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National Public Radio Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate Transcript -Part 2

Location: Des Moines, IA

MR. CONAN: This is an NPR News Special. I am Neal Conan in Des Moines. This is the second hour of the Democratic presidential candidates debate from NPR News and the WOI Radio Group. If you are just joining us, six of the leading Democratic contenders are here at Iowa State University's campus in a very chilly downtown Des Moines for what our researchers tell us is the first radio-only debate since 1948 -- no TV cameras, no audience. Instead of a line of lecterns, the candidates are seated at a U-shaped table. On my right, former ambassador Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois; Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut; Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio; Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts; Congressman Dick Gephardt of Missouri; and former governor Howard Dean of Vermont.

The candidates have a minute to respond to questions and, within limits, to call on them for brief rebuttals and follow-ups. We'll take short breaks every 15 minutes or so, and we'll conclude this debate with closing statements. We've already talked about a lot of the issues, but a candidate is much more than a compilation of position papers. Personality, character, and experience are all critical to any president's ability to govern, and these are the kinds of things that voters want to know about before they make their choice.

Here is an e-mail that comes from Steven Mulcher (sp) in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and-about the role of religion has played in your life, Senator Kerry. Can you give us an example of a political decision you made as a result of religious conviction despite the fact that is was unpopular, and Steven Mulcher adds that he is a former Republican and now votes Democratic as a result of his deeply held traditional religious values.

SEN. KERRY: Well, my life has been impacted, as I think most people here would tell you. I was an altar boy. There was a period in my life where religion was a huge part of my life and I thought, perhaps, as a young man, of going into the priesthood. That changed. My experience in Vietnam had a profound impact on my views and, to a certain degree, made me question for a period of time. And then I came back to practice that had a deeper and more fundamental understanding of my own relationship. But I have always separated it from public life. I've always viewed that as critical. I think I am who I am. My entire person is affected by my belief structure, by the values given to me both through my parents and through religion, but I don't make decisions in public life based on religious belief, nor do I think we should. I think that there is a separation of church and state, and whatever the doctrine of your state is has to guide you, but you don't make it based on that.

MR. CONAN: Congressman Kucinich.

REP. KUCINICH: When our country was founded, our founders anticipated a separation of church and state, but they never anticipated that we would be separate from spiritual values, and my spiritual principle is I try to bring it into a material world. I think that's actually why we're here on this planet-so that we can bring spiritual principles into the material world and thereby help to sanctify our (bliss ?) in the material world. The Gospel of St. Matthew, Matthew 25, where he talks about, you know, whatever you do for the least of the brethren-that ought to guide some of our socioeconomic policy in this country. When I was hungry, did you feed me? When I was homeless, did you shelter me? You know, there are things that we ought to do to bring spiritual principles into our public policy.

MR. CONAN: And, Senator Lieberman.

SENATOR LIEBERMAN: Well, let me say how thrilled I am that we're having this discussion and how grateful I am to the questioner who, if I heard it right, said he changed from Republican to Democrat because of his traditional religious values. Religion matters to people. It's part of me-that it informs but doesn't determine things that I do in politics. That's what it does for most Americans, but the important point is, we've got to talk about it, otherwise, the Republicans will get away with convincing people that they have some kind of monopoly on values and faith; in fact, they don't. What's environmental protection, which the Bush administration has been so miserable about-it's a faith-based initiative to protect God's creation. What about the least among us? When you think that George Bush did America's national treasury, give it to people that don't need it because they're so wealthy, and the least among us are hungry and homeless that --

MR. CONAN: Ambassador Moseley Braun.

MS. MOSELEY BRAUN: I was really blessed as a child. My father would take us-after mass, he would take us to other churches and synagogues and temples, and so I grew up knowing the unifying kind of-having a sense of unifying spiritually among all the world's great religions. I have, in my own professional life, however, actually had suffered being shunned in my church because of my position and favor of freedom of choice for women. And my position to favor-or against the death penalty. It's almost oxymoronic that you've got the two working against each other. But I had a situation in which I actually had to go to mass one morning and see my name in the bulletin as someone to be called for having done a thing that was against doctrine. So I think you have to keep them separate-separation of church and state is what keeps this country great.

MR. CONAN: Congressman Gephardt?

REP. GEPHARDT: I'm a Democrat because of what I learned in the Baptist Church that I grew up in St. Louis, and it was the gospel of caring about the poor first. I grew up in a poor family, but my parents always talked about people that were poorer than we were and what we could do to help them. And that is what I think we all can do. I don't want to force my religion on anybody, but I certainly have tried to conduct myself in public life according to the religious beliefs that I learned in that Baptist Church.

