Jim Lehrer: Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered together for the first presidential debate of 2004, between President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry, representing the two political parties that rule America and control the Commission on Presidential Debates. Welcome, gentlemen.
Bush and Kerry: (in unison) Thank you, good to be here.
Jim Lehrer: The format of the debate is as follows. First, the two candidates will begin with their opening remarks. Then I will ask a series of questions, making sure not to stray into forbidden topics, and the candidates will respond with their memorized talking points. There are technically time limits, but we never really observe them. Backstage, Senator Kerry won the coin toss, but the president insisted the coin was biased, and so we went on to rock, paper, scissors. The president won, four out of seven, which he insisted was the way the game is played. Mr. President?
Bush: Thank you. My fellow Americans. I have been your president for four years. It has been a great time of prosperity and success for me. I want to do it again. I know that a lot of people really can’t stand the sight of me now — can’t stand the way I talk, and my Texas way of talking my mind. But I’m confident that I’ll be popular in the future, like almost all presidents are, in the end — in the history books.
America was attacked on September 11, 2001, and we must not forget how we felt on that day, when we decided it was time to unite behind me. The very security of my job depends on it. In response to September the 11th, I enacted strong laws that the federal government wanted to impose but never before had an excuse to. I took us to war in the Middle East, invading two countries and killing thousands of people who got in the way, including terrorists. Terrorists like al Qaeda.
I want to create a US empire. It’s good to be the king, but it’s even better to be emperor of the world. People worship you. They respect you. I get free food at fancy dinners, and I know that I will for the rest of my life. It’s even better than being the son of the president, except you can’t sleep in as much.
I also like giving away other people’s money and saying it’s because I’m compassionate. This is why I want to give people money to buy homes, because I care about being thought of as compassionate. By making sure hundreds of billions of tax dollars go to corporations, defense contractors, rich farmers and religious charities, I also get to say I’m conservative. It works out well for me.
This election is an important choice for every American — every American voter, every citizen, to make. Do you want to continue with me, George W. Bush, the guy who knows how to blow up cities and do it with a smile? Or do you want to go with that boring wimp over there? It’s not a hard choice for me. I like being president. Thank you very much.
Jim Lehrer: Mr. Kerry.
Kerry: This is indeed a big choice for all Americans. Americans must ask themselves: Do we want to recklessly go to war, without international coalitions and diplomatic tact? Or do we want a president who knows how to get the French and the Germans in on the killing? More than one thousand Americans have died in the Iraq war. I would have made sure that at least five hundred of them were foreigners instead.
Our great country used to go to war, killing thousands and swinging our brute force all over the globe, without losing the respect of the world. I want to return to the old-fashioned ways of American empire, before Mr. Cowboy here ruined it all by waging war without a UN seal of approval. The UN was designed to make global hegemony more palatable to the world’s peoples. I say we use it.
Furthermore, America’s economy is on the decline. I want to change that, or at least create the illusion of changing that, by imposing socialist healthcare and forbidding Americans from trading freely with the rest of the world. I want a stronger, smarter, more hip America — an America that knows how to pronounce the names of the countries it conquers, and understands the math behind its bankrupt social security system.
When I speak with the average man on the street who has less than one thousandth of my wealth, I hear where he’s coming from he says he isn’t any better off than four years ago. I must say I’m touched hearing Americans everywhere talk about rising healthcare costs, drugs on the streets, crime in the schools, assault weapons in criminal hands, broken alliances, lost jobs and outsourced dreams. And I know the best thing for me to do is promise I can fix these problems, fix the world, and hopefully I can convince enough Americans to place their trust in me, so I can become president and rule the world, instead of Mr. Bush. I’ve been a public servant for many years, and it’s my turn to be Numero Uno.
Bush: He’s not the only one who knows Spanish, you know. Él no es único quién — quién, uh, uh sabe ispanole — you know.
Jim Lehrer: Mr. Bush, it is still Mr. Kerry’s turn to speak.
Kerry: That’s all right. I didn’t have anything important to say, anyway.
Jim Lehrer: Alright. First question. Mr. Kerry, how do you plan to reduce healthcare costs for Americans?
