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Do Veterans Have Presidential Edge?; Women in War

Aired May 26, 2003 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Fresh from war, with U.S. troops still in danger, the commander in chief and the nation remember.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And on this day especially, our nation is grateful to the brave and fallen defenders of freedom.

ANNOUNCER: A question of service. Do Democrats who wore the uniform have the advantage in 2004?

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I wish that I had been part of that service.

ANNOUNCER: A salute to women. We'll discuss their evolving roles in wars and how they're likely to influence the next election.



JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us.

I'm at the Iwo Jima Memorial just outside of Washington in Virginia. Leading Memorial Day ceremonies is part of the job description when you are the commander in chief. But this day must be especially meaningful for President Bush, after ordering U.S. troops to fight in two wars that have, to a large degree, defined his image as a leader.

We begin with our White House correspondent, Dana Bash.

Dana, how did the president mark this Memorial Day?


Well, the president started the day here at the White House. He had a private meeting in the East Room with about 200 members of veteran groups. But then he made his across the river to Arlington National Cemetery. And there, he led the nation in a somber Memorial Day message. He said that the nation is grateful and he said that the nation does not forget.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BUSH: Today, we honor the men and women who have worn the nation's uniform and were last seen on duty. From the battles of Iraq and Afghanistan, to the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, to the trials of world war, to the struggles that made us a nation, today, we recall that liberty is always the achievement of courage.


BASH: Now, as is the tradition in these Memorial Day services, the president laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. And, in that moment, it was an especially poignant moment for the president, because, as you mentioned, Judy, he is very much a wartime president, sent troops into battle twice in as many years, first in Afghanistan and then in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

And there have been 198 casualties in the current Iraq war, the one that just ended; 19 of those servicemen are buried at Arlington just beyond the Tomb of the Unknowns in Section 60. The president made mention of some of them, told some stories about some of those who are buried there. And with all the songs and the tributes that we saw at the Arlington National Cemetery today, Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld, who also spoke at the event, said that -- he paid tribute, but he also warned that any nation or anybody who threatens the United States should worry in the future, because he made clear that America will defend its liberty and freedom in the future, no matter what -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Dana Bash reporting from the White House on the president on this Memorial Day -- Dana, thank you very much.

Well, we know that Memorial Day is a nonpartisan event, but politicians have been known to use the holiday to emphasize their military credentials.

And that brings us to the 2004 Democrats and our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the stump or around a table, it's pretty much always comes up.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MS), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm the only candidate running for president of the United States who spent four years on active duty in the military and served in a war.

CROWLEY: The question is whether what happened on the Mekong Delta in '68 matters on the campaign trail in '04.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To understand the pressures and not take lightly when he sends troops in to combat, I think it helps.

CROWLEY: The answers are, yes and no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. I vote for the candidate based on their platforms. CROWLEY: And, it depends.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not entirely, but it would sway my opinion between two candidates that were similar.

CROWLEY: Of the '04 Democrats, Richard Gephardt served in the Air National Guard. The rest were either not drafted or deferred for medical and family reasons.

LIEBERMAN: And do I regret it? I do. I wish that I had been part of that service.

CROWLEY: And, certainly, military credentials are scarce in the presidential training ground. Only 11 of 50 governors, 35 of 100 senators, and 121 of 435 representatives have served in the military.

But if service matters, it hasn't mattered enough for victory in recent campaign history. This President Bush, A decorated World War II combat pilot, was defeated by Bill Clinton, who avoided the draft. Four years later, this wounded and decorated member of the greatest generation lost to President Clinton. And, in 2000, this President Bush, a former member of the Texas Air Guard, beat one of Vietnam's most celebrated veterans in the primaries. The question is whether something is different now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the last election, I don't think it factored. Maybe in the next one, it might.

CROWLEY: If 9/11 changed the definition of war...

BUSH: I can hear you!

CROWLEY: ... did it also change the perception of what it takes to be president? John Kerry is banking on it.

