03/15/04 — Attack ads? Bush is merely returning fire

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Attack ads? Bush is merely returning fire

All of a sudden the national media are getting exercised about President George W. Bush’s starting “attack ads” this “early” in the campaign.

But the talking heads are assuring listeners that Sen. John Kerry will not be turning the other cheek. He will be firing back with some tough rhetoric of his own.

The truth of the matter is that Kerry and all the other Democratic hopefuls have been hammering President Bush unmercifully for months now — and not having to buy TV time to get their mean-spirited messages to the public.

Bush, meanwhile, has been “tending the store” and neither counter-punching nor making any effort to refute charges or defend his administration.

Consequently, were the election held today, some credible polls indicate that John Kerry probably would become the next president of the United States.

Bush’s advisers have insisted that it is time to counterattack.

Over the years, Republicans have had difficulty doing that. They do an impressive job of attacking each other: Dagger to the jugular, knee to the groin, brass knuckles to the head-bone. But they are inept at the counterpunch when in the ring with Democrats.

Democrats scored a public relations knockout when, during the Clinton administration, inability to agree on a national budget “shut down” the government. Democrats placed the blame squarely on the doorstep of the Republicans — and got away with it.

Republicans, pummeled nightly on the national networks, failed to turn the tables and hang the dilemma around the neck of the president.

Thanks to the gentlemanly approach set by North Carolina’s John Edwards, Sen. Kerry has not been subjected to any damaging infighting in the primaries. Virtually all the rawhiding has been directed at George Bush.

For the president, it has been months of constant “incoming” and — until now — no “counter-battery fire.”

As a result, the bashing has taken a significant toll on the president’s popularity.

The tide could change, and may shift back and forth, in the weeks ahead. The administration has some vulnerabilities. And Bush, with his mid-sentence hesitations, is not the most effective speaker on the national circuit.

But Kerry’s record and personality have been exhaustively scrutinized by those assembling the ammunition for the Republican offensive. And President Bush has amassed a huge financial war chest. That combination could have Kerry scrambling for cover when the Republicans begin loosening up their heavy artillery. The first salvoes are now being heard.

Published in Editorials on March 15, 2004 12:39 PM