Sunday, September 26, 2004
New York Times > An Un-American Way to Campaign
September 25, 2004
President Bush and his surrogates are taking their re-election campaign into dangerous territory. Mr. Bush is running as the man best equipped to keep America safe from terrorists - that was to be expected. We did not, however, anticipate that those on the Bush team would dare to argue that a vote for John Kerry would be a vote for Al Qaeda. Yet that is the message they are delivering - with a repetition that makes it clear this is an organized effort to paint the Democratic candidate as a friend to terrorists.
When Vice President Dick Cheney declared that electing Mr. Kerry would create a danger "that we'll get hit again," his supporters attributed that appalling language to a rhetorical slip. But Mr. Cheney is still delivering that message. Meanwhile, as Dana Milbank detailed so chillingly in The Washington Post yesterday, the House speaker, Dennis Hastert, said recently on television that Al Qaeda would do better under a Kerry presidency, and Senator Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has announced that the terrorists are going to do everything they can between now and November "to try and elect Kerry."
This is despicable politics. It's not just polarizing - it also undermines the efforts of the Justice Department and the Central Intelligence Agency to combat terrorists in America. Every time a member of the Bush administration suggests that Islamic extremists want to stage an attack before the election to sway the results in November, it causes patriotic Americans who do not intend to vote for the president to wonder whether the entire antiterrorism effort has been kidnapped and turned into part of the Bush re-election campaign. The people running the government clearly regard keeping Mr. Bush in office as more important than maintaining a united front on the most important threat to the nation.
Mr. Bush has not disassociated himself from any of this, and in his own campaign speeches he makes an argument that is equally divisive and undemocratic. The president has claimed, over and over, that criticism of the way his administration has conducted the war in Iraq and news stories that suggest the war is not going well endanger American troops and give aid and comfort to the enemy. This week, in his Rose Garden press conference with the interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, Mr. Bush was asked about Mr. Kerry's increasingly pointed remarks on Iraq. "You can embolden an enemy by sending mixed messages," he said, going on to suggest that Mr. Kerry's criticisms dispirit the Iraqi people and American soldiers.
It is fair game for the president to claim that toppling Saddam Hussein was a blow to terrorism, to accuse Mr. Kerry of flip-flopping and to repeat continually that the war in Iraq is going very well, despite all evidence to the contrary. It is absolutely not all right for anyone on his team to suggest that Mr. Kerry is the favored candidate of the terrorists. And at a time when the United States is supposed to be preparing the Iraqi people for a democratic election, it's appalling to hear the chief executive say that loyal opposition gives aid and comfort to the enemy abroad.
The general instinct of Americans is to play fair. That is why, even though terrorists struck the United States during President Bush's watch, the Democrats have not run a campaign that blames him for allowing the World Trade Center and the Pentagon to be attacked. And while the war in Iraq has opened up large swaths of the country to terrorist groups for the first time, any effort by Mr. Kerry to describe the president as the man whom Osama bin Laden wants to keep in power would be instantly denounced by the Republicans as unpatriotic.
We think that anyone who attempts to portray sincere critics as dangerous to the safety of the nation is wrong. It reflects badly on the president's character that in this instance, he's putting his own ambition ahead of the national good.