WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Sen. John Kerry yesterday warned parents and grandparents here that it’s “possible” that President Bush will reinstate the draft to handle the war in Iraq if re-elected, while promising that he would not take that step.
“If George Bush were to be re-elected — given the way that he has gone about this war, and given the avoidance of responsibility in North Korea, Iran and other places — it is possible,” he said. “I can’t tell you.
“I will tell you this: I will not reinstate the draft,” the Massachusetts Democrat said in response to a question from a member of the audience of a town-hall meeting here.
The answer, coming after his charge on Friday that Mr. Bush is planning a surprise post-election call-up of National Guard and reserve troops, is the second time in less than a week that Mr. Kerry has said the president’s pursuit of the war in Iraq could have a far-reaching impact at home.
The promise drew a standing ovation from the crowd here and a stern rebuke from Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt, who compared the statement to Mr. Kerry’s unwillingness earlier this week to rule out the possibility that the war in Iraq was an “illegal war.”
“The one thing John Kerry has demonstrated this week is his willingness to say whatever he believes will benefit him politically, regardless of its effect on our troops, our allies and our mission,” Mr. Schmidt said.
Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and member of the Armed Services Committee, called the draft possibility an “urban legend” and called the statements “desperate and harmful to our troops.”
“While the president is working with allies and calling on the United Nations to help secure a democratic future in Iraq and the Middle East, Senator Kerry is busy spreading scare tactics and defeatism,” Mr. Cornyn said. “Sadly, his only plan seems to be fear, urban legends and conspiracy theories.”
After saying he would not reinstate the draft, Mr. Kerry quickly modified his stance to leave open that possibility if “the United States of America faced the kind of global attack or conflagration where everybody in America understood through an open democratic process we needed to defend this nation.”
The draft insinuation was one of several assertions made by Mr. Kerry recently, aimed at raising fears about a second term for Mr. Bush.
Mr. Kerry also told seniors here yesterday that Mr. Bush wants to give his political supporters $940 billion from Social Security. Earlier this week, he said America is less safe from terrorism after having launched the war in Iraq.
“Under the Bush scheme, the people who manage private Social Security accounts stand to get $940 billion,” said Mr. Kerry, who suffered from a cold that left him froggy and nearly inaudible at times. “That’s $940 billion that we should be using to protect benefits for our seniors, $940 billion that we should be using to save Social Security.”
Under the Bush plan that Mr. Kerry was talking about, young workers voluntarily could divert some of their Social Security payments into private investment accounts under the theory that they will make better investments than the government.
To support his statement, Mr. Kerry cited a study conducted by a professor in Chicago who supports his candidacy.
“The 45 million Americans who count on Social Security will see up to a 45 percent cut in their benefits, while Bush’s backers — the financial-services industry — will reap billions as part of the largest windfall in Social Security history,” according to the study by Austan Goolsbee at Chicago Business School.
Mr. Schmidt focused on the part of Mr. Kerry’s remarks in which he chastised the Bush administration’s opposition to the bulk purchasing of drugs by Medicare.
“John Kerry misled the seniors he was talking to today,” he said.
“While he now says he supports bulk purchasing of drugs, this is actually another example of his shifting positions,” he said. “In 2000, he co-sponsored a bill that prohibited the bulk purchasing of drugs.”
Such shifting positions also was the basis of a new ad released yesterday by the Bush campaign, titled “Windsurfing,” that shows Mr. Kerry atop his windsurfing board flipping directions.
“In which direction would John Kerry lead?” asks a voice as the ad opens.
“Kerry voted for the Iraq war, opposed it, supported it and now opposes it again,” the voice continues as the sail on Mr. Kerry’s surf craft flips and flops back and forth. The voice then proceeds through several issues on which Mr. Kerry’s position has shifted.
“John Kerry,” the ad closes, “whichever way the wind blows.”
Kerry spokesman Mike McCurry didn’t find the ad so funny and demanded that Mr. Bush repudiate it.
“This week has seen a further deterioration of chaos in Iraq,” he said. “American servicemen have been killed, two Americans were brutally beheaded, car bombs continue to explode and, according to Prime Minister [Iyad] Allawi’s own account, thousands of terrorists continue to pour into Iraq.”
Mr. Bush’s response, Mr. McCurry said, was “an advertisement that takes a lighthearted approach to the war in Iraq.”
By midafternoon, the Kerry campaign had released a television ad of its own condemning the new Bush ad.