Be Very Afraid

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, October 19, 2004; 10:43 AM

It looks like the next two weeks are going to be downright terrifying.

In New Jersey yesterday, President Bush threw restraint to the winds in his attempt to portray Democratic challenger John F. Kerry as too scary to be president. And Kerry responded in kind.

Dana Milbank and Lois Romano write in The Washington Post that Bush yesterday "assembled a barrage of new and old attacks on Kerry's record on terrorism, using numerous and sometimes suspect accusations to describe Kerry as eager to return to a 'September the 10th attitude' in which the country did not effectively fight terrorists. In Florida, Kerry overshadowed his planned focus on health care by describing Bush's handling of Iraq as 'arrogant' and 'cavalier,' and he suggested Bush was guilty of ideologically driven mismanagement."

Most major media outlets now routinely do a good deal of fact checking when covering Bush's speeches.

So, for instance, Milbank and Romano write: "In several instances, Bush took liberties in characterizing Kerry's positions. Although Kerry has said he would always reserve the right to use preemptive force, Bush charged that Kerry's position is otherwise, saying: 'Senator Kerry's approach would permit a response only after America is hit. This kind of September the 10th attitude is no way to protect our country.' . . .

"The president also said that Kerry 'spoke with sympathy for a communist dictator in Nicaragua in the 1980s and criticized the democracy movement as terrorism.' The Kerry quotation about the Sandinistas on which the Bush campaign based this statement said: 'Our foreign policy should represent the democratic values that have made our country great, not subvert those values by funding terrorism to overthrow governments of other countries.'"

David E. Sanger and Jodi Wilgoren write in the New York Times: "It was a change in tone to a far more incendiary characterization of the senator as a man who would undercut American defenses, surrender its military decisions to other nations and treat terrorism as a disease in need of treatment rather than an enemy force in need of evisceration. Using phrases that appeared to reflect the language of one of his leading advisers, Karen Hughes, Mr. Bush accused Mr. Kerry of taking 'the easy path of protest and defeatism,' a phrase that evoked Mr. Kerry's statements about Vietnam 34 years ago. His use of terms like 'a policy of weakness,' 'giving up the fight' and 'a strategy of retreat' appeared intended to paint Mr. Kerry as an appeaser at best and a coward at worst."

True or not true? "Some of Mr. Bush's characterizations of Mr. Kerry's statements on Monday appeared fair, if open to partisan rebuttal," Sanger and Wilgoren write. "Others ignored elements of Mr. Kerry's record and stated positions in a way that paints an incomplete or distorted portrait of his approach."

And the latest Kerry speeches call for some fact-checking as well.

David E. Rosenbaum and David M. Halbfinger write in the New York Times: "After weeks of facing attacks that his campaign and outside commentators called distortions, Senator John Kerry has begun criticizing President Bush on Social Security and the draft in a manner that reaches far beyond Mr. Bush's positions."

Marc Sandalow writes in the San Francisco Chronicle: "To hear the candidates tell it, the presidential election comes down to a simple, albeit scary, choice.

"Sen. John Kerry regards terrorism as little more than a nuisance, favors a retreat from the war on terror, and is too liberal to be trusted during these risky times, his opponent charged Monday.

"President Bush has a secret plan to do away with Social Security, another secret plan to reinstitute the draft, and is responsible not only for 1.7 million lost jobs, but for the nation's lack of flu shots, his opponent countered. . . .

"With the debates over, and no chance to directly challenge the other, both candidates have strayed further from facts and substantive policy disputes in favor of broad attacks often based on out-of-context or misleading quotes."

Gret Hitt writes in the Wall Street Journal: "To grasp the essence of President Bush's homestretch campaign message, watch his new ad attacking 'John Kerry and his liberal allies' on terrorism. After images of the rubble of the World Trade Center appear, the narrator asks, 'Are they a risk we can afford to take today?' . . .

"Mr. Bush has little choice but to make that argument, given the tide of opinion that favors Mr. Kerry: a desire for change in a country beset by economic anxiety and woes in Iraq."

So "Mr. Bush is portraying change as too risky for a country facing the perils that confront America today and focusing his message squarely on the dangers a Kerry administration might pose. . . . He is torquing up rhetoric designed to heighten fears among voters."

Richard Sisk and Helen Kennedy write in the New York Daily News: "Going into the election's final two weeks, President Bush and Sen. Kerry ratcheted up the drama yesterday, warning darkly of the horrors the other would visit on the country -- and accusing each other of scare tactics.