KERRY: I have a sense of what the military demands are and war is about in a way that I think allows me to speak with greater authority than, perhaps, some of my colleagues about that.

CROWLEY: Still, candidate, beware. An old pol and an old vet warns, there can be too much of a good thing.

BOB DOLE (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you go out there and try to push the fact that you're a veteran and somebody else is not, that's not very good politics. People see through that.


CROWLEY: Combat credentials help in the getting-to-know-you phase of the campaign. And military service will get a candidate at least in the door of very politically active veterans' groups.

But, in the end, you can't win voters with what you did in your life. You win voters with what you can do for theirs -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Candy, it seems to me that so much of this is what you have just stressed, that it is what these candidates are able to bring to the table, how they're able to talk about their experience, whether they served in war or not.

CROWLEY: Sure. And there's other kinds of services all these other candidates will point out. John Kerry has a great story and he's telling it and using it. Joe Lieberman talks about going down South during desegregation. So there is -- there are a lot of stories out there to tell. But this right now is one that has some resonance.

WOODRUFF: All right. Candy Crowley, reporting for us -- thank you, candy.

Well, against the backdrop of the wars in Iraq and against terrorism, President Bush's job approval rating stands at 63 percent in our latest CNN/"TIME" magazine poll, about what it was back in March.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Bill, first of all, what sort of lasting impact are you finding 9/11 has had on public opinion now that we are almost two years later?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Judy, one word. And that word is security.

In the latest CNN/"TIME" poll, nearly two-thirds of Americans say they're more worried about national security after 9/11. And that is especially true for women; 59 percent of men and 71 percent of women say they're more worried about national security. Among moms, women with children under 18, the figure is even higher; 76 percent say they're more worried about security.

The impact on women became even clearer when we asked, which do you worry about more, another terrorist attack or an economic downturn? Men are more worried about an economic downturn. Women tend to be more worried about another terrorist attack. The issue of physical security has clearly taken hold among women.

WOODRUFF: So, Bill, has that had a political effect, though?

SCHNEIDER: Well, it does seem to have increased the appeal of the Republican Party to women voters.

Republicans, you know, have been called the daddy party. Well, sure enough, men have a more favorable opinion of Republicans than Democrats. But the opposite is no longer true for women. Women now have an equally favorable view of both parties. Republicans are the party that offers to protect them and their kids.

WOODRUFF: And, Bill, are there specific issues that show the effects of 9/11?

SCHNEIDER: Here's one: gun control. Gun control advocates are now on the defensive. And here's why. CNN and "TIME" asked Americans whether they favored stricter gun control laws back in January of 2000, long before 9/11. And we asked it again last week. Among men, there's been no shift at all. They have the same percentage; 48 percent say they support stricter gun control laws. But take a look at the figures among women. Among women, support for stricter gun laws has fallen sharply, from 69 percent in 2000 to 55 percent now; 9/11 has tilted the political advantage toward the gun lobby. Apparently, guns make people feel now more secure, especially women -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Something to keep the political advisers and the analysts and the reporters all working overtime.


WOODRUFF: All right, Bill, thanks very much.

Still ahead: a different take on women and war. Has their service to their country been overlooked? I'll ask a retired general who is now leading the charge to honor women in the military.

Also ahead: dollars and the Democrats. Are they giving Republicans ammunition to call them big spenders?

And, after "Terminator 3," does Arnold Schwarzenegger hope to premiere a political campaign?

Find out on INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.


WOODRUFF: A happy homecoming this Memorial Day. Tears of joy and broad smiles greeted returning Marines from the 24th Expeditionary Unit, just back from the war in Iraq. On hand to welcome the Marines: their families and friends. The Marines landed at the New River Marine Air Station in North Carolina, just south of their home base at Camp Lejeune. More Marines are expected to land by sea in a few minutes. And we'll have live coverage when that happens.

INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.


