At the same moment Attorney General John Ashcroft was telling reporters in Washington that al-Qaida may be planning an attack on the United States, Sen. John Kerry was in Seattle, arguing that Ashcroft and his Bush administration colleagues have failed to do enough to prepare for such an attack.
Noting that Bush administration officials have repeatedly said that a terrorist attack in the United States is a question of "when, not if," Kerry asked why the administration hasn't moved more decisively to increase the number of cops on the street, to require inspections of cargo container ships, to increase security on trains and to protect nuclear power plants and other potentially vulnerable targets.
"I'm not going to stand in front of you as a potential president and say to you that you can protect every single place and harden every single target in the country -- all Americans know that," Kerry told a few thousand supporters who braved Seattle's drizzle to see the candidate speak on a public pier. "But what we can do is protect against catastrophe. What we can do is protect those places that are most logical places for the largest potential damage or danger. And that is the responsibility of a president."
While Kerry didn't specifically say -- as some of his supporters have -- that Ashcroft's warnings could be a politically motivated ploy to shore up Bush's free-falling approval ratings, he came awfully close to doing so. "We deserve a president of the United States who doesn't make homeland security a photo opportunity and the rhetoric of a campaign," Kerry said. "We deserve a president who makes America safer."
Kerry begins an 11-day "focus" on national security and foreign policy in Seattle Thursday with what aides are billing as a major speech on terrorism and the war on Iraq. Wednesday's speech -- in which Kerry said that Bush had repeatedly misled the country about Iraq -- may have been a preview of things to come.
Invoking his own experience in Vietnam, Kerry said that the ultimate test of a commander-in-chief in wartime comes when he must look the parents of a fallen soldier in the eye. At that moment, Kerry said the president must be able to say of any war: "I tried to do everything in my power to avoid it, but the threat was such that we had no choice." Bush, Kerry said, "failed -- and fails -- that test in Iraq."