Kerry: Healthcare is a right, not a privilege. Saying that bumper-sticker slogan is the first step — the first step to get me votes from the Left who might oppose my warmongering, but share a common vision of Soviet-style hospitals.
The second step is to nationalize the industry, getting the pharmaceutical corporations that supported my campaign, the medical lobbying groups that did the same, all together in a room. Telling them we’re going to have a universal healthcare system. Together we’ll figure out how to socialize the system, while maintaining corporate profits, expanding government power and spending, and strengthening our voting base.
Jim Lehrer: Sorry, but, do you say this is a way to cut costs?
Kerry: Oh. Well, yes, in a sense. Since the new system won’t provide for all sorts of fancy services we currently pay for. Certain surgeries and medicines are just too expensive. No need even to have those in the national system. Who needs a CAT scan or liver transplant, anyway? I’ll be able to afford them no matter what.
Jim Lehrer: Mr. Bush, same question.
Bush: Your last question was the one when you asked Kerry if he was sure —
Jim Lehrer: No, no. The question is, How will you reduce healthcare costs?
Bush: Maybe I should switch doctors.
Jim Lehrer: No. How would you reduce national healthcare costs?
Bush: The answer is, we say free enterprise. I believe in free enterprise, and that free enterprise should be encouraged, strengthened and protected by the federal government. I also say that all children and elderly deserve healthcare, and that it is the role of the government to provide it.
What I would do is I would ask the pharmaceutical corporations that donate to my campaign — not Kerry’s, see, this is where we disagree — and the lobbyists that I like, into a room. We would sit in a room. But a different room than Kerry’s room. And we would figure out a way for the government to provide healthcare to Americans by giving lots of tax money to the big companies, but I wouldn’t call it national healthcare. That might lose me votes. So I say free enterprise.
Jim Lehrer: And this will reduce the costs?
Bush: I don’t know. How would I know? Do I look like a doctor? I’m the president, not a doctor. You know, I think my healthcare system would be very good for my reelection in 2008 — once we change the Constitution to let me run again, with Arnold Schwarzenegger as my Vice President.
Jim Lehrer: Mr. Bush, what are your plans to improve education in America?
Bush: Strengthen local schools. Increase government spending while saying I want to get — place decisions in the hands of local schools. That’s the safe way to go at it. Also, more of those tests with the funny bubbles and the #2 pencils. That’s the way to make young schools read, to make little children alliterative.
Jim Lehrer: Mr. Kerry?
Kerry: We should attack the president’s education policies. If Democrats complain that the Republicans don’t spend enough on education, they’ll spend more than we ever hoped to, all while saying they’re giving local schools more power. This is best for all of us.
Jim Lehrer: Mr. Kerry, how do you propose to stop outsourcing of jobs and reduce our trade deficit?
Kerry: The iron fist of government.
Jim Lehrer: Mr. Bush?
Bush: I like his answer, but I prefer to say, "free trade with rigorous enforcement of trade laws." That way people don’t know what I’m talking about.
Jim Lehrer: Very well. Next question. President Bush, what do you propose to do to enhance security in America against terrorists, without compromising civil liberties? Do you support strengthening the Patriot Act?
Bush: I support whatever my advisors tell me to do so, and I don’t give a flying fig about civil liberties. Do I look like they’re going to stop me in the airport? I’m the president. Why would I care? I just want to get reelected. We’re at war, you know. I’m a war president, just like Franklin Roosevelt and the president during the Civil War.
Jim Lehrer: Mr. Kerry?
Kerry: Mr. Bush’s answer is the wrong answer for America. The proper answer, the answer that corresponds to the man who should be in the Whitehouse, which is me, is that civil liberties must be protected, parts of the Patriot Act must be strengthened without hurting civil rights, and Bush must be verbally attacked so I sound like I’m offering a different policy. That is the answer I hope will get me into the Whitehouse.
Jim Lehrer: Fair enough. Mr. Kerry, what is the proper course for US forces in Iraq, and how does it relate to the greater role of the US in the region?
