The presidential election is still nine months away, but the Bush re-election campaign is already on the offensive. Or is it defensive? This week, the campaign posted on its web site an advertisement-style video that isn't about George W. Bush at all. Instead, the spot focuses entirely on the Democratic frontrunner, John Kerry. It occurred to Bob that this could be a first.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, this has to be a first. We are all too familiar with attacks by a challenger desperate to dislodge an entrenched incumbent, and we're almost as accustomed to attacks by an incumbent desperate to fend off a surging challenger. Lately we've even heard a lot of attacks from would-be Democratic nominees, not against one another, but against the Republican incumbent they'd all like to challenge. But the first ad from the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign must break some sort of record. [AD EXCERPT PLAYS]
WOMAN: John Kerry. [PAUSE]
JOHN KERRY: I have a message for the influence-peddlers and the special interests -- we're coming, you're going--
WOMAN: Sounds good. Special interests. More special interest money than any other senