Just As I Thought

He’s changing the tone

More Stories of the Obvious™ from the Washington Post: scholars are saying that the Bush campaign is lying. Who’d have guessed? Good thing they’re out there keeping us up to date.

Scholars and political strategists say the ferocious Bush assault on Kerry this spring has been extraordinary, both for the volume of attacks and for the liberties the president and his campaign have taken with the facts. Though stretching the truth is hardly new in a political campaign, they say the volume of negative charges is unprecedented — both in speeches and in advertising.

Three-quarters of the ads aired by Bush’s campaign have been attacks on Kerry. Bush so far has aired 49,050 negative ads in the top 100 markets, or 75 percent of his advertising. Kerry has run 13,336 negative ads — or 27 percent of his total. The figures were compiled by The Washington Post using data from the Campaign Media Analysis Group of the top 100 U.S. markets. Both campaigns said the figures are accurate.

The assault on Kerry is multi-tiered: It involves television ads, news releases, Web sites and e-mail, and statements by Bush spokesmen and surrogates — all coordinated to drive home the message that Kerry has equivocated and “flip-flopped” on Iraq, support for the military, taxes, education and other matters.

“There is more attack now on the Bush side against Kerry than you’ve historically had in the general-election period against either candidate,” said University of Pennsylvania professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson, an authority on political communication. “This is a very high level of attack, particularly for an incumbent.”

Brown University professor Darrell West, author of a book on political advertising, said Bush’s level of negative advertising is already higher than the levels reached in the 2000, 1996 and 1992 campaigns. And because campaigns typically become more negative as the election nears, “I’m anticipating it’s going to be the most negative campaign ever,” eclipsing 1988, West said. “If you compare the early stage of campaigns, virtually none of the early ads were negative, even in ’88.”

… One constant theme of the Bush campaign is that Kerry is “playing politics” with Iraq, terrorism and national security. Earlier this month, Bush-Cheney Chairman Marc Racicot told reporters in a conference call that Kerry suggested in a speech that 150,000 U.S. troops are “universally responsible” for the misdeeds of a few soldiers at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison — a statement the candidate never made. In that one call, Racicot made at least three variations of this claim and the campaign cut off a reporter who challenged him on it.

In early March, Bush charged that Kerry had proposed a $1.5 billion cut in the intelligence budget that would “gut the intelligence services.” Kerry did propose such a cut in 1995, but it amounted to about 1 percent of the overall intelligence budget and was smaller than the $3.8 billion cut the Republican-led Congress approved for the same program Kerry was targeting.

The campaign ads, which are most scrutinized, have produced a torrent of misstatements. On March 11, the Bush team released a spot saying that in his first 100 days in office Kerry would “raise taxes by at least $900 billion.” Kerry has said no such thing; the number was developed by the Bush campaign’s calculations of Kerry’s proposals.

On March 30, the Bush team released an ad noting that Kerry “supported a 50-cent-a-gallon gas tax” and saying, “If Kerry’s tax increase were law, the average family would pay $657 more a year.” But Kerry opposes an increase in the gasoline tax. The ad is based on a 10-year-old newspaper quotation of Kerry but implies that the proposal is current.

Other Bush claims, though misleading, are rooted in facts. For example, Cheney’s claim in almost every speech that Kerry “has voted some 350 times for higher taxes” includes any vote in which Kerry voted to leave taxes unchanged or supported a smaller tax cut than some favored.

… Incumbent presidents often prefer to run on their records in office, juxtaposing upbeat messages with negative shots at their opponents, as Bill Clinton did in 1996.

Scott Reed, who ran Robert J. Dole’s presidential campaign that year, said the Bush campaign has little choice but to deliver a constant stream of such negative charges. With low poll numbers and a volatile situation in Iraq, Bush has more hope of tarnishing Kerry’s image than promoting his own.
That last bit sums up this election for me: I believe that most people will vote against a candidate. I”ll vote for Kerry because he’s not Bush. And I think a lot of people will vote for Bush because he’s not Kerry.

Oh, and:

On Wednesday, a Bush memo charged that Kerry “led the fight against creating the Department of Homeland Security.” While Kerry did vote against the Bush version multiple times, it is not true that he led the fight, but rather was one of several Democrats who held out for different labor agreements as part of its creation. Left unsaid is that, in the final vote, Kerry supported the department — which Bush initially opposed.

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