MR. CONAN: Here is an e-mail question that we have for Governor Dean from Rhonda McLean (sp) in Dell City, Oklahoma. She writes-"Many reporters have commented about how you have a quick temper. How will this affect your ability to act as president?" And, Governor Dean, people, not just your opponents, are worried about this. What do you think?

DR. DEAN: Well, the first thing I'd say is in order to assuage my quick temper, I'm going to answer some of the charges that were flurried at me at the end of the last discussion. We do not give tax breaks to Bermuda in Vermont. I do believe in a balanced budget, and I think we ought to have one, and I think we can do it in six to seven years, and Bill Clinton believed in the same thing. It is true, I said Medicare is the worst program that was ever invented, because you can't administer it properly. When my father died, I couldn't read the bill, and there are an awful lot of people get bills from Medicare they can't understand. Of course, we're going to keep Medicare. It's one of the great programs that ever was. Of course, I'm not against Social Security. These things get [inaudible] political raises, and they are simply nothing more than political charges.

Now, how about my temper?

MR. CONAN: How about it?

DR. DEAN: Our campaign really is based on hope, not anger. I think people have a right to be angry at George Bush for the things he's done to ordinary people. But our campaign is about empowering enormous numbers of people to have hope again. You know, we raised a lot of money-not as much as George Bush-George Bush is the front-runner in this race. But we've gotten-we are trying to get two million people to give us $100. That's how you beat George Bush-is not to get those big checks he's getting. Get two million people to give you $100 apiece. We are empowering people, ordinary Americans, to take their country back. And I think two million people would gladly cough up the price of a one-way bus ticket from Washington, D.C. to Crawford, Texas.

MR. CONAN: Okay, Senator Kerry, you wanted to respond?

SEN. KERRY: Well, I do want to respond, because there's an important point here. I was not saying that he gave tax breaks to Bermuda. But Governor Dean has made a point of going around the country talking about Kenny Lay and the boys at Enron, and how bad it is to give these tax breaks. The fact is that while governor in Vermont, he brought captive insurance companies to the state and wanted to compete with Bermuda's tax breaks. The Clinton administration tried to fight back, because it took $100 million off the tables. We tried to close that loophole. Governor Dean fought against the closing of that loophole. So those are the tax breaks that in fact make the burden on the average taxpayers, like Angela Runkles (sp) and others, much greater. And that's what I'm fighting to close.

MR. CONAN: All right. And with that, I am afraid we're going to have to bring the previous hour to a close this hour, and move on to some other segments.

Here's another e-mail that we have, and let's put this to Congressman Kucinich: "It's clear from the last several elections the United States is divided, close to half Republican, half Democrat. What do you believe you have to offer those conservative voters that make up just about half the country, maybe a little bit more, maybe a little bit less, and how will you make sure that you represent the country as a whole?"

REP. KUCINICH: Well, it's important for a president to represent the country as a whole. And the world view that I bring to the presidency is looking at the world as one, as interconnected and interdependent. And as president of the United States I will easily appeal to conservatives, because I was one of the leaders in the House of Representatives in trying to knock down the Patriot Act, which I voted again, and which I introduced legislation to overturn, and in which as president I instructed the Justice Department to seek to repeal. As president of the United States, I think I will appeal to conservatives as someone who wants to conserve the air, wants to conserve the water, wants to conserve jobs, wants the United States' sovereignty to be protected by withdrawing from NAFTA and the WTO. These are the kinds of values which I think have the possibility of winning the White House.

And so my candidacy has the broadest reach. I can bring in Greens on the environmental issues, Natural Law Party members on environmental issues; Libertarians on the Patriot Act; and I can bring in Reform Party members on trade; and bring in disaffected Democrats who want an old, unreconstructed FDR Democrat back in the White House.

MR. CONAN: Senator Lieberman, I think you have some experience with closely divided elections. How would you appeal to the other half of the voters?

SEN. LIEBERMAN: Yes, this is a fundamental problem. I want to go back to one of the first questions you asked about why are people turned off to politics in this country. My colleagues gave some answers about campaign finance reform-right. But part of the blame is on politicians. We too often act in reflexibly partisan ways, unwilling to acknowledge that maybe sometime the folks on the other side of the line are actually right, and we ought to work with them to get something done. In this election I've said we shouldn't try to replace the polarizing leadership of George Bush with polarizing Democratic alternatives.

I'm a unifier. I've worked for 30 years in public life to reject the extremes on both sides of the aisle. I know that you've got to find common ground based on shared values to get something done, particularly at this critical moment in our nation's history when we are challenged by terrorists abroad, and we have the most difficult economic time for our people here at home. We have got to grow and protect the middle class, and that means working across party lines. I'm proud to be a Democrat. But my first loyalty is to the United States of America, and that's what I want to unite the people to make better.

