The Value Proposition

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Friday, July 9, 2004; 10:59 AM

A theme increasingly running through President Bush's public messages these days (even more than his constant insistence that he is optimistic) is that his values are America's values.

Bush is hoping to persuade American voters that his own morality, faith and patriotism stand in contrast to Senator John F. Kerry's and more closely mirror their own. It's a powerful assertion.

But it's an assertion that is vehemently challenged by Democrats -- and it may have some risks.

Imagine what would happen if, for instance, it were to turn out that Bush was using terror warnings for political purposes; or if he shirked his National Guard duty in Vietnam; or if one of his top aides were charged with outing a CIA operative as an act of political retaliation; or if he is perceived as being part and parcel with the likes of indicted former Enron Corp. Chairman Kenneth L. Lay. (See below for updates on all those stories, and more, by the way.)

The Battle Over Values

Jim VandeHei writes in The Washington Post: "Sen. John F. Kerry and President Bush escalated a fight Thursday over values that is increasingly coloring the election-year debate heading into the national conventions. . . .

"Bush, a born-again Christian, frequently speaks in religious terms and talks of how voters, especially those outside the liberal bastions of big cities and the two coasts, share his deep faith, values and sense of patriotism."

But VandeHei notes that in a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, when asked whether the statement "he shares your values" applies more to Bush or Kerry, 46 percent said the president and 48 percent said Kerry.

The latest Bush/Cheney salvo is this ad, attacking Kerry for voting against what supporters call the "Laci Peterson Law."

In his regular "Ad Watch" feature in The Washington Post, Howard Kurtz puts the spot under a microscope.

And there's more to come.

Judy Keen and Jill Lawrence write in USA Today: "In a speech today in York, Pa., Bush plans to contrast Sen. John Kerry's recent claim that he represents 'conservative values' with the Democratic candidate's voting record, USA TODAY has learned. . . .

"Bush's message will be reinforced in TV, radio and newspaper ads. A full-page ad running today in Beckley, W.Va., where Kerry and Edwards will campaign, asks, 'Got conservative values?' It cites Kerry's support for abortion rights and his votes to raise taxes."

Threat or Politics?

Making almost as much news yesterday as the Bush administration's warning of terror attacks intended to disrupt the November elections was the accusation by some Democrats that the warning itself was, well, intended to disrupt the November elections.

The charge: That the threat announcement was a baldly political attempt -- not based on any new, specific, information -- to draw attention away from the new Kerry-Edwards ticket.

In his blog post on this morning, Howard Kurtz looks at this and other timing issues.

Over at the White House, press secretary Scott McClellan said yesterday: "I haven't seen specifically who said what. But what I would say is that we have an obligation, regardless of the time of year or what year we are in, to protect the American people and keep them informed about what we are doing to provide for their safety and security. And when we receive credible information like we have regarding the increased risk we face, we believe it's important to keep the American people informed."

Here's the text of McClellan's press briefing.

White House homeland security adviser Fran Townsend was on CNN with Miles O'Brien yesterday.

Said Townsend: "We don't play politics with threat information. It's too serious and it's too important. The fact is, the bad guys, by their actions, and the intelligence community, by their window in, those things coming together determine when we go to the American people.

"O'BRIEN: And politics has nothing to do with this in an election year?

"TOWNSEND: That's exactly right.

"Your prior guests were saying you're kind of damned if you do, damned if you don't. We have a responsibility to communicate to the American people what the state of information is. I'm a mother of two children. I want to know that I have got the information I can have in order to make informed decisions and what can I do to help law enforcement thwart the next attack. That's what we're trying to do today."

Key Bush Guard Records Destroyed

Ralph Blumenthal writes in the New York Times today about a surprising disclosure regarding military records that journalists were hoping could settle the controversy over President Bush's whereabouts during his disputed service in the Texas Air National Guard.

The Pentagon says they've been inadvertently destroyed.

A letter from the Pentagon "said the payroll records of 'numerous service members,' including former First Lt. Bush, had been ruined in 1996 and 1997 by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service during a project to salvage deteriorating microfilm. No back-up paper copies could be found, it added in notices dated June 25.

