Despite New Charges, Democrats Still Lead In Low-Blow Dept.

Posted September 29, 2004 at 5:33pm

The New York Times and Washington Post finally have caught up to the fact that this is a very nasty presidential campaign. But they’re blaming it all on Republicans and utterly ignoring the mud thrown by Democrats.

[IMGCAP(1)]In an editorial Saturday, the Times accused President Bush’s campaign of indulging in “despicable” and “un-American” politics and of conducting “an organized effort to paint [Sen. John Kerry] as a friend to terrorists.”

Earlier in the week, in a blatant piece of editorializing played as a front-page news story, the Post’s Dana Milbank declared that “President Bush and leading Republicans are increasingly charging that [Kerry] and others in his party are giving comfort to terrorists and undermining the war in Iraq — a line of attack that tests the conventional bounds of political rhetoric.”

It’s true that Bush and others have charged that “mixed messages” can embolden the enemy and dispirit U.S. troops and the Iraqi people, and that al Qaeda and Iraqi insurgents would prefer Kerry over Bush.

Such comments, I’d say, are close to the line of low-blow campaigning, but they are far from deserving to be compared, as they were by Milbank, to the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1789 or the McCarthy era of the 1950s, when Americans actually were jailed or ruined for their political opinions.

And no one in the Bush campaign has ever actually challenged Kerry’s patriotism, as Democrats repeatedly claim, nor called Kerry “a friend to terrorists” or said he’s “giving aid and comfort to the enemy,” as the Times charged.

Even anti-Kerry 527 groups like Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and the Progress for America Voter Fund haven’t accused the Democrat of lacking patriotism.

In fact, assertions that someone is “unpatriotic” or “un-American” have been leveled exclusively — so far as I can find — by Democrats against Bush.

Those who’ve used such words include Kerry, former candidates Wesley Clark and Howard Dean, Teresa Heinz Kerry, Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) and Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

And the Media Fund, a Democratic 527, has charged that Bush is beholden to Saudi Arabia’s royal family and is concealing its sponsorship of terrorism.

Republicans ought not try to stifle debate on the most important issue of the presidential campaign by saying that Kerry’s criticism of conditions in Iraq and Bush’s conduct of the war will embolden the enemy or undermine the war effort. Everyone who follows American politics — including U.S. troops, Iraqi allies and insurgents — knows that the United States is divided over the war. For Kerry to finish out the campaign by calling conditions in Iraq “chaotic” or even “a quagmire” are not likely to affect morale in Iraq decisively.

Moreover, Republicans howled excessively when Kerry accused Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi of putting a “best face” on progress in Iraq. That was a fair comment, especially since Allawi virtually endorsed Bush during his visit last week, declaring that invading Iraq was “the right decision.”

Senior Kerry adviser Joe Lockhart called Allawi a “puppet” of the Bush administration. That led Bush’s campaign manager, Ken Mehlman, to charge that the Kerry campaign was “echoing what the enemy is saying.”

It’s true, what Lockhart said does parallel what the enemy says — but Lockhart’s saying it is not likely to materially affect Allawi’s standing in Iraq.

The Bush campaign doesn’t need to even hint that Kerry’s rhetoric, so far, has made the war harder to win. Bush is doing just fine politically by pointing to the multiple inconsistencies in Kerry’s Iraq statements and to his weak overall foreign policy record.

All this said, most media scorekeepers have bought into the Kerry line that he has been ruthlessly “smeared” by the Bush campaign and have utterly ignored excesses pouring out from the Democratic side.

The media overplayed Vice President Cheney’s remark — later restated — that Kerry’s election would lead to new al Qaeda attacks.

Milbank and the Times reacted with outrage to Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill.) speculation that al Qaeda would prefer a Kerry presidency and statements by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage that terrorists are trying to defeat Bush.

No one has accused Kerry of favoring terrorists. They’re saying that Bush is a better terror-fighter than Kerry and that al Qaeda knows it. It’s what the American people think, too, by a wide margin.

In the meantime, Kerry & Co. are getting a virtual pass from the media for hinting that Bush might reinstitute the draft or, as Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) charged this week, that Bush’s election would make nuclear war more likely.

And the media has reported without comment the Kerry camp’s daily assertions that Bush “lied,” “misled” and “deceived” the country to lead the way into Iraq.

While the Bush campaign — as opposed to the 527 group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth — has never questioned Kerry’s Vietnam service, McAuliffe has charged that Bush was “AWOL” from the Texas National Guard and Kerry himself said that Bush and Cheney “refused to serve when they could have.”

The latest Gallup poll shows that voters think that both parties have been equally unfair in attacking each other. By my reckoning, the Democrats are still well out in front.