FULTON — In a speech originally touted as a “major foreign-policy announcement,” Vice President Dick Cheney blistered Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry on Monday in the same place where Winston Churchill warned of communism’s “Iron Curtain” nearly 60 years ago.
Westminster College President Fletcher Lamkin said he enjoyed the first half of Cheney’s address, calling it an “excellent educational review of U.S. foreign policy.” But he said he was surprised and disappointed by Cheney’s decision to attack Kerry in the last 15 minutes of his speech.
“We lost a little class and dignity with what started out as a foreign-policy speech and what ended up as a political stump speech,” Lamkin said. “I wish he’d stayed on the high road.”
Cheney criticized Kerry’s understanding of the “broader struggle against terror.” He attacked Kerry for what he called a record of voting to cut military intelligence and defense spending, including his rejection last year of an $87 billion package to pay for the war in Iraq. He also ridiculed Kerry for refusing to name which foreign leaders support his candidacy.
Fair and balanced
In an e-mail sent to Westminster College’s students, staff and faculty on Monday afternoon, Lamkin said Cheney’s speech was not provided to the college in advance, and he invited Kerry to speak on campus soon “in the interest of balance and fairness and integrity.”
“We would love to have (Kerry) tomorrow,” Lamkin said.
[Update: Earlier today a Kerry campaign spokesperson told the Associated Press that Kerry will speak at Westminster on Friday.]
“(Cheney) had an opportunity to make a profound foreign-policy address, and as a result of the second half of that speech, we fell short of that.”
Bill Burton, a campaign spokesman, said the Kerry campaign is looking at its schedule and considering a possible stop in Fulton to speak at the college.
“It’s too early to say at this point, but we’re going to try to make it happen,” Burton said. “It’s really too bad that Vice President Cheney used his opportunity to be dishonest with the staff, the president, the school and the students.”
Lamkin said he was “open to the possibility” that Cheney would use the speech to campaign for the president and would have allowed Westminster to host Cheney even if he had known he intended to attack Kerry. However, Lamkin said he would have wanted to inform the audience of Cheney’s intentions ahead of time.
“We view the college as a place where opposing views are respected,” he said.
Cheney began his address Monday by praising the ideals of Churchill and former President Harry S. Truman and by reviewing terrorist activities over the past decade through the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He defended the Patriot Act and said U.S. foreign policy must be “clear and consistent in its purposes.”
Cheney also praised President Bush for his leadership on issues of national security.
“In the war on terror, we will always seek cooperation from allies around the world,” Cheney said. “But as the president has made very clear, there is a difference between leading a coalition of many nations and submitting to the objections of a few. The United States will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our country.”
Cheney later challenged Kerry’s “inconsistencies” and “changing rationales” on the war in Iraq and criticized him for not outlining a “serious plan for winning the war on terror.” Specifically, Cheney credited Kerry for favoring the Patriot Act but faulted him for stances that Cheney said would weaken the law.
“Had the decision belonged to Sen. Kerry, Saddam Hussein would still be in power today in Iraq,” he said. “In fact, Saddam Hussein would almost certainly still be in control of Kuwait as well.”
Ron Rold, 55, of Columbia said he was pleased with Cheney’s speech.
“The role of leadership the United States has to take is vitally important in the world today, and a lot of people don’t see that,” said Rold, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and former MU professor of military science. “I think we have to give tremendous credit to the armed forces because they are doing a tremendous job.”
Ryan Dillon, 19, president of the College Democrats at Westminster College, said he and about eight others walked out of the gym after hearing about 20 minutes of Cheney’s remarks.
“This event was publicized as a major foreign-policy announcement,” Dillon said. “But from what I hear from the rest of the speech, there was no announcement, it just continued as an anti-Kerry speech.”
After the speech, student Republicans and Democrats barked at each other outside the gym as the audience left.
For Nancy Ehase of Fulton, Cheney’s speech re-emphasized what she had already seen and read in the media.
“It was right on target,” she said.
The Democratic National Committee on Monday issued a fact sheet attacking Cheney’s record on defense spending with a list of his proposed weapons cuts since 1990. It quotes Cheney seeking defense cuts during the Cold War through February 2004.
Monday’s speech was Cheney’s second in four years at Westminster. He also stopped there during the 2000 presidential campaign.
The speech coincides with the Bush administration’s launch of a $10 million television advertising campaign accusing Kerry of opposing vital weapons.
Cheney’s speech also underscores the importance of Missouri as one of the country’s 18 critical battleground states for electoral votes. Bill Benoit, an MU professor of communication, said the state “could go either way.”
Benoit said it’s common for candidates to run ads consistent with messages they’re delivering in public appearances.
“This is a way to try to reach more people,” he said. “Missouri is going to be important without a doubt. There will be more ads and more campaign speeches.”