Kerry: If there’s one issue my opponent here must answer for, it is his war on Iraq. I don’t see why I should have to answer for it.
Kerry: But if you insist, I think this man has done everything wrong in Iraq. He didn’t get the coalition he needed to wage the war in a more politically popular manner. He didn’t reach across the negotiation table, and reach out to other countries. He should have sought diplomatic solutions, and the reason I voted for the resolution was because it was ambiguously worded and I knew I could weasel my way out of it.
Jim Lehrer: Is that all you would have done differently? Asked other countries to join in?
Kerry: I might have also attacked a different country. Who knows which one? I don’t know. Presidents often have to act on a whim, it’s more fun that way. I wholeheartedly endorse Bush’s usurpation of power in the office of the presidency — I admire that office, and want it myself. But we’ve already done Iraq. Let’s go to Africa, I say!
The real implication of the president’s mismanagement of Iraq is that it will be harder to conquer more countries now, especially with him in charge. We’ve lost our credibility to conquer. Elect me, and I can convince the world that American imperium is back the way it used to be in the good old days, under Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton.
Jim Lehrer: Do you think we should leave Iraq?
Kerry: I don’t know. Why is everyone asking me questions about his mistake? It’s not fair. Just vote for me if you were against the war, or if you support it but want it done right.
Jim Lehrer: Mr. Bush, would have you done anything differently with Iraq? And when do you propose we leave?
Bush: You know what? I agree with Kerry on this. I shouldn’t have to answer these questions, because I already went to war with Iraq. But if you must know, yeah, I would have done things differently — I would have done different things.
Jim Lehrer: Like what?
Bush: I’m not sure. I’ll have to ask Dick Cheney. He’ll get back to me after he reads the new issue of the Weekly Standard, or National Review. He tells me those magazines have big words and complicated ideas, so he goes through them and tells me what to do, without the filters of the news bias.
Jim Lehrer: Oh. Okay. Well, Mr. President, what are your plans to catch the terrorists who attacked America on 9/11?
Bush: First of all, I don’t think it’s fair for me to have to draw up — make plans before I even know if I’m going to be president or not. I mean, I’ll have time to decide what to do after I win. And let us not forget 9/11. When you’re thinking that Iraq is a little harder than we all expected, and good Americans are gallantly giving their lives up there everyday, just remember that Saddam Hussein was a dictator, and 9/11 was the worst day in America’s history. Saddam and 9/11. Remember those two. Dick tells me that if Americans put those two together, they’ll conclude that I’m the man to vote for.
Jim Lehrer: How about you, Mr. Kerry? What are your plans?
Kerry: I’m not even going to answer. If Bush doesn’t have to answer, neither do I. I won’t lose any votes if I just keep quiet on this one. Every time I open my mouth, I lose votes.
Jim Lehrer: Last few questions. Some Americans have complained that the two parties have become increasingly identical. What do you say to them?
Kerry: I say that it’s not true. We offer very different visions of America. I offer an America with a President Kerry. He wants an America with a President Bush.
Bush: That’s my answer, too. I want an America with a President Kerry. He wants a President Bush America.
Jim Lehrer: Well, what do you say about the claims that we’ve become a single party state?
Bush: It’s not true. That’s what the Democrats say. I’m a unifier. I want to work with them closely, find agreement on everything important, to make sure we have two different parties.
Kerry: I’m with him on this one.
Jim Lehrer: Would the two of you ever merge, and make one party?
Bush: Why bother? The way it is, we can have these fun debates — these campaigns, and all this talking about Vietnam, and no one will notice all the people I’m killing now.
Kerry: I have to agree with the president on this, as well. In this glorious campaign we are establishing bold precedents for future campaigns, and the security of my job, assuming I am the next president, will depend on engaging in trivialities in 2008, instead of focusing on any damage I may have caused with my power.
Jim Lehrer: Thank you, President Bush and Senator Kerry, for that refreshingly honest debate.
Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He earned his bachelor’s degree in history at UC Berkeley, where he was president of the Cal Libertarians. He is an intern at the Independent Institute and has written for Rational Review, Strike the Root, the Libertarian Enterprise, and Antiwar.com. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.