MR. CONAN: You talked about polarizers. Are there polarizers in this room?

SEN. LIEBERMAN: I'm afraid Howard Dean has said a number of things that are polarizing. He has represented anger. Anger has fueled his campaign. I love the enthusiasm of his supporters. He's done an incredible service to our party and our political system by bringing a lot of them in. But we have got to go beyond that. We have got to unite our party in the first instance, and you have to send a message of unity, constructive ideas and hope. That's the way to beat George Bush's negativism and extremism and divisiveness. America suffers when we are not united.

MR. CONAN: Governor Dean?

DR. DEAN: I would submit, Joe, that's just what I'm doing. As you know, today Bill Bradley endorsed me-a month ago Al Gore endorsed me-two people who fought bitterly for the nomination four years ago, as you are well aware. If I can begin to breach the gap between Bill Bradley and Al Gore, and bring in people who have served long periods of time in Washington, and all the enthusiastic supporters we have, then I think I may be the right candidate to beat George Bush.

Let me just say one other thing: I agree with the commendation. Bill Clinton did a fantastic job as president, because he had extraordinary political skills bringing people together. But you cannot accommodate to the right wing led by people like Tom DeLay. Their values are not the values of the American people. And I think that it's time to stand up to those folks' values.

I truly believe that the right wing of the Republican Party puts the interests of their own party and their own power and their own vision for America ahead of the interests of the United States of America. And I agree with you. I'm proud to be an American. I believe-and I have a history as governor of working with Republican senates and Republican houses and Democratic, so forth and so on. But when people are unreasonable and put their own interests before the interests of America, then I say it's time to stand up. That is not the time to accommodate them.

MR. CONAN: Congressman Gephardt wanted to get in.

REP. GEPHARDT: I don't think we can beat George Bush if we maintain a position on trade like George Bush. And I think Howard and John and Joe frankly have shared the same position that George Bush has-on NAFTA, on China. I was against those treaties. I think it's the wrong way to go. I've talked about the position that Howard had on Medicare. I just don't see how we beat George Bush if we are espousing a Republican position on deeply cutting Medicare.

But let me-here's the way to beat George Bush: We have got to have bold ideas on health care, on energy, on international minimum wage. We have got to get this economy moving again. We have got to show people that we can actually get real jobs in this --

MR. CONAN: We're running out of time, and let's let Ambassador Moseley Braun finish up this segment.

MS. MOSELEY BRAUN: I want to take the "men-only" sign off the White House door-not just for myself, but in order to invigorate this democracy and give people some thought that this government-that leadership of this government can come from some quarters other than George Bush and "George Bush-lite"-that we have an alternative vision of the direction of this country, and it's one of perfecting our democracy and expanding it, so that voices that right now are not being heard will have a chance to be heard, so that we can have the kind of progressivity and tax fairness that we've talked about earlier; so that we can have the interests of American workers put first, so that we can have real family policies and real family values and support for education and the like. So that's what I think-that's what my candidacy is about, and that's why I want to be president.

MR. CONAN: I'm Neal Conan. This is an NPR News special. When we come back, we'll cover more of the issues and hear more of your e- mails.


MR. CONAN: This is an NPR News special. I'm Neal Conan. Welcome back to our radio-only debate. We are joined here in Des Moines, Iowa by six of the Democratic presidential contenders-Governor Dean of Vermont, Congressman Gephardt of Missouri, Senator Kerry of Massachusetts, Congressman Kucinich of Ohio, Senator Lieberman of Connecticut, and Ambassador Moseley Braun of Illinois.

SEN. KERRY: Actually, it doesn't.

REP. GEPHARDT: Let me just --

MR. CONAN: Quickly.

REP. GEPHARDT: I have more experience than anyone here in dealing with the Republicans. I had to deal with Newt Gingrich. I had to deal with Tom DeLay and the likes of that. And I know it's difficult with some of these folks. But I think I have the ability to change the atmosphere in Washington, in Congress, with people like John McCain and others that you can work with.

MR. CONAN: The issue of gay marriage; we're going to ask for a yes or no from each of you. Do you think marriage is only between a man and a woman? Congressman Kucinich.

REP. KUCINICH: No. I support gay marriage.

MR. CONAN: Senator Lieberman.

SEN. LIEBERMAN: Yes, I think that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

MR. CONAN: Ambassador Moseley Braun.


MR. CONAN: Senator Kerry.

MS. MOSELEY BRAUN: People should be able to marry who they want to spend their lives with and who they want to form a family with.

MR. CONAN: Senator Kerry.

SEN. KERRY: I have personally believed that, but I think the law of equal protection requires to afford rights to people. Whether you call it marriage or not is up for grabs, but you have to have the rights.

