University of Miami - Coral Gables, FL - September 30, 2004
LEHRER: New question, President Bush.
Clearly, as we have heard, major policy differences between the two of
you. Are there also underlying character issues that you believe, that
you believe are serious enough to deny Senator Kerry the job as
commander in chief of the United States?
BUSH: That's a loaded question. Well, first of all, I admire Senator Kerry's service to our country. I admire the fact that he is a great dad. I appreciate the fact that his daughters have been so kind to my daughters in what has been a pretty hard experience for, I guess, young girls, seeing their dads out there campaigning.
I admirer the fact that he served for 20 years in the Senate. Although I'm not so sure I admire the record.
I won't hold it against him that he went to Yale. There's nothing wrong with that.
My concerns about the senator is that, in the course of this campaign, I've been listening very carefully to what he says, and he changes positions on the war in Iraq. He changes positions on something as fundamental as what you believe in your core, in your heart of hearts, is right in Iraq.
You cannot lead if you send mixed messages. Mixed messages send the wrong signals to our troops. Mixed messages send the wrong signals to our allies. Mixed messages send the wrong signals to the Iraqi citizens.
And that's my biggest concern about my opponent. I admire his service. But I just know how this world works, and that in the councils of government, there must be certainty from the U.S. president.
Of course, we change tactics when need to, but we never change our beliefs, the strategic beliefs that are necessary to protect this country in the world.
I've chuckled a few times at some of their comments.
BUSH: I'm trying to put a leash on them.
KERRY: Well, I know. I've learned not to do that.
And I have great respect and admiration for his wife. I think she's a terrific person...
BUSH: Thank you.
KERRY: ... and a great first lady.
But we do have differences. I'm not going to talk about a difference of character. I don't think that's my job or my business.
But let me talk about something that the president just sort of finished up with. Maybe someone would call it a character trait, maybe somebody wouldn't.
But this issue of certainty. It's one thing to be certain, but you can be certain and be wrong.
It's another to be certain and be right, or to be certain and be moving in the right direction, or be certain about a principle and then learn new facts and take those new facts and put them to use in order to change and get your policy right.
What I worry about with the president is that he's not acknowledging what's on the ground, he's not acknowledging the realities of North Korea, he's not acknowledging the truth of the science of stem-cell research or of global warming and other issues.
And certainty sometimes can get you in trouble.
But what I won't do is change my core values because of politics or because of pressure.
And it is one of the things I've learned in the White House, is that there's enormous pressure on the president, and he cannot wilt under that pressure. Otherwise, the world won't be better off.
I know exactly what we need to do in Iraq, and my position has been consistent: Saddam Hussein is a threat. He needed to be disarmed. We needed to go to the U.N. The president needed the authority to use force in order to be able to get him to do something, because he never did it without the threat of force.
But we didn't need to rush to war without a plan to win the peace.