WOODRUFF: Today's Memorial Day ceremonies included a special salute to Native American women who have served in the nation's armed forces. Among those attending a ceremony money at the Women in Military Service to America Memorial were the family of Private Lori Piestewa who was killed in Iraq. She is the first Native American woman to die in combat.

A little earlier, I spoke with retired Air Force General Wilma Vaught, who oversaw the fund-raising for the women's memorial. I asked her if she thinks women and Native Americans in the military have been overlooked.


RET. GEN. WILMA VAUGHT, AIR FORCE: Yes, there certainly have. I can recall, when we first started talking about this, that we probably had 20 women who had identified themselves as such. And then the number grew to 200 and something. And now we're up over 700 as registered in the memorial.

But nobody, no one knew what their history was. No one knew when they'd served.

WOODRUFF: You've spent some time over the last few days, and even before, with the family of Specialist Lori Piestewa. How are they dealing with her loss?

VAUGHT: I think very well. They're a very solid family, with very, very close ties.

For example, her sister has moved back to Tuba City, Arizona, where the rest of the family lives, to help with the care of her two children. But they just -- as you watch them, the children go to first one and then another. And it's just a very close family. And they are so proud of her service for her country.

WOODRUFF: What is going to be different, General Vaught, about the fact that she was Native American, that this is a Native American daughter whose loss is being mourned?

VAUGHT: I think it makes a difference to the Native American community. For example, we have had color guards come from all over the country to participate in this ceremony, and other individuals.

And as I watch the people coming into the memorial, they're just flowing in, Native Americans, proud of what she did. And this has brought a very positive picture for Native Americans.

WOODRUFF: Lori Piestewa was the mother of two young children. They are now without a mother. I know you're an advocate of women in the military service. But what of the argument of opponents, who say that women of childbearing age, that there's just something that goes against the grain of human instincts to take these women away from their children or to put them at risk when they're mothers?

VAUGHT: Well, first of all, I look at the number of women who are actually serving. And when you think of the number of women there are in the United States, that's a very small percentage.

Secondly, I think it's a matter of choice. Lori's mother spoke to me about this yesterday. And she said that she wouldn't want any restrictions placed on women serving, because it's a matter of choice and it's up to the families to support children in their choices. And that's how they felt about Lori going in to the Army.

WOODRUFF: Are there ongoing obstacles, though, General Vaught, to women serving in the military?

VAUGHT: Of course, because there are people who just don't believe they should be in the military. There are others who don't believe they should be in combat. And so, always, when we find them branching out, for example, during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and doing the things they were, there are those people who say, women shouldn't be doing this. But the women are doing very well. We have example after example where they have just done extraordinarily well.

WOODRUFF: Is there something different, though, when we lose a woman in battle, in combat?

VAUGHT: I don't think there's a bit of difference. That woman is a daughter, just the same as it could be a son or it's a wife, when it could be a husband. It is your loved one. It is that person who is dear to you. It doesn't make any difference what gender the body is in that body bag.


WOODRUFF: Retired Air Force General Wilma Vaught, an advocate of women serving in the military and even on the front lines.

To politics next: Michigan Democrats weighing in on the presidential hopefuls. A new poll offers another snapshot of where they stand with the party faithful.


WOODRUFF: Checking the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily": A new poll by "The Des Moines Register" finds most Iowans like the way President Bush is handling his job, but they remain concerned about the economy. In a state Bush narrowly lost to Al Gore, 67 percent say they approve of the president's job performance. On the economy, however, 50 percent said they disapprove of his efforts, while 40 percent say they approve.

A survey of Michigan Democrats finds Senator Joe Lieberman is the early favorite among presidential hopefuls. Lieberman tops the field with 27 percent, followed by Dick Gephardt with 19 percent, Senator John Kerry close behind at 15 percent. The other six candidates all registered less than 10 percent.