MR. CONAN: Congressman Gephardt.

REP. GEPHARDT: I'm not for gay marriage. I think the answer here is civil unions. Some states, like Howard's, have done that. And if states decide to do that, because this is a state question, I think the federal government ought to conform their laws to --

MR. CONAN: A lot more than a yes or a no. Governor Dean.

DR. DEAN: We chose not to do gay marriage in our state. But I think that's up to the individual states. And, oddly enough, you know who has that position? Dick Cheney.

MR. CONAN: If those of you who think that-who are opposed to gay marriage-how is a separate category for gay couples, called civil unions, different from separate but equal? Senator Lieberman.

SEN. LIEBERMAN: It's a heck of a question, and it's part of why I've said that the states-I supported the Defense of Marriage Act, which President Clinton signed. It said that marriage for federal purposes is a union between a man and a woman. States are free to find other decisions, but other states don't have to follow those decisions.

It's hard for me to see the difference between civil unions and marriage. I do think there's a ground here for recognizing the reality. I know gay and lesbian couples that have long-term, mutually committed relationships. We have to find some way to protect their rights in those relationships. If one is ill, the other has a right to visit them. They have other kinds of rights in that relationship. Maybe-domestic partnership laws may be the way to do it.

MR. CONAN: Ambassador Moseley Braun, you said it wasn't different.

MS. MOSELEY BRAUN: It's not different. It's not different. I mean, they made up the word "miscegenation" to describe marriage between blacks and whites. And we could come up with a word today to describe gay marriage other than gay marriage. But the fact of the matter is it's the same thing. And that's the problem with the issue.

There's a difference between the religious institution, which churches and religions will decide upon for themselves, and the legitimate rights before the law. And the law ought to treat people the same and respect their personal and private choices. Those choices are a matter of fundamental privacy and liberty and can't be decided on a state-by-state basis.

But I want to take a few seconds also, Neil, to clarify one other thing. I've heard statements about international relations, more experience than the Republicans, more experience internationally. I have served in the state legislature. I've had as much experience with Republicans, Dick, as you have; served with Denny Hastert in the Illinois legislature before I got to the United States Senate.

REP. GEPHARDT: Dennis is no Tom DeLay.

MS. MOSELEY BRAUN: (Laughs.) Well, that's true. And John, I mean, I've not only served as ambassador to New Zealand but studied trade under the auspices of the European Community. So I have international experience, as much if not more than anybody else, as well as legislative experience at the state and local level.

MR. CONAN: Senator Kerry, separate but equal? Is civil union separate but equal for gays?

SEN. KERRY: It doesn't have to be, no. It depends on how you deal with the question of the rights and what the terminology is. I think marriage is a term that kind of gets in the way of this discussion.

But there is a distinction between church-sanctioned marriage and what rights the states give. A state itself can afford different rights. The rights is what's critical. It's equal protection under the law that is at stake here.

MR. CONAN: Doesn't the state issue something called a marriage certificate?

SEN. KERRY: It can. But it could also issue a civil union certificate, as they did in Vermont.

MR. CONAN: To everybody, men and women as well?

SEN. KERRY: It could. This is something the legislature is going to have to-our state has now applied to find out whether the Supreme Court of the state, in fact, allows that. And that's a good legal question. I don't have the answer.

MR. CONAN: Congressman Kucinich.

REP. KUCINICH: When I was a student at Cleveland State University, the head of our drama program there was gay. And his partner, who is now his life partner-they've been together for 30- some years-together they had a relationship that was as powerful as any marriage between any two people I've ever seen. It's incredible.

And, you know, we have to understand that in this world two people can be deeply in love and that, if they had that kind of commitment, they should be permitted to be married.

Now, to say that you've got to go from state to state to achieve that right absolutely vitiates who we are as a nation. We are united states. Our first motto is, "Out of many, we are one." And it includes diversity-diversity racially and as we as with respect to sexual orientation. So, we have to live out who we are as a nation.

At times, that's difficult for us to do. So the leader and a president ought to be the one who helps to bring compassion to this country. And helps heal this country, and helps heal the divisions that come up over these issues.

MR. CONAN: Governor Dean, thousands of students who are undocumented immigrants graduate from U.S. high schools every year, and in many states these students cannot afford college because they are not allowed to pay instate tuition. Should illegal immigrants be entitled to government benefits, including drivers licenses, health care, and education?

DR. DEAN: In some cases, yes.

MR. CONAN: In which ones?

