White House Going Negative

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, June 1, 2004; 10:19 AM

The White House is not a warm and fuzzy place these days, or so suggest two seminal articles from over the long weekend.

In The Washington Post, Dana Milbank and Jim VandeHei describe the unprecedented ferocity of the Bush campaign's often deceptive anti-Kerry advertising blitz.

And in the New York Times, David E. Sanger describes a spectacular loss of discipline in the White House, now riven by vicious backbiting.

Meanwhile, Matthew Cooper writes in Time magazine that President Bush is now keeping Saddam Hussein's gun in his study. Unloaded, we are assured.

Messages of Negativity

In The Post, Milbank and VandeHei write: "Scholars and political strategists say the ferocious Bush assault on Kerry this spring has been extraordinary, both for the volume of attacks and for the liberties the president and his campaign have taken with the facts. Though stretching the truth is hardly new in a political campaign, they say the volume of negative charges is unprecedented -- both in speeches and in advertising.

"Three-quarters of the ads aired by Bush's campaign have been attacks on Kerry. Bush so far has aired 49,050 negative ads in the top 100 markets, or 75 percent of his advertising. Kerry has run 13,336 negative ads -- or 27 percent of his total."

The story is a huge topic of conversation in the blogosphere. Blogdex.net, for instance, shows just some of the blogs linking to it.

Truth-squadding ads has become a cottage industry for some. See, for instance, factcheck.org.

And the Bush/Cheney campaign put out a rebuttal press release.

In today's Boston Globe, Peter S. Canellos writes that "viewers might just as well wonder whether Bush has come on too strong, too fast: His campaign is already on orange alert with five months to go before the election."

He writes that "the continued closeness of the election only makes Bush's attack-dog tactics seem more out of proportion for an incumbent seeking reelection."

Loss of Discipline

In the Times, Sanger writes: "For months now, the same administration whose members once prided themselves on never contradicting one another in public has been riven by conflicting pronouncements. . . .

"Reporters who spent the first two-thirds of Mr. Bush's term looking for any crack between the tight-lipped members of the administration suddenly feel as if they have stepped into an amusement park, with different hawkers openly selling disparate policies, explanations and critiques.

"And as a few candid members of the administration are starting to admit, it is beginning to take a toll -- leaving allies to wonder how Mr. Bush might next change course in Iraq."

Sanger provides an overview of the recent crossed wires, including conflicting statements over the extent of the terror threat and the rapid reversal of fortune for former administration favorite Ahmad Chalabi.

He also speculates about the possible causes for the loss of discipline. Is it because Karen Hughes is gone? Is it normal wear and tear? Is it a failure of coercion? Are people starting to think like short-timers?

Saddam's Gun

Cooper's Time magazine story on Hussein's gun started Washington tongues wagging.

"Sources say that the military had the pistol mounted after the soldiers seized it from Saddam and that it was then presented to the President privately by some of the troops who played a key role in ferreting out the old tyrant. . . . 'He really liked showing it off,' says a recent visitor to the White House who has seen the gun. 'He was really proud of it.' "

And yes, that's the same study where President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky spent some time together, just off the Oval Office (see my West Wing Floor Plan.)

To each, his own.

Bushism Watch

"Karyn is with us. A West Texas girl, just like me."

So spoke the president, pointing out Sen. Bill Frist's wife in Nashville on Thursday. Here's the text of his remarks, which were otherwise largely about health care technology.

Did Cheney Steer Contract to Halliburton?

Timothy J. Burger and Adam Zagorin write in Time magazine that they "obtained an internal Pentagon e-mail sent by an Army Corps of Engineers official -- whose name was blacked out by the Pentagon -- that raises questions about Cheney's arm's-length policy toward his old employer. Dated March 5, 2003, the e-mail says 'action' on a multibillion-dollar Halliburton contract was 'coordinated' with Cheney's office."

CNN reports that the vice president's office "denied Sunday that he was involved in a coordinated effort to secure a multibillion dollar Iraq oil deal for Halliburton, his former employer."

Memorial Days

Mike Allen wrote in Sunday's Washington Post: "President Bush paused in the middle of his own war and choked back tears yesterday as he dedicated the National World War II Memorial to his combat-decorated father and the 6 million others whose service he said 'saved our country, and thereby saved the liberty of mankind.' . . .

