Bush paints Kerry as a 'liberal'

President George Bush’s tactic heading into the third and final presidential debate this week is to paint his opponent John Kerry as a dangerous leftist who wants to increase the government’s role in public life.

Kerry wants to empower government, Bush wants to use government to empower individuals: it’s a theme that Bush has been repeating, and voters can expect to hear it drummed home again in the final televised show-down in Tempe, Arizona on Wednesday.

“Much as he tried to obscure it, on issue after issue, my opponent showed why he earned the ranking of the most liberal member of the United States Senate,” Bush said to cheers from supporters during a rally in the northern state of Minnesota on

Saturday.

That message could win votes in the United States, where the term “liberal” is often considered an insult. Bush describes himself as a “compassionate conservative,” a slogan he used in 2000 and throughout his political career.

“We’re throwing labels around,” is how Kerry handled the salvo in the second presidential debate, in St Louis on Friday.

“I mean, compassionate conservative? What does that mean? Cutting 500 000 kids from after-school programmes? Cutting 365 000 kids from health care? Running up the biggest deficits in American history? Labels don’t mean anything,” Kerry said.

Kerry has represented one of the most left-leaning states in the country, Massachusetts, in the Senate for 20 years.

“You’re going to hear a lot more about Senator Kerry’s record in the coming days,” Bush strategist Karl Rove advised.

The president allowed himself a day of rest at his ranch in Crawford, Texas on Sunday to prepare for the final debate on Wednesday.

Clearly bested by his rival in their first debate on national security and the Iraq war, in Miami on October 1, Bush rebounded in the second match, with questions on all subjects posed by members of the audience.

Kerry’s strong showing in Miami enabled him to catch up with Bush in voter polls, putting the White House race into a dead heat.

The third debate is to focus on domestic themes; questions will be posed by a moderator.

Bush appeared far more at ease with the format of the second debate, a so-called town-hall style event in which citizens asked questions, allowing the president to address the public with his trademark informality.

But Kerry seems better suited to the more formal format of the first and third debate, which do not involve direct participation by the public.

Attacked by Kerry on the Iraq war, Bush is now trying to steer the campaign back into the domestic arena. Even though his record is mixed on that score, it allows him to recycle arguments he used against his Democratic opponent of four years ago, Al Gore.

“He says he’s going to have a novel health care plan.
You know what it is? The federal government is going to run it,” Bush charged during the debate in St Louis Friday.

“That’s what liberals do: they create government-sponsored health care. Maybe you think that makes sense; I don’t.

Government-sponsored health care would lead to rationing. It would ruin the quality of health care in America,” he said.

Polls have shown that Americans consistently consider Kerry stronger on issues of health care and the economy. If Bush can close that gap, he will increase his chance at victory on November 2. - Sapa-AFP

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