"The destroyed records cover three months of a period in 1972 and 1973 when Mr. Bush's claims of service in Alabama are in question. . . .

"The loss was announced by the Defense Department's Office of Freedom of Information and Security Review in letters to The New York Times and other news organizations that for nearly half a year have sought Mr. Bush's complete service file under the open-records law."

Can't remember what's at issue? As Blumenthal explains, in May 1972, Bush "moved to Alabama to work on a political campaign and, he has said, to perform his Guard service there for a year. But other Guard officers have said they had no recollection of ever seeing him there. The most evidence the White House has been able to find are records showing Mr. Bush was paid for six days in October and November 1972, without saying where, and the record of a dental exam at a Montgomery, Ala., air base on Jan. 6, 1973."

A surprise, indeed. Heck, just two weeks ago in an interview for this column, Associated Press Assistant General Counsel Dave Tomlin told me the AP has been informed that the microfilm in question did indeed exist. (Update: Please read the "National Guard Correction" item in my July 13 column. The microfilm Tomlin told me about, which is in Austin, is entirely different from the destroyed microfilm, which was in Denver.)

Valerie Plame Watch

Investigative reporter Murray S. Waas, writing on the American Prospect online, has some slightly dated but still intriguing scuttlebutt about the Justice Department's investigation into who leaked the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame.

Plame's identity was leaked to journalists in an attempt to counter allegations by her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, that the White House had exaggerated the potential nuclear threat posed by Iraq.

Waas writes that before a special counsel was appointed to lead the investigation in December, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft was getting frequent, detailed updates "relating to the potential culpability of several close political associates in the Bush administration."

Waas's sources tell him that, for instance, "Ashcroft was provided extensive details of an FBI interview of Karl Rove, President George W. Bush's chief political advisor."

"In addition, sources said, Ashcroft received a briefing regarding copious notes maintained by I. Lewis Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney."

Waas writes that some of Libby's notes describe efforts to discredit Wilson by the mysterious cabal known as the White House Iraq Group. Little is known about that group beyond what Barton Gellman and Walter Pincus wrote in The Washington Post last August. But it included Rove, Libby, adviser Karen Hughes and other top White House players.

Anyway, once Ashcroft bowed to political pressure and appointed U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald as a special counsel, the briefings ended.

And as Waas writes, "Fitzgerald's intentions currently remain one of the most tightly held secrets in Washington."

Oh Kenny Boy, We Hardly Knew Ye

Edwin Chen writes in the Los Angeles Times: "The criminal indictment of former Enron Corp. Chairman Kenneth L. Lay loomed Thursday as a new political minefield for President Bush, and the White House moved quickly to distance the president from the man he once affectionately called 'Kenny Boy' and who donated more than $500,000 to his campaigns over the years. . . .

"Lay himself rued his ties to Bush, suggesting Thursday that his connections to the president were at the root of his indictment."

Adam Entous of Reuters writes: "The indictment of President George W. Bush's one-time friend and financial backer Kenneth Lay put the spotlight back on Bush's ties to big corporate donors as he heads into the final months of the U.S. presidential campaign."

Deb Riechmann writes for the Associated Press: "The White House is trying to put at least an arm's length between President Bush and indicted Enron executive Kenneth Lay, a campaign benefactor Bush nicknamed 'Kenny Boy' when the two were up-and-comers in Texas.

"It has been 'quite some time' since Bush and Lay talked with each other, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Thursday, brushing off questions about whether the two were friends."

CIA Watch

Walter Pincus and Dana Milbank write in The Washington Post about CIA Director George J. Tenet's rousing valedictory -- just before today's release of a searing congressional report about intelligence failures in Iraq.

"By agreement between Republicans and Democrats, today's committee report will not deal with the highly charged subject of whether President Bush, Vice President Cheney and other top officials distorted the intelligence while building the case for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. This will allow Bush to distance himself from the specious intelligence. Democrats, with the election less than four months away, are determined not to let him off the hook."

