Clear policy differences have emerged between the hopefuls on the Democratic and Republican tickets and last week’s debates provided an outline of where the parties diverge regardless of which candidates win the 2008 presidential nominations.
The Republicans would make English the official language; all but one of the Democrats disagree. The Democrats would scrap “don’t ask, don’t tell”; the Republicans would keep the military policy on homosexuals. Republicans would rather use pre-emptive force against a nuclear Iran; while the Democrats prefer diplomacy.
“The differences among us are minor. The differences between us and the Republicans are major,” said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, at last week’s debate “I don’t want anybody in America to be confused.”
“Someone would have had to have slept through both debates to think that there are no differences,” former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican, said yesterday on CNN.
On Iran, the Democrats at the debate favored talks to avoid another war like the one in Iraq, and Republicans accused the other party of weakness.
“The Democrats … don’t seem to have gotten beyond the Cold War,” said former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani at the Republican debate, accusing the Democrats of being “in denial” for saying Iran is 10 years from having nuclear weapons.
He was referring to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr., who said at his party’s debate that the United States should end its “regime change” policy on Iran.
“What we’re saying to everybody in Iran is … give up the one thing that keeps us from attacking you, and after that, we’re going to attack you, we’re going to take you down,” the Delaware Democrat said. “Understand how weak Iran is. … They are a decade away from being able to weaponize.”
“We need a process of engagement,” she said. “The president’s policy has been: We don’t talk in this administration to people we don’t agree with or that we think are bad. All during the Cold War, we always talked to the Soviet Union.”
Former Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, noted a “long history of pro-American sentiment in Iran.” He said he would make nuclear fuel available to Iran but keep it under the control of the international community and forbid its weaponization, and would impose “serious” economic sanctions.
“This is the clear path … no president, no responsible president, would ever take any option off the table,” he said.
But Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, said talking with terrorist states such as Iran is only sometimes acceptable, such as before the war in Afghanistan.
“We didn’t open up formal diplomatic relations and we shouldn’t,” he said. “We have to show that purpose and resolve, that we’re going to confront these guys and we’re going to stand with our allies like Israel, we’re going to stand against them oppressing and pushing us, and trying to fund terrorists against us.”
The debates — one for each party’s slate of candidates — were hosted by CNN two days apart, making the differences all the more stark.
The Democrats talked at length about health care policy, a major issue for their base voters, bickering over minor differences while agreeing that there is a need for universal coverage. The Republicans barely touched on the topic, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said the Democrats are “talking about a form of socialized medicine, government takeover, massive tax increase.”
But on immigration, an issue that deeply divides Republicans, the Republican candidates were effusive and the Democrats were nearly silent — with just a few of them offering their thoughts when the question was posed.
Several Democrats agreed when Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois said the official language question is a distraction “designed precisely to divide us.”
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, who speaks fluent Spanish, said: “We ought to be encouraging more of that in the country and not talking about how we have one official language in our nation. That’s not helping our country.”
The Democratic candidates all said they would support repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and let homosexuals serve openly in the military, while the Republicans said they would retain President Clinton’s policy.
“It is not the best way for us as a nation to proceed,” said Mrs. Clinton, the former first lady.
Mr. Biden said that it is “not a rational policy” and the U.S. is “breaking” the military because 9,000 troops have “been kicked out.”
Mr. Romney said the policy “seems to be working” and echoed Mr. Giuliani saying: “This is not the time to put in place a major change, a social experiment, in the middle of a war.”
The Republicans got more questions on climate change, considered a Democratic issue, and those who responded said the country must strive toward energy independence.
It was nearly an hour into the Democratic debate before Mr. Dodd used a question on gas prices to tout his global warming plan — raising the fuel efficiency standard for new cars and imposing a carbon tax.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, said he would start an “Apollo” program “asking every American to sacrifice, to conserve.”
c Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.
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