Meantime, out in Hollywood, actor and political activist Arnold Schwarzenegger is still dropping hints about a run for California governor. Schwarzenegger tells "TV Guide" that his family will have the final say about whether he enters the political arena. Any decision is on hold for now. He says he may revisit the issue once he's finished promoting his upcoming movie, "Terminator 3."

Well, even on this Memorial Day, Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times" is keeping an eye on the 2004 presidential race. And he's seeing dollar signs. That's next.

OK, you're not next. You're right now.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I am not next. I am right now. WOODRUFF: All right, you've been looking at, Ron, how much money these Democrats are tolling up in their proposals for domestic and other spending. What are you finding?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, the meter is running in 2004.

In 2000, Al Gore, very conscious of that image of fiscal responsibility that Bill Clinton built, kept down his spending proposals. Right now, we have a Democratic field where we have half of the major candidates -- John Kerry, Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean have put forward spending plans on health care alone that are four to 10 times bigger than what Al Gore had on health care.

We have Kerry and Dean with about $900 billion health care plans, Dick Gephardt with a $2.5 trillion health care plan.

WOODRUFF: Ron, I hate to interrupt you, but Frank Buckley is with Marines from the 24th Expeditionary Unit in North Carolina. They are just now coming ashore. They're on transport craft coming off on to shore from the USS Nassau.

Frank, tell us what it's like there with these men.

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are just seconds away from hitting the beach in LCU 1664 with Chief Ted Cheney (ph) here, with some of the Marines from the USS Nassau about to come ashore. This is after a nine-month long deployment for these Marines.

We can see, there's the beach. We've just hit the beach. You can see now the ramp is going down. We've got a few Marines on this landing craft. And let me -- Mark (ph), show them the chief here, as we widen out.

Chief, where are we in the process? What's going on now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, this is just the off-load process of getting the Marines home. This is our second load to the beach. So we're pretty comfortable with this beach right now.

BUCKLEY: You've just hit land, after nine months. These Marines have not been home for nine months. They've been at war. You've been talking to them today. How are they feeling?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're very upbeat. And so are we. We're upbeat just to get them back. Let those guys go home. They've earned it. They deserve it. They did a great job over in Iraq. So, we're just happy to get them home, get them out of here right now. And I couldn't be more happy to do that.

BUCKLEY: OK, thanks very much, Chief.

And we can just show, Mark, some of the Marines here who are mustering and they are going to come off. They're about to walk down the ramp to one of the vehicles that is coming aboard this LCU to help get some of the gear off. Then these Marines will have to wade through a few feet of water as they go ashore here at Onslow Beach at Camp Lejeune, really an incredible treat to ride on to the beach with these Marines who have allowed us to come from the USS Nassau, a fairly short trip on this LCU, but one of the traditional landing craft, dating back to the World War II era, this one built in the 1970s.

But that same tradition of the Marines hitting the beach in a landing craft, we've been able to show it to you live, as these Marines come back from Operation Iraqi Freedom -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Frank Buckley reporting for us from the shores of North Carolina.

Frank, no matter how these Marines get back, we know their families are every bit as thrilled to see them. All right.

Frank, I'm sorry. All right.

Frank, why did they decide to do it this way, rather than just having the USS Nassau land -- come to shore at a port?

BUCKLEY: Well, this is an amphibious-ready group. It's the Nassau, the Tortuga, and the Austin, three ships. And this is how the Marines off-load.

The Navy ships actually will continue on tomorrow to Norfolk, which is their home port. These Marines are based here at Camp Lejeune, the 24th MEU. This is how they always do it. They take the LCACs, the helicopters -- the LCACs are the hovercraft -- the helicopters and these landing craft and the Marines are off-loaded here at their home base. Then the Navy continues on with the U.S. Navy warships to Norfolk. So this is how they always do it. They come ashore in this fashion.

WOODRUFF: So, Frank, it looks like it's something they're all very comfortable doing. They're used to being in these kind of craft. So why not go home that way, in other words?

BUCKLEY: I'm sorry. What? Did you say, why not fly them home?