DR. DEAN: Well, you want to stay here all day? Let me-let me just-the cases that you just talked about is an obvious one. Many of the kids that you just talked about are illegal immigrants have been in kindergarten right through high school. Some of them don't even speak Spanish very well, in the case of Spanish-speaking immigrants. Those kids are essentially American; they're going to be here. I'm in favor of something called earned legalization. That is, if you've been here for a long time, no matter how you got here, you've been a good person, you haven't gone to jail, you've worked hard, you've paid your taxes, I think you've already proven you can be a good citizen.

I know those people out there who are worried about immigration, but the truth is, except for those out there with Native American blood, every single person here is an immigrant, whether you came willfully or whether you didn't come willfully. We're all immigrants.

Carol says it best. I'm not going to steal your line, but it's a wonderful thing and I wish you'd share it wish us about what your mom told you. We, immigrants made this country because of their extraordinary energies, into a great country and I think we need to recognize the extraordinary qualities of people who come here. And those people who are going to make good citizens should have an opportunity to have earned legalization that would entitle them to benefits like the ones you just talked about.

MR. CONAN: Ambassador Moseley Braun, did your mother say it in 30 seconds?

MS. MOSELEY BRAUN: She did. She said it doesn't matter if you came to this country on the Mayflower or a slave slip, through Ellis Island, or across the Rio Grande, we're all in the same boat now. And that is exactly the point.

MR. CONAN: Senator Lieberman?

SEN. LIEBERMAN: Thanks, Neal. Just to response to your question, there is a particular piece of legislation in Congress that deals with this. It's called the Dream Act. I'm proud to be a sponsor of it, and it says that children of undocumented immigrants finishing high school can qualify for in state tuition and then work their way to permanent status.

I mean, in most cases their parents came to this country for the same reason my grandparents did: to find a better life, to make a better life for their families, and to enjoy freedom. And they will contribute enormously to America. So we ought to fix that inequity, open the doors, and bring in a whole new generation of Americans.

DR. DEAN: I just want to make one very fast point.

MR. CONAN: This is Governor Dean.

DR. DEAN: I'd like to do that, and I agree with Joe, but I think the feds should pay for it because I hate unfunded mandates. So we ought not to-I think that should be the law. I support the Dream Act, but I think that it needs to be federally funding because we can't let states have to, force them to pick that up.

MR. CONAN: Congressman Kucinich.

REP. KUCINICH: Immigrant workers came across this country recently on a freedom ride. And what they asked for, and what I support, is legalization on the road to citizenship, the right of immigrant workers to reunite with their families, protecting the rights of immigrants in the work place, and protecting the civil rights and civil liberties of all.

You know, we have to-I supported the Immigrant Children's Health Improvement Act, which would use Medicaid and other benefits to cover legal immigrants' children, and pregnant women. I supported the USA Family Act, which would grant permanent, legal permanent status to immigrants.

We have to remember where we've come from as a nation. We're a nation of immigrants and we need to support the rights of immigrants today.

MR. CONAN: Congressman Gephardt, the issue of drivers licenses for undocumented workers is a big issue in the border states-Texas and New Mexico, Arizona, California. Do you agree that undocumented workers should have access to drivers licenses?

REP. GEPHARDT: Obviously, it's a state decision. I do think that there are good reasons to move in that direction because you can find out who folks are if people submit to a drivers license. At least you have a way to find out who they are, to make them responsible for anything that happens as a result of their driving behavior. So I can see that it's an answer.

I do think the earned legalization bill that a number have mentioned that I wrote with the Hispanic Caucus is the right approach. I think when people have been here for five years, worked for two years, paid their taxes, obeyed all the laws, that they deserve the right to get into legal status.

However, I also believe that we need to enforce the immigration laws that are on the books. After 9/11 I asked the immigration service how many visa overstays they thought were in the country. They said they didn't know. They had no idea. That's not a good answer. So, if there are laws on the books they need to be enforced. But some legalization makes sense.

MR. CONAN: Senator Kerry, the southern border has become extremely dangerous for illegals crossing over. What policies would you implement to create an orderly and safe border?

SEN. KERRY: I'd do a number of things. Number one, I'd fulfill the promise that George Bush has broken, which is to actually implement immigration reform. I would negotiate immediately with President Vicente Fox to try to complete that task. We need stronger border control. We need a guest worker program. We need to prevent people from dying in the desert to come over here to work. And part of that problem is our employer enforcement in the United States itself. We need a guest worker program that is effective. We can do that.

But, most importantly, this administration has let all Americans down with respect to not just border security, border patrol, but homeland security. And this is part of it. You have to know who's in this country. You have to know who's coming in and how.

We're not inspecting trucks. We're not inspecting containers. We're not doing the job we ought to be doing in terms of port security. We have fire fighters all across the country, fire houses that are understaffed. We need a government that's serious about homeland security, and I would provide that.

