deeply I respect the belief about life and when it begins.
I’m a Catholic, raised a Catholic. I was an altar boy. Religion has been a huge part of my life. It helped lead me through a war, leads me today.
[Gratuitous mention of Vietnam...]
But I can’t take what is an article of faith for me and legislate it for someone who doesn’t share that article of faith, whether they be agnostic, atheist, Jew, Protestant, whatever. I can’t do that.
But I can counsel people. I can talk reasonably about life and about responsibility. I can talk to people, as my wife Teresa does, about making other choices, and about abstinence, and about all these other things that we ought to do as a responsible society.
But as a president, I have to represent all the people in the nation. And I have to make that judgment.
Now, I believe that you can take that position and not be pro- abortion, but you have to afford people their constitutional rights. And that means being smart about allowing people to be fully educated, to know what their options are in life, and making certain that you don’t deny a poor person the right to be able to have whatever the Constitution affords them if they can’t afford it otherwise.
That’s why I think it’s important. That’s why I think it’s important for the United States, for instance, not to have this rigid ideological restriction on helping families around the world to be able to make a smart decision about family planning.
You’ll help prevent AIDS.
You’ll help prevent unwanted children, unwanted pregnancies.
You’ll actually do a better job, I think, of passing on the moral responsibility that is expressed in your question. And I truly respect it.
GIBSON: Mr. President, minute and a half.
BUSH: I’m trying to decipher that.
[Pause for snickering...]
My answer is, we’re not going to spend taxpayers’ money on abortion.
Here we have one of the most divisive issues of our time, abortion, where there are passionate feelings on all sides. And yet all Kerry can offer is a long-winded, vapid, emotionless response.
Quite reminiscent of Michael Dukakis* in his second debate with a guy named George Bush, back in 1988:
CNN’s Bernard Shaw opened the debate with this question to Gov. Dukakis: “Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?” Dukakis responded, “No, I don’t, Bernard. And I think you know that I’ve opposed the death penalty during all of my life. I don’t see any evidence that it’s a deterrent, and I think there are better and more effective ways to deal with violent crime. We’ve done so in my own state.” Dukakis went on to talk about the drop in Massachusetts’ crime rate and segued into the need for international cooperation in the war against drugs.
The question was meant to give Dukakis an opportunity to show — and the voters an opportunity to see — the emotional side of a candidate dubbed by many as the “Ice Man.” Shaw had said that the voters had a difficult time getting a “feeling fix” on Dukakis, and felt that only a very personal question could elicit an emotional response. (In fact, he feared that he might be criticized for asking a too-easy question.) But Dukakis’ response did just the opposite. Dukakis’ passionless response was the news out of the debate.
Bush didn’t perform particularly well either, but he didn’t have to after Dukakis’ first response. The presidential polls did not move for the first few days after the debate, but they soon started moving in Bush’s favor.
And I predict something similar will happen 16 years later.
(*John Kerry, ironically, was Dukakis’s lieutenant governor in Massachusetts from 1982 to 1984…)