So much for changing the tone

Published July 7, 2004 8:21PM (EDT)

George W. Bush's first public reaction on Tuesday to the John Edwards pick was to say: "I welcome Senator Edwards on the ticket  And I look forward to a good, spirited contest." Note the punctuation on the official White House transcript. "Good, spirited contest" -- not "good-spirited contest."

Just about 24 hours after welcoming Edwards to the campaign, Bush took to vaguely and unfairly demeaning him. When asked by a reporter in North Carolina how Sen. Edwards compared to Dick Cheney, Bush snapped: "Dick Cheney can be president. Next!"

With this hasty put-down, Bush looked unprepared for an obvious question, undermined his own campaign's attempt to appear "optimistic" and "civil," and practically invited the inevitable dig by the Democratic campaign. "The President is hitting the panic button over the Kerry-Edwards ticket when he should be hitting it over his failed policies  ," Kerry adviser Tad Devine said in a statement. "It's just disappointing that the President of the United States would stoop to this kind of political bickering."

The president only continued what his party started yesterday. Even before John Kerry publicly introduced his running mate to the world, the Republican National Committee was disparaging Edwards, drawing the cheap shot conclusion that Edwards is "a disingenuous, unaccomplished liberal and friend to personal injury trial lawyers." Bush-Cheney '04 also got personal on Tuesday, even ribbing Edwards for his accent. Edwards "delivers his pessimism with a southern drawl and a smile," the campaign charged. Reporters, sensing hypocrisy from the crowd that vowed to "change the tone" in Washington, challenged White House spokesman Scott McClellan today to defend the Bush team's saying one thing and doing another, as John Kerry likes to say, on the issue of civility.

MR. McCLELLAN:  I think that it's, like I said, perfectly legitimate to point out the differences and to discuss the record. And that's what campaigns are about. The voters deserve to know what the choices are, and they deserve to have an honest discussion of the differences and an honest discussion of the records.

Q What about the rhetoric? What about the rhetoric and the changing of the tone?

MR. McCLELLAN: I just don't agree with the way you characterized -- the way you characterize it.

Q But the moment you called a person disingenuous, Scott, you're no longer talking about the record. You're talking about their personality, aren't you, when you call him, disingenuous?

MR. McCLELLAN: As I said --

Q That's a personal --

MR. McCLELLAN: As I said, James, we've been through this issue. I think I've addressed it. The President is going to continue to focus on the issues and the differences and the choices that voters face. And he'll continue to talk about his vision and his leadership for the future of America.

By Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at

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