And when will Bush name Tenet's successor? Pincus and Milbank write that "the White House continues to indicate it may propose a replacement in the next few days, which would give the Senate less than two weeks to act before Congress goes into recess.

"Among those said to be under consideration is Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage, who, as a friend of Tenet's, attended yesterday's ceremony. Armitage, according to two senior Democrats on the intelligence panel, is probably the only Bush appointee who could win bipartisan support at this late date."

Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) has an op-ed in today's Washington Post in which he argues that today's Senate report "tells only half of the story.

"What's missing is the ways intelligence was used, misused, misinterpreted or ignored by administration policymakers in deciding to go to war and in making the case to the American people that war with Iraq was necessary."

Douglas Jehl writes in the New York Times that Tenet has "told Congress that the C.I.A. is 'increasingly skeptical' that a Sept. 11 hijacker, Mohamed Atta, met an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in April 2001, an assessment very different in tone from continuing assertions by Vice President Dick Cheney that such a meeting might have taken place."

Live Online

Washington Post White House correspondent Dana Milbank is Live Online today at 11 ET.

Cheney Watch

Tom Raum of the Associated Press writes that "questions stubbornly linger about whether the vice president will remain on the Republican ticket. . . .

"While no one in the GOP establishment suggests there's much chance that Bush would dump Cheney, there is still a lot of 'what if' talk as the political conventions near.

"What if, for instance, Cheney comes to believe that he's become a burden on the ticket and withdraws -- perhaps citing health reasons. Few would question his motives under such circumstances. . . .

"What if, the speculation goes, Bush decides -- or is persuaded -- that jettisoning Cheney is his only chance of being re-elected. Again, almost everyone close to the president suggests such an initiative would have to come from Cheney himself."

Raum notes that in the new Associated Press-Ipsos poll, "28 percent of GOP voters surveyed -- almost three in ten -- thought Bush should pick someone other than Cheney as his running mate."

Over on CNN, Judy Woodruff had a whole segment on her show devoted to dump-Cheney rumors.

"Cheney is not a happy warrior," says CNN political analyst William Schneider.

But he's safe, Schneider concludes, for this reason: "The Bush campaign has spent a lot of money branding John Kerry as a flip-flopper. If Bush were to dump Cheney, Democrats would respond within seconds, look who's flip-flopping now."

Cheney made an appearance yesterday at the opening of the new Department of Homeland Security operations center. Here is the text of his comments.

Veto Threat Gets Results

Dan Morgan and Charles Babington write in The Washington Post that "strong pressure from the White House" led House Republicans to narrowly defeat a proposed change to the USA Patriot Act that would have barred the Justice Department from searching bookstore and library records.

"With President Bush's approval rating slipping as a result of setbacks in the Iraq war, lawmakers in both parties appear emboldened to defy the White House and the House GOP leadership."

Faced with defeat, however, GOP leaders prolonged the vote "for 23 tumultuous minutes while they corralled dissident members."

Ahnold Watch

Guess who the White House is sending to Austria?

Joe Mathews writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will lead the U.S. delegation to Saturday's state funeral for Austrian President Thomas Klestil, a longtime friend of the California governor, the White House announced Thursday."


Scott Lindlaw writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush made a fresh election-season appeal to Hispanics Thursday by trumpeting his proposal to give temporary legal status to illegal immigrants, an initiative that stalled after his administration did little to push it through Congress."

Here is the text of his speech, by satellite, to the League of United Latin American Citizens annual convention in San Antonio.


Darryl Fears writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush declined to speak at the NAACP's annual convention for a fourth time, the organization announced yesterday. The president's decision means he will be the first sitting president since Warren G. Harding not to address the NAACP.

"A White House spokeswoman said Bush had a scheduling conflict, but would not specify the conflict with the six-day convention, which is scheduled to open Saturday in Philadelphia. Bush last addressed the NAACP convention in 2000, as a presidential candidate."

Hair Watch

Washington Post fashion writer Robin Givhan takes a long hard look at a central issue in the upcoming presidential election.

The Democratic duo, she writes, has a lot of good hair. The Republican competition does not.