MR. CONAN: This is an NPR News special. I'm Neal Conan in Des Moines with the Democratic presidential candidates for the only radio debate of the campaign. We'll be back with more after a short break.


MR. CONAN: This is an NPR News special. I'm Neal Conan in Des Moines, with Democratic candidates Carol Moseley Braun, Joe Lieberman, Dennis Kucinich, John Kerry, Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean.

We are going to conclude this debate with closing statements. But first we have a few minutes left, and a question again for all of you: Should there be a limit on snow mobile use in Yellowstone Park and in other state and national parks? Yes or no? Congressman Gephardt?


MR. CONAN: And Senator Kerry?

SEN. KERRY: Absolutely yes.

MR. CONAN: Congressman Kucinich?


MR. CONAN: Senator Lieberman?

SEN. LIEBERMAN: Yes, absolutely. This is one of the countless ways in which the Bush administration has desecrated our great national wildlife and open space.

MR. CONAN: Ambassador Moseley Braun?

MS. MOSELEY BRAUN: Absolutely. This administration's environmental policies have been so bad, and this snow mobile issue I think is the epitome.

MR. CONAN: And Governor Dean?

DR. DEAN: Yes, but-and the but is that limitation should be left up to the professionals in the National Park Service and now the Congress.

MR. CONAN: And let me ask you a follow-up question: Have any of you ever been on a snow mobile? Governor Dean?

DR. DEAN: Yes.

MR. CONAN: Congressman Gephardt?


MR. CONAN: Senator Kerry?


MR. CONAN: Congressman Kucinich?

REP. KUCINICH: Yes, but gracelessly. (Laughter.)

MR. CONAN: Senator Lieberman?

SEN. LIEBERMAN: You know, I always try to be a little different. No.

MR. CONAN: Ambassador Moseley Braun?


MR. CONAN: Water increasingly is a cause of tension in the West. What water there is has to satisfy the needs of fast-growing cities and industrialized agriculture. Governor Dean, how would you decide where to assign this limited resource?

DR. DEAN: I wouldn't. I don't think that's the business of the president of the United States to decide who gets what water. I think the first thing to do is to put in some conservation programs. That's an essential problem. The second thing is that there's a law that exists now, and the law ought to be followed. Ultimately if we don't solve the water problems through issues like conservation, then growth is limited, and I think the folks in cities like Phoenix and Albuquerque and Southern California have to deal with that. We cannot continually pipe water down from Northern California and places like that. We have got a limited resource. We have got to take care of it now, and conservation is going to be the key.

MR. CONAN: Isn't it government's job to broker the interests of agriculture and urban interests?

DR. DEAN: It may be. But there are very, very complicated water laws that have been in place for well over a century that are going to be incredibly difficult to overturn. Ultimately we are going to be able to get some more water, through things like desalinization, which is very expensive. But we are not doing much for conservation. We need to do a lot more.

MR. CONAN: Senator Lieberman, Americans continue to build their homes and businesses in fire-prone areas, on flood plains, and on beaches which are susceptible to hurricanes. It costs taxpayers through taxes and insurance premiums millions and millions of dollars. How can this be addressed?

SEN. LIEBERMAN: You've stumped me. I guess I'd have to say I'd talk to the experts. You can do it with some zoning laws, but that's local. To some extent when you get to a crisis stage of course the federal government enters with things like flood insurance.

MR. CONAN: And the Army Corps of Engineers does have an influence.

SEN. LIEBERMAN: And the Army Corps does. So I'm going to take advice from you after the time is over about what my program as president should be in this regard.

MR. CONAN: Congressman Gephardt, every summer there are terrible wild fires in the United States, particularly in the West. People lose their homes. Whole communities are disrupted. Increasingly larger amounts of money are spent to control these fires. What would your federal policy be on fighting and preventing expensive wild fires.

REP. GEPHARDT: I think the policy in the Clinton administration was a better policy than the one that we have been following in the Bush administration. The Bush administration has frankly given in to the special interests-on logging, on building roads into pristine areas. And I think they have increased the problems in this area. So I think the policies that were followed by the Clinton administration, by the national parks in that time, were a better policy than we have been following now, and I think it was much less dependent on special interest involvement in the setting of the policy.

MR. CONAN: But if it costs more money to go in and remove brush that is dangerous, would you be in favor of that?

REP. GEPHARDT: If that's the proper thing to do, then if that's-then we ought to spend the money to do it. We've got to preserve our forests.

MR. CONAN: Senator Kerry, obesity in America has reached epidemic proportions. Is it a matter of health and a matter of economics, since the health care costs of obese people are disproportionately high? Is obesity, do you think, now, a medical crisis and should the President of the United States take action on it?

