DURHAM, N.H. - As he kicked off a weeklong series of rallies on college campuses, Sen. John Kerry said yesterday that President Bush's approach in Iraq has put U.S. soldiers in the line of fire with little backing from their allies.
"Our young men and women in uniform, who are extraordinary ... deserve the support of a policy that doesn't just leave them exposed, almost alone," Kerry told hundreds of supporters gathered in a cavernous sports arena at the University of New Hampshire.
With his comments, the probable Democratic nominee hewed carefully to the stance he has taken since the recent bout of fighting in Iraq: a mixture of praise for the troops with a strong critique of the administration's handling of the war.
"If I were president today, right now today, I would be going very directly to the United Nations," he told about 40 students in a foreign policy class at the university yesterday.
"I would summon the world to an effort that I think the world has a stake in. And I would be prepared to turn over to the U.N. the authority for the political transformation of Iraq and for the reconstruction of Iraq."
Bush spokesman Steve Schmidt called Kerry's remarks hypocritical.
"John Kerry left America's fighting men and women exposed when he voted against the $87 billion supplemental [legislation] that included money for body armor and increased combat pay," he said.
The Massachusetts senator spoke extensively about Iraq during his visit to the university, the first time he has returned to New Hampshire since winning his party's primary in this state Jan. 27.
After the rally, while shopping at the campus bookstore, Kerry declined to comment on an Aug. 6, 2001, memo to the president about possible terrorism activity in the United States. The memo was released to the public Saturday. Kerry also declined to comment on testimony presented to the 9/11 commission last week.
His campaign billed the trip to Durham as the kick-off to a sustained effort to mobilize the youth vote before November. A campaign news release said Kerry would preview a "compact with the next generation" with a call to service that echoed that of President John F. Kennedy, who created the Peace Corps in 1961.
Kerry did mention his plan to pay college tuition of students who work for two years in their communities, but he acknowledged that the program would not be as extensive as he would like because of the federal deficit.
The Massachusetts senator did not go into details about how he would appeal to young voters. Instead, he asked the assembled students to get involved in the campaign.
"I know that people are disaffected," he said. "I know a lot of your friends laughed at you probably because you go to a rally." But, he added, "change begins with you."
Meanwhile, Kerry's campaign attempted yesterday to reinforce the argument the life has gotten worse for middle-class families under Bush, releasing an in-house study.
The traditional "misery index" measures the combination of unemployment and inflation. It was cited often during the Carter administration as an expression of the country's economic malaise. In 1976, the misery index was set at 100.
Kerry's economic advisers said they calculated a new middle-class misery index to show a snapshot of "kitchen table pocketbook issues." They defined "middle-class" as those families earning as much as $200,000 a year.
"This certainly provides a more illuminating picture of the economic trends that are impacting typical working families," said Gene Sperling, a former Clinton adviser who helped to compile the index.
The Kerry misery index measures factors such as median family income, bankruptcies and home ownership rates.
The campaign team concluded that because of an increase in the costs of college tuition and health care premiums, as well as a drop in family income, the middle-class misery index has worsened by 13 points under Bush - the biggest three-year decline in the 27-year period measured.
The Bush campaign rebuffed the measurement as "bogus."
"John Kerry has made up a false measurement to support his ongoing efforts to talk down the economy," Schmidt said.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.