For the record:

"President Bush has enough hair to fully cover his head, but it is a dull gray thatch that is unremarkable and never seems to glisten even when he is standing in direct sunlight. Even though the president keeps it clipped short, there always seems to be a thin spray of unruly strands that poke out in multiple directions.

"Vice President Cheney has thinning white hair, and the few strands that are there are so lacking in body and bounce that in the presidential hair wars, they don't even register as wisps. For all intents and purposes, Cheney is bald. His is not the sexy Ed Harris version of bald but rather the curmudgeonly Wilford Brimley kind."

Go Buy Yourself Something

Washington Post In the Loop columnist Al Kamen (second item) salutes the American entrepreneurial spirit in Sean Bonner, a Los Angeles art gallery owner and blogger, who read about Vice President Cheney swearing at Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) on the Senate floor June 22 -- and decided it would make a great T-shirt!

Bonner is hawking T-shirts and tank tops, plus dog T-shirts, thongs, bumper stickers, baby wear, you name it, at

Alternately, AFP reports that "Americans allergic to the subtle Democratic flavor of Heinz ketchup can now plunge their 'freedom fries' into a 100-percent guaranteed, patriotic alternative: 'W Ketchup.' "

Belated Congratulations

William Yardley writes in the New York Times that Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell didn't take it personally when Bush waited almost a week to call her and offer his congratulations.

"She did not ask if perhaps he had delayed out of loyalty to his family's old friend and her predecessor, John G. Rowland, who resigned last week in the face of an impeachment inquiry and a federal corruption investigation."

When Bush did call, Rell said, "He called simply to congratulate me . . . to tell me that he had read a few of the press clips from around the state and that he thought I was doing a good job. He did say, 'I really think that I want to just tell you one thing: Have a little fun.' And I'm thinking 'Yeah, O.K., when?' He said, when you make decisions, get the best information you can, and make your decisions based on that."

Poll Watch

A new AP-Ipsos poll shows Kerry gaining ground but still behind President Bush.

Ron Fournier of the Associated Press also writes: "Troubling signs for the incumbent remain . . . from the number of voters who believe the country is on the wrong track (56 percent) to his anemic, but improving, job approval numbers. Bush's overall approval rating hit 50 percent for the first time since January, according to the poll conducted for the AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs."

Here are the complete results.

Today's Calendar

Pete Yost of the Associated Press writes: "Playing to his strength, President Bush is campaigning in the small-town Republican heart of Pennsylvania, trying to win a state that Democratic presidential candidates have captured in each of the last three elections.

"Bush is taking a bus tour in a battleground state that has drawn more personal attention from the president than any other. He has averaged a trip a month to Pennsylvania this year and Friday's visit was to be the 30th of his presidency to the state. . . .

"In his first stop Friday, Bush addresses the war on terrorism and the economy in remarks to 2,800 supporters on a college campus in Kutztown, Pa., before heading by bus to the small cities of Lancaster and York."

Yvonne Abraham writes in the Boston Globe: "Laura Bush sweeps into Boston today to rally Republicans at a $20,000-per-plate fund-raiser that is expected to collect between $1 million to $2 million in the home state of her husband's Democratic rival."

In the morning, the first lady visits the George F. Kelly Elementary School in Chelsea, where she will observe a first-grade reading lesson and participate in a roundtable discussion with teachers.

After the fundraising lunch, the first lady will attend another classroom event in Portsmouth, N.H.

The Rovian Hand

John Leptich, writing in Arizona's East Valley Tribune, profiles Scottsdale resident Gordon James, who just ended a stint doing PR for the war.

Said James: "We needed to get the message back home, but it's tough to compete with people getting killed all the time. We'd do our thing and if it made the news, it made it. There was usually something going on that kept us out."

And how did he get this job?

Leptich writes: "James, who has known and worked with President Bush and his family for more than 25 years, got a call from Karl Rove, the president's chief strategist, late in 2003 about aiding the transition."

Said James of his call from Rove: "He said, 'We've got to start pushing the PR. We're winning the war, but losing the PR battle.' "

© 2004