SEN. KERRY: Yes, I believe the president should take leadership-should show leadership. It is a national crisis. In fact, there are enormous problems, overall, in our health system. As a consequence of it, diseases that come from it-diabetes, heart disease, and so forth-we drive up the cost of the medical system as a consequence of our bad practices, and I will lead on that in my health care plan. I have a wellness education component to it, which his critical; and a quality-of-care component, which we have to do.

But I want to come back again, just quickly, on the environment. The governors of the country have come up with a smart program about so-called "red zones" with respect to forests, and this administration has ignored it, and they have gone the other way by opening up forests to greater destruction, greater logging. We need to have a responsible environmental leadership in this country. This is the worst environmental presidency in the modern history of our country, and they are going backwards on clean air, backwards on clean water, backwards on flood insurance. I wrote the flood insurance laws of the country. We improved it; there's a lot more we can do; and we need a president who is going to do that.

MR. CONAN: Senator Lieberman, you wanted to get in.

SEN. LIEBERMAN: Very briefly, on obesity-obesity is killing hundreds of thousands of people every year. It's the second greatest cause of preventable deaths other than tobacco. I've got a program on this. The one point I want to mention-I've called on the Federal Trade Commission to conduct an investigation about the marketing of unhealthy foods to children-young children-just as, over the years, I've called on Hollywood and the entertainment industry to stop pushing graphic violence and inappropriate sexual behavior on our children. It's wrong.

MR. CONAN: All right. We're going to push the envelope a little. Ambassador Braun and Congressman Kucinich, very brief comments.

REP. KUCINICH: Yes, a universal single-payor health care system would help cover everyone with any health problems. Part of it is preventive health care and health education is important and nutrition education as well. And the more Americans know about these things, broader choices they can make for their own health. My universal health care plan, which I've introduced in Congress, HR676, provides for covering all medically necessary conditions, and obesity would be one of them.

MR. CONAN: And Ambassador Moseley Braun.

MS. MOSELEY BRAUN: Well, Dennis took my answer-single payor, single payor, single payor. The fact of the matter is we have to have comprehensive, universal health care in this country that will allow people to get wellness and prevention to address things like obesity. But let me make a point here also-we're not talking about Big Brother telling people what to do. What you are talking about, however, is providing people with health alternatives through a single-payor system that gives guaranteed health care coverage for everybody.

MR. CONAN: As per your request, we've left time at the end of the broadcast to allow each of you a closing statement. We began the program in alphabetical order; we'll end it the same way. Governor Howard Dean of Vermont.

DR. DEAN: Thanks very much. I know there are people all over the country listening to this, but I wanted to talk for a moment to the people in Iowa who, 13 days from now, will have enormous influence on who the next president is. I'd like your support; I need your vote; I want to put a new face on the Democratic Party; I want to put a new face in the White House; I want to have a country that was like the country that we all believed in when we were 21; a president of the United States who is going to stand up for what's best in America, not cater to what's worst in America. The front-runner in this campaign is George Bush and all the powerful people who contribute millions to his campaign, while the American people suffer. This campaign is about empowering ordinary people and giving them hope again. The Constitution of this country says the people control this country. Our campaign shows that. We've raised a lot of money, and that's great, but the most important thing to me is that one-quarter of all the people who have sent us money in the last quarter were under 30 years old. You have the power to take this country back. I hope you'll use it wisely. I need your help on January 19th in the Iowa caucuses. Thanks very much.

MR. CONAN: Governor Howard Dean, now Congressman Richard Gephardt.

REP. GEPHARDT: I, too, would like to take a moment to address the Iowa listeners and ask them for their vote on January 19th, and I think that I can lead this country in the right direction. I think I have the most experience of any of the candidates in all of the issues, but I've taken that experience and translated it into bold but realistic ideas. My health care plan will get all 43 million Americans who don't have insurance covered with good health insurance. My energy plan I call "Apollo 21," would make us independent of Middle Eastern oil in 10 years, and a lot of the 2 million jobs my plan would create would be created here in the Midwest, here in the states like Iowa that need good jobs. I have an international minimum wage proposal that would get conditions for labor and environment up in other countries, and I have a teacher corps idea-I'd say to young students, "If you'll train to be a teacher, we will pay your college loans." Finally, we are all tied together. Martin Luther King said it best-"I can't be what I ought to be until you can be what you ought to be." That's how I'll decide all issues.

MR. CONAN: Congressman Gephardt. Now Senator John Kerry.