"Several Bush aides said they hope yesterday's event will launch a turnaround in his battered public image. These aides are counting on reminding voters of Bush's strengths with a series of commander in chief moments in June, including appearances at the 60th anniversary celebration of the D-Day landings in Normandy, France; two international summits; and several major speeches leading to the end of the U.S. occupation of Iraq on June 30."

Here's the White House Web site's World War II Memorial page.

Richard W. Stevenson writes in the New York Times today: "Two days after dedicating a new memorial to Americans killed in World War II, Mr. Bush laid a wreath at Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery and then delivered a Memorial Day address in which he acknowledged the 'great costs' of the war in Iraq and tied it to the broader effort to combat terrorism."

Here's the text of Bush's remarks at Arlington Cemetery.

The speech was a rare direct acknowledgement that people have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush generally speaks more euphemistically -- and avoids public mention of specific casualties.

Jim Carlton writes in the Wall Street Journal about a different approach.

"While some Republicans shy away from reminding Americans of the soldiers dying in Iraq, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is going out of his way to pay them homage.

"The Republican governor of the nation's most populous state issues public eulogies and orders the state capital flags lowered to half staff in honor of every soldier from the Golden State who has lost his life fighting in Iraq. . . .

"The approach taken by the action-movie hero stands in contrast to the low-profile way others have remembered fallen soldiers. The Bush administration, for instance, has enforced a ban on media photos of soldiers' coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware."


Spooky. One of the questions in "E-mail the White House" is about how to become a White House intern. But the little mug shot of the person answering the question looks a lot like Monica Lewinsky, doesn't it?

It's not, of course. It's Ann Gray, White House intern coordinator. But it gave me quite a start this morning.

Timken Watch

Paul Farhi of The Washington Post reports from Canton, Ohio, about the fallout from the Timken Co.'s decision to close three factories in the heart of a battleground state.

Timken, whose chairman has close ties to Bush, "is at the heart of an unlikely but intriguing subchapter in the presidential campaign," Farhi writes.

"Bush used the company's research facility (not one of the affected factories) as a backdrop to tout his tax cuts. Standing beneath a banner reading 'Jobs and Growth,' Bush said the tax cuts would mean 'companies like Timken have got a better capacity to expand, which means jobs.' "

John McCormick of the Chicago Tribune also writes from Canton's Stark County: "A mixture of urban, suburban and rural demographics, this is a bellwether county in a bellwether state. Residents haven't picked the wrong candidate for president since 1976, when they went with Republican incumbent Gerald Ford instead of Democrat Jimmy Carter."

See my May 18 column for more.

Straw Men

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post about the president's predilection toward using straw-man arguments.

"Bush is obviously not the first politician to paint his opponents' positions in absurd terms," Milbank writes. "But Bush has been more active than most in creating phantom opponents. . . . "

Bicycle Watch

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times that Bush "has become so consumed by mountain biking that he now rides at least an hour a day on most weekends, and monitors his heart rate with a wrist strap during workouts."

Today's Calendar

CBS and AP report: "President Bush will be back on the road Tuesday, heading to Denver for a fundraiser, but before it's wheels up for Colorado, Mr. Bush will speak in Washington on a favorite subject: public funds for 'faith-based' groups running community programs."

In a last-minute schedule addition, Bush will also make remarks on the interim Iraqi government late this morning.

Vice President Cheney is speaking about the Patriot Act at a campaign event in Kansas City.

Flying the Friendly Skies

Scott Lindlaw of the Associated Press writes: "President Bush is using Air Force One for re-election travel more heavily than any predecessor, wringing maximum political mileage from a perk of office paid for by taxpayers.

"While Democratic rival John Kerry digs into his campaign bank account to charter a plane to roam the country, Bush often travels at no cost to his campaign simply by declaring a trip 'official' travel rather than 'political.'

"Even when the White House deems a trip as political, the cost to Bush's campaign is minimal."

Ashcroft Watch

Michael Duffy and John F. Dickerson write in Time magazine: "Has John Ashcroft fallen out of favor at the White House? The question may not be whether but how far."

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