WOODRUFF: No. I was simply saying, it makes sense to do it this way, because they're accustomed to this kind of landing craft and moving through the water this way.

BUCKLEY: It's a little difficult to hear when what you're saying, Judy.

But I'm going to show you what they're doing now. They're backing off. And you can see -- Mark, show them the vehicle here that's backing off with some of the gear right now. And it actually goes right down into the surf there and then on to the beach, with some of the gear that gets off-loaded. And then the Marines will actually march on to the sand. After that, they'll go to their barracks and they'll off-load some of their equipment, check stuff into the armory, and then finally get that long-awaited reunion with their families. These guys have been deployed for nine months. They were already on a longer-than-usual deployment, which is normally six months. They were supposed to go seven months. And then, just before they were about to chop out of the Persian Gulf and come back home, they were told to prepare to go into Iraq. And, in fact, that's what they did. They moved into Iraq. They spent a month in country, and, fortunately, no loss of life among these sailors or Marines, as they -- during this nine-month-long deployment, until, as you know, just a few days ago. There was, sadly, a couple of sailors who went missing.

But what I'd like you to do, Judy -- if you don't mind, I'd like to talk to one of these Marines who is going ashore now.

Tell me your name.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Corporal Robertson (ph).

BUCKLEY: Corporal, you were nine months away from friends and family, wartime deployment. You finally hit the beach here. How does it feel?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's great. We had a job to do. We went over there and just got it done. And now we're back home.

BUCKLEY: When you get home, who is waiting for you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a wife, Kim (ph), and a 3-year-old daughter, Shelby (ph), and a 7-month-old who was born while we were deployed in Kosovo. So it's the first time meeting him.

BUCKLEY: Oh, man, a 7-month-old. What are you hoping to do when you see that 7-month-old? Tell me what it's going to be like for the next few days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to be amazing, a new little life that you've never seen before. It's going to be just -- it's going to be pretty awesome.

BUCKLEY: And your 3-year-old, you were away for a good portion of her life, if she's 3 and you've been away for nine months. How do you make sure that your 3-year-old remembers who dad is?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, on the Nassau, we have e-mail and phone. So we do a lot of communicating through there and send digital pictures through digital cameras and stuff. And she knows daddy's out here doing his job and making sure that I come home safe.

BUCKLEY: Well, Corporal, we appreciate your time. And welcome home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. Thank you.

BUCKLEY: Thanks for your service.

We can see that now we've got some of these vehicles coming aboard to take some of the equipment and the Marines on to shore here at Camp Lejeune -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thanks, Frank.

It's a very, very special homecoming for these Marines and, I know for their loved ones and family members. Frank Buckley with the 24th Expeditionary Unit, great to see you and great to see these Marines getting home safe and sound.

We're going to very quickly, in just the minute or so we have left, rejoin our Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times."

You were talking about how much money the Democrats are proposing, Ron. It's adding up.

BROWNSTEIN: It really is. It's becoming a divide in the field and a potential divide against President Bush.

You have three of the Democrats, Kerry, Dean and Gephardt, with very expensive health care plans. The other three major candidates, John Edwards, Joe Lieberman, and Bob Graham, are saying -- are suggesting those are too expensive. But at the same time, their own promises are adding up on things like energy, in medical research and so forth.

The question some of the Democrats are asking now is, are these expensive promises going to undermine their ability to make a case against President Bush for the budget moving from surplus to these very large deficits under his presidency? Is there simply too much money on the table for them to take advantage of what could be a vulnerability for him?

WOODRUFF: And no matter how serious they say the health crisis is, you're right. The dollars signs are going to be potentially of concern.

All right, Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times," sorry to cut you short, but it's Memorial Day.

BROWNSTEIN: Exactly right.

WOODRUFF: And we want to see these homecomings.

All right, Ron, and we'll be talking to you again very soon.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff, again, joining you from the Iwo Jima Memorial.

We thank you for joining us.


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