Kerry reaction: Bush speech an "attempt to mislead"

By Tim Grieve
Published October 19, 2004 12:05AM (UTC)
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Maybe it was a listening device after all.

We watched every minute of all three presidential debates, but George W. Bush apparently heard all sorts of things we missed. He heard that John Kerry has a "strategy of defeat" for Iraq and plans on "giving up the fight" against terrorism. He heard that John Kerry thinks America's "overriding goal" in Iraq is "to leave, even if the job is not done." He heard that, under John Kerry's plan, America won't be allowed to defend itself without the approval of "foreign capitals."

George W. Bush gave what his aides called a "major speech" on the war on terror today, but the only news Bush made was in taking his attacks on John Kerry to a new level of disingenuousness. "This was not an honest speech," Kerry advisor Joe Lockhart told reporters a few minutes after Bush's speech ended. "This was not an attempt to speak directly and candidly to the American public. It was an attempt to deceive the American public."

Whatever Bush's intent might have been, it's fair to say that his association with the truth was more than a little loose. Kerry has never suggested that the United States give up in Iraq or in the war on terror. While Kerry has criticized Bush for rushing to war and failing to plan for the peace, he has repeatedly said that the United States must win in Iraq now that it's there. Kerry has never advocating bringing troops home from Iraq before the country is stable. And Kerry has repeatedly said that he will never give "any nation or international institution a veto over our national security."

Bush blasted Kerry for proposing cuts in the nation's intelligence budget after the first World Trade Center attack in 1993; he didn't mention that his own CIA chief, Porter Goss, proposed similar cuts. Bush knocked Kerry for voting against weapons systems in the 1980s; he didn't mention that Dick Cheney, as defense secretary, was advocating the elimination of many of the same weapons systems at the time. And in yet another post-hoc justification for the war in Iraq -- remember "gaming the oil-for-food program"? -- Bush seemed to suggest that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's presence in Iraq makes the whole war worthwhile.

In language unusually direct for even this increasingly brutal campaign, Lockhart said Bush's speech was part of a "fundamentally dishonest campaign from a fundamentally dishonest president." Kerry adviser Tad Devine called it "one of the last gasps from a failed presidency."

Both Devine and Lockhart characterized the speech as a desperate campaign tactic. While Bush is getting some positive movement in post-debate national polls, the Kerry campaign argues that the numbers that matter for the president's re-election -- his job approval ratings, the percentage of the vote he's pulling, and the right-track/wrong-track spread -- are all under 50 in most of the major polls. Earlier today, the Kerry campaign circulated something Bush-Cheney pollster Matthew Dowd said in March to the effect that sitting presidents "finish roughly the same as their job approval numbers." Bush's job approval rating is at 51 percent in the latest Gallup poll but lower everywhere else: 49 percent in Time, 47 percent in Newsweek, and 45 percent in the latest tracking poll from Zogby and Reuters.

While his aides were briefing reporters, Kerry countered Bush's speech with one of his own, an address from Florida that focused mostly on healthcare. The cable news networks carried almost all of Bush's speech live, and CNN and MSNBC ran most of Kerry's speech as well. Fox carried the start of Kerry's speech but cut away after a bit so that it could run a report on the sporting lives of political figures -- it turns out that Condi Rice figure-skated as a child! -- and a feature on the TV show "Survivor."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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