SEN. KERRY: George Bush has taken America in a radically wrong direction. Yes, we can't beat him by being "Bush Light," but we also can't beat him by being light on national security or light on fairness for middle-class Americans. We can't go back to big tax increases on working families and in a time of great peril in our country, we need a president who has the judgment and the temperament to be able to win the trust of the American people that we Democrats know how to make the nation safe. Here at home, we also have to build trust again. We talked about it here today, about standing up to powerful interests, fighting against giveaways and corporate abuses. I've been making those fights all my life, from taking on Richard Nixon to end the Vietnam War to stopping George Bush from giving Alaska away to the oil companies. As president, I'll finish the mission of making health care a privilege and not a right. So to Iowa I say the decision is in your hands. You start it off. This is the most important election of our generation. I ask you to stand with me in this fight, and I pledge every day as president, I will fight for fairness, decency, and common sense in our country.

MR. CONAN: Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.

REP. KUCINICH: Thank you. The Iowa and New Hampshire elections are, in effect, a referendum on this country's policies in Iraq. I stand alone among all the candidates in this race in Iowa in calling for the United States to get out of Iraq. I've had a plan on my website now for almost three months, which explains how we can get the U.N. in and the U.S. out of Iraq. It's possible to do that. And we have 130,000 troops who are counting on us; many of them mothers and fathers who are counting on us to bring them home; not to leave them there for any reason whatsoever. We need to get the U.N. in and the U.S. out. My election is going to be a continuation of my leadership. I was the first with a plan to get out of Iraq; the first to oppose the war; the only one in this race who actually voted against the war; the first to oppose the Patriot Act-the only one in this race who voted against the Patriot Act; the first to promote with -- (inaudible) -- NAFTA, the WTO; the first to draft a plan for single- payor universal health care; and the first to talk about 100-percent parity for our farmers. This is an election where we can reclaim America. My election is about the end of fear, the beginning of hope, and reclaiming our great country. Thank you.

MR. CONAN: Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.

SEN. LIEBERMAN: Thank you, Neal, for a great debate. It's been serious, but these are serious times and serious choices that the voters have to make this year. This is the future of the greatest country in the world that's on the line, and we're challenged today. We all want to deny George Bush a second term and give America a fresh start. I've said from the beginning, I'm the one who is best able to do it, because by my record of 30 years' experience, I can take him on where he's supposed to be strong-on security and values-and then defeat him where we know he's weak-on his failed economic policy and on his socially regressive and far right social policy. I presented new ideas-I'm the only Democratic candidate, the only one, who would give new tax cuts to the middle class and pay for it. I'm the only Democratic candidate, only candidate, who has proposed a bright new idea-paid family and medical leave. And another bold new idea-to create an American Center for Cures that will have as its goal-and this is my moon shot program-to cure some of the chronic ailments that plague and kill thousands-hundreds of thousands of people-millions of people-in our country. We can restore hope to America through unity and progress, and that's why I'm running for president.

MR. CONAN: Senator Lieberman. Finally, Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois.

MS. MOSELEY BRAUN: I am the clearest alternative, of all the candidates, to George Bush. It's time for new voices, for change in the way that decisions get made-not conflict but collaboration; not arrogance but the ability to listen. I have the experience and the vision to do the job of president. I can create jobs because I understand how the economy works and how we-and give us a real balanced budget as well. I can pass a comprehensive single-payor health care legislation, because I've worked through the process. I can help lead our country in the direction of peace and prosperity and progress. My entire public life has been built around building bridges and bringing people together to make government work for people, to give this country the progress and the direction to make certain that our generation leaves the next generation of Americans no less liberty, no less privacy, no less opportunity and hope than we inherited from our parents. Many people struggle with the sacrifice so I could stand as a candidate for president, and I want to make certain that we continue to move this country-it's a great country-forwarding the direction of inclusion and tapping all of the talent that we have to bring to bear on making our country work for everybody.

MR. CONAN: You've been listening to the NPR-WOI Democratic presidential debate. Our thanks to all the candidates who participated here today-Governor Howard Dean of Vermont; Congressman Dick Gephardt of Missouri; Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts; Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio; Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut; and Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois. One position I know they will all share is to encourage all of you to register and to vote. President Bush has no significant challenges for the Republican nomination, so we do not anticipate a Republican candidates debate, however, NPR has invited President Bush to come and share our airwaves. We have received thousands of e-mail questions from NPR listeners across the country. As you heard, we read many of them during our program today. We thank all of you who took the time to write in.

Finally, I'd like to thank all the NPR staff who helped plan and produce this event, our colleagues at the WOI Radio Group here in Iowa, the staff of the Greater Des Moines Partnership and Iowa State University, who were so generous with their time and their facilities, and all of the volunteers who contributed their time and energy, thanks to you all. I'm Neal Conan in Des Moines. This has been an NPR News Special.


Copyright 2004 Federal News Service, Inc.

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