Most of the candidates sounded a common theme, accusing the president’s policies of favoring a small group of wealthy individuals and corporations over the needs of average Americans.
In their comments on the president’s speech, the Democrats gave particular emphasis to domestic issues like the availability of health care and the strength of the economy, but also criticized the handling of the war in Iraq and efforts to fight terrorism.
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, fresh off of his victory in the Iowa caucuses, said President Bush’s comments did not match his policies.
“This is a say-one-thing-do-another-thing speech, which is just like this say-one-thing-do-another-thing administration,” Kerry said in an interview with NBC news.
Kerry also disagreed with the president’s portrayal of the war in Iraq.
“I think there is a great deal of wishing in the president’s comments tonight,” Kerry told NBC. “All of us obviously join in celebrating the accomplishments of our troops and we support the troops but I think the war in Iraq that the president described is very different in its presentation from what’s really there.”
Kerry said the situation President Bush described with regard to the number of troops in Iraq and the size of the international coalition “is not really there.”
The Massachusetts Democrat added that the president’s health care policies have failed and that economic recovery the president touted was not reaching average Americans.
“This is not a recovery for the working American, this is a Bush league, Wall Street recovery,” Kerry said.
Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., who finished second in the Iowa vote, said in a statement released Tuesday night that Mr. Bush’s policies do not help most Americans.
“What this president fails to understand is that we still live in two different Americas: one for the privileged few, and another for everybody else,” Edwards said, returning to his major campaign theme. “Instead of proposing ideas that would help heal our great divides, he is dividing us even further and believes that compassionate language and empty slogans will make working Americans forget the burdens they face every day.”
Edwards also criticized the president’s health care policies, saying they would not address the challenges faced by many Americans.
“Instead of reaching out to the nearly 4 million Americans who have lost their health insurance, he is giving HMOs and big insurance companies more of your money,” Edwards said.
Edwards told voters “we can make sure that this state of the union is George Bush’s last and build a more perfect union that works for all of us.”
Instead of reacting directly to the president’s speech, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who came in third in the Iowa caucuses, called for expanded campaign finance reform.
Dean said that money from influential donors affects the way presidential candidates campaign.
“Despite George W. Bush’s words last night, the state of our nation is not well,” Dean said in a statement released Wednesday. “Indeed, the soul of our nation is at risk because the corrupting influence of special interest money is eating away at the core of our democracy.”
Dean added that “politicians engage in a relentless arms race for campaign cash, and our democracy is for sale to the highest bidder.”
Dean further said that elected officials are more interested in raising campaign cash than “meeting the needs of ordinary people.”
“Ninety-six percent of the most active political donors have incomes over $100,000 — 82 percent male, 92 percent white.” Dean said. “If money is a form of speech, as the Supreme Court has regrettably found, rich donors will always be the loudest speakers.”
Dean has said his plan for reform includes reorganizing public funding of presidential campaigns to entice more candidates to seek matching funds, offering public financing for all federal elections, giving a tax credit to poor and middle-income political donors, and requiring broadcasters to provide public affairs programming around elections.
Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who skipped the Iowa caucuses in order to focus on the New Hampshire primary, said, according to a press release, that President Bush is in a “state of denial about the state of the union.”
Lieberman said the president has shown too little concern for middle class Americans.
“What happened to the compassion in George Bush’s conservatism?” Lieberman asked.
Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who also skipped Iowa to concentrate on New Hampshire and other states, said the president has broken promises he made to the American people.
“Tonight, in his State of the Union, our president is once again going to promise us the world,” Clark said Tuesday evening. “But it’s all just smoke and mirrors designed to hide the stark fact that he has no real plan for our future.”
Clark added that “George W. Bush has helped those who have most, hurt those who have least, and ignored everyone in between.”
Clark further said that the president had failed to revive the economy, provide adequate health care and reduce the deficit.
“The sad fact is that today, two years after he coined the term, we’ve got a new axis of evil,” Clark said, employing a term the president has used to describe nations he feels are hostile to the United States. “It’s one our president has created. It’s an axis of fiscal policies that threaten our future … foreign policies that threaten our security … and domestic policies that put families dead last.”
In a speech he called “The State of the Nation,” Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, who finished fifth in the Iowa election, said the country is “in a perilous condition due to fear, war, tax cuts to wealthy Americans, and trade policies leading to widespread unemployment in manufacturing and high tech industries.”
Kucinich said the federal government should create a jobs program similar to the Work Projects Administration, a depression-era agency designed to put unemployed Americans to work on public projects such as constructing government buildings and parks.
The Ohio congressman also called for government-funded universal health care for all Americans.
A statement about the president’s speech from the Rev. Al Sharpton was not available, though Sharpton has also been critical of the president’s national security and domestic policies and has called for guaranteed universal health care for all Americans, ending the war in Iraq, and “targeted” tax cuts for middle and low-income Americans.