Presidential Debate Features Foreign Policy; Gore Mea Culpa

By David Thibault | July 7, 2008 | 8:26 PM EDT

( - In their second presidential debate, Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore disagreed over when and how to use American military might. They clashed over health care, gun laws and the environment. And Gore admitted that he got "some details wrong" during his first debate with Bush, said he was sorry and promised he was "going to try to do better."

Round two was held on the campus of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Recent polls show Bush with a narrow lead over Gore in that state, and most national surveys show the Texas governor with a slight lead. However, the latest state-by-state results show Gore leading in more of the big states and in the all-important Electoral College count.

Last night, Bush attacked what he called the Clinton-Gore administration's "nation building" foreign policy, arguing that its intervention in Haiti was a mistake because, according to Bush, "I'm not so sure democracy is any better off in Haiti than it was before."

Gore countered by arguing that "if you have a situation like that, right in our backyard, with chaos about to break out and flotillas forming to come across the water and all kinds of violence - right in one of our neighboring countries there - then I think we did the right thing."

Bush said if elected, he would deploy the U.S. military more judiciously than Clinton-Gore.

Any decision to use U.S. troops, Bush said, "needs to be in our vital interest, the mission needs to be clear and the exit strategy obvious."

As for how he would like the rest of the world to perceive the U.S., Bush said, "I don't think they ought to look at us with envy. It really depends upon how our nation conducts itself in foreign policy; if we're an arrogant nation, they'll resent us. If we're a humble nation but strong, they'll welcome us."

Gore pointed out that as a U.S. Senator, he had supported the Persian Gulf War resolution, authorizing an invasion of Iraq, but last night blamed Bush's father, who was president during the Gulf War, for failing to finish the war "in a way that removed Saddam Hussein from power."

Both candidates said Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat should persuade his forces to stop the violence aimed at Israeli troops. Gore also called on Syria to release three Israeli soldiers who were recently captured in Lebanon, and said, "Israel should feel absolutely secure about one thing - our bonds with Israel are larger than agreements or disagreements on some details of diplomatic initiatives."

Bush said he favors helping third world countries retire their debt, but added "we can't be all things to all people...We can lend money but we've got to do it wisely. We shouldn't be lending money to corrupt officials."

Gore and Bush were more aggressive with each other on domestic policy. Gore said under Governor Bush, Texas rated next to last among the 50 states in providing health insurance for children and women and dead last in providing health insurance for families.

"The governor opposed a measure put forward by Democrats in the legislature to expand the number of children who would be covered and instead directed the money toward a tax cut, a significant part of which went to wealthy interests...and so the money was taken away from the CHIP (Children's Health Insurance) program," Gore said.

Bush defended his Texas record, insisting that his administration is spending $4.7 billion a year on the uninsured and that while the number of uninsured people in Texas is decreasing, the number of uninsured people nationwide is increasing under the Clinton-Gore administration.

Gore also attacked Bush's environmental record in Texas, calling Houston the nation's "smoggiest city" and criticizing Texas for producing more industrial pollution than any other state.

Bush said he's worked hard to get Texas factories to comply with clean air standards, but said he opposes the Kyoto global warming treaty Gore supports. "I'll tell you one thing I'm not going to do," Bush said. "I'm not going to let the United States carry the burden for cleaning up the world's air - like the Kyoto Treaty would have done - China and India were exempted from that treaty."

On guns, Bush said he supports trigger locks, instant background checks and a measure to require handgun buyers to be at least 21 years old. But he said tougher enforcement of existing gun laws is needed. Gore said he supports photo licenses for new gun buyers. Said Gore, "the problem that I see is that there are too many guns getting into the hands of children and criminals."

Gore said as president, he would sign a ban on the practice of racial profiling, where police officers stop people simply because of the color of their skin. Gore said he would make the racial profiling ban "the first civil rights act of the 21st century."

According to Bush, "the biggest discrimination comes in public education, where we just move children through the schools." Quoting a friend, Bush said, "Reading is the new civil right."

Last week, Bush's running mate, Dick Cheney said he was reconsidering his views about homosexual civil unions. Last night, Bush left no doubt about his own position on the matter.

"I'm not for gay marriage," Bush said. "I think marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman."

Gore's response: "We should find a way to allow some kind of civic unions and I basically agree with Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman and I think the three of us have one view and the governor has another."

The final question of the evening dealt with an issue that's been hounding Gore for weeks - the perception that he constantly exaggerates either his own accomplishments or the political points he's trying to make.

Admitting that "I got some of the details wrong last week in some of the examples I used," Gore said he was "sorry about that. "I'm going to try to do better," Gore said.