"A scornful Bush branded Kerry a do-nothing senator who would try to appease terrorists and expose Americans to greater danger. . . .

"Kerry, meanwhile, slammed Bush for 'arrogant boasting' about Iraq, and running mate John Edwards said Bush was running on 'the politics of fear' and trying to 'con the American people into believing that he is the only one who can fight and win the war on terrorism.' "

Here's the full text of Bush's speech. And here's a Kerry/Edwards press release, taking issue with 30 different assertions about Kerry's record.

Rovian Follies

In yesterday's column, I asked: What's Karl Rove Up To?

Today, I ask: What's Up With Karl Rove?

As the Associated Press reports, Bush's senior adviser for all things laid himself under the wheels of Air Force One at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey.

We are not making this up. Here's a picture.

Why? "Unclear," reports the AP, "but it seems to have been an inside joke between Rove and President Bush.

"Returning to the aircraft after Bush's foreign policy speech, the two men traded words. As Bush climbed the stairs, his top political adviser set his briefcase down in front of the tires and stretched out on the ground with his back to the wheels.

"Rove stood back up moments later; a smiling Bush waved from the plane and they both got aboard.

" 'It was a humorous moment on the campaign trail,' was all Bush campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel would say about Rove's antic."

Here's how David E. Sanger of the New York Times and Tamara Lipper of Newsweek described it in their pool report: Bush "helicoptered back to Air Force One, and began walking up the steps he paused and turned around a couple of times to talk to Karl Rove and other aides who were standing at the bottom of the stairs. Their conversation, apparently jocular, could not be heard. Whereupon Mr. Rove, court jester, walked over to the big wheels under the wing of AF1, put down his briefcase, and lay down directly in front of the wheels. (He must have heard about the latest polls.)

"In the end, Karl decided that it wasn't worth it, and that his legacy for this campaign should not be a stain on the runway. So he got up, returned the President's customary wave to the pool, and boarded the plane."

A Bush Interview

Terence Hunt and Tom Raum of the Associated Press write up the AP's exclusive Air Force One interview with Bush yesterday.

"President Bush accused John Kerry on Monday of employing 'shameless scare tactics' on Social Security and the military draft just before voters go to the polls," they write.

Bush bristled at -- and mischaracterized -- Kerry's suggestion that a draft was possible in a second Bush term: "My opponent has said to youngsters that if George W. is elected -- re-elected, there will be a draft. The American people heard me in the debate say clearly we will not have a draft. We will have an all volunteer army."

But Bush apparently ducked tough questions about Iraq. He "steered nearly all questions dealing with Iraq to criticism of Democratic rival John Kerry," Hunt and Raum write.

"Bush joined Vice President Dick Cheney in criticizing Kerry for mentioning during last week's debate that one of Cheney's daughters was a lesbian. 'I thought it was over the line,' the president said."

And Bush "reacted with mock alarm to the possibility that the Nov. 2 election might be inconclusive, subject to recounts and court fights like the one four years ago."

I have a question -- this one for the Associated Press. Where's the full text of the interview?

Poll Watch

Richard Morin and Dan Balz write in The Washington Post that a new Washington Post poll finds Bush with a lead over Kerry, but narrower than the one he enjoyed before the debates.

"Bush's job approval -- another significant barometer of an incumbent's political health -- stands at 54 percent, compared with 53 percent in late September. In the modern era, all presidents with approval ratings above 50 percent have won their reelection bids."

Adam Nagourney and Janet Elder write in the New York Times: "Two weeks before Election Day, voters hold a sharply critical view of President Bush's record in office, but they have strong reservations about Senator John Kerry, leaving the race in a tie, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.

"Mr. Bush's job approval rating is at 44 percent, a dangerously low number for an incumbent president, and one of the lowest of his tenure."

Jim Rutenberg writes in the New York Times about all the varied poll findings: "The differing conclusions reflect how different pollsters use complex formulas to interpret very similar findings among self-described registered voters and try to come up with a result they think best accounts for who will actually show up at the polls."

War Watch

Michael R. Gordon writes in the New York Times: "In the debate over the war and its aftermath, the Bush administration has portrayed the insurgency that is still roiling Iraq today as an unfortunate, and unavoidable, accident of history, an enemy that emerged only after melting away during the rapid American advance toward Baghdad. The sole mistake Mr. Bush has acknowledged in the war is in not foreseeing what he termed that 'catastrophic success.'

"But many military officers and civilian officials who served in Iraq in the spring and summer of 2003 say the administration's miscalculations cost the United States valuable momentum - and enabled an insurgency that was in its early phases to intensify and spread."

Science Watch

Andrew C. Revkin writes in the New York Times: "For nearly four years, and with rising intensity, scientists in and out of government have criticized the Bush administration, saying it has selected or suppressed research findings to suit preset policies, skewed advisory panels or ignored unwelcome advice, and quashed discussion within federal research agencies."

And, he writes: "Despite three years of charges that it is remaking scientific and medical advisory panels to favor the goals of industry or social conservatives, the White House has continued to ask some panel nominees not only about their political views, but explicitly whether they support Mr. Bush."

Did Bush Hear the General?

In yesterday's gaggle (oddly missing from the White House Web site), press secretary Scott McClellan was asked to respond to the Thomas E. Ricks story in The Washington Post, which reported that the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, complained to the Pentagon last winter that his supply situation was so poor that it threatened Army troops' ability to fight.

"MR. McCLELLAN: The President is the one who supported and fought for the $87 billion in funding for the necessary resources for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. His opponent opposed the $87 billion to provide our troops with equipment and resources they needed to do the job.

"Q Scott, that's not the issue.

"MR. McCLELLAN: No, it is the issue. And this is something that was -- a letter, I think you're referring to, from last December, worked it's way up through the chain of command. And when those issues come to our attention, we address those issues and make sure that they're addressed."

Bush was asked about Sanchez in the Associated Press interview.

"There's a chain of command. When the commanders on the ground say they need more, we respond as quickly as possible," Bush said.

"He was asking about much needed supplies. The Congress had an opportunity to vote on funding to get those supplies in the pipeline. And my opponent voted against that funding," Bush said.

But wait. The funding passed and Sanchez still didn't have enough supplies. So who's fault was that?

Is Bush Resolute?

Ronald Brownstein and Kathleen Hennessey write in the Los Angeles Times: "President Bush has stressed his resolve while accusing Sen. John F. Kerry of sending 'mixed messages' on the war in Iraq. . . .

"Yet an analysis of Bush's statements on Iraq show that he also has sent differing, if not necessarily conflicting, signals on a key war-related question. . . .

"Bush's shifts have come not on the decision to overthrow former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, but why that action was justified."

Live Online

James L. Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, will be Live Online today at noon ET.

And I'll be Live Online tomorrow at 1 p.m. ET. You can send me your questions and comments anytime.

The Gore View

Mike Allen writes in The Washington Post: "Former vice president Al Gore finished a two-year series of policy addresses yesterday by accusing President Bush of deliberately suppressing information about Iraq that would have undermined his case for war."

Here is Gore's prepared text.

Battle Over Marine One

Demetri Sevastopulo writes in the Financial Times: "While Mr Kerry and Mr Bush frantically campaign in the final two weeks before the November 2 election, two defence companies are campaigning with equal intensity for a prestigious contract to build 23 new helicopters for the president. The competition to build Marine One -- the name given to helicopters that fly the president -- pits Sikorksy against Lockheed Martin and AgustaWestland, Lockheed's European partner. . . .

"Sikorksy, which built the existing fleet of Marine One helicopters, denies it is playing the patriotic card. Instead, it argues that allowing non-US companies to build vital components such as rotor blades compromises the president's security."

Kid Watch

Ann Gerhart in The Washington Post looks at the children in the presidential campaign, and writes: "The Bush twins, the sassy ones with the swivel hips, introduce Mom or Dad, thank volunteers, giggle to each other when the boys at the rallies hoist those Bush-Cheney '04 signs with their phone numbers scrawled on the bottom. They have their own blog, Jenna and Barbara do, heavy on the word 'awesome,' and sometimes they take a turn in the phone bank."

Meanwhile, two pages away in the Names & Faces column, Anne Schroeder reports: "Just this past Friday night (and rather early Saturday morning) Jenna and Barbs both graced the scene at their fave prepster Georgetown hangout, Smith Point.

"Some Kerry supporters infiltrated the massively Republican hangout, getting past the tight list at the door, our tipster tells us, trying to snap pics of the twins. This maneuver did not seem to go over well, with some Bushies asking the camera-wielding peeps to knock it off."

And The Washington Post's Hank Stuever pens an essay about Mary Cheney.

Today's Calendar

Bush holds three campaign rallies in Florida today, in St. Petersburg, New Port Richey, and The Villages, before returning to the White House.

The first lady is on "Live With Regis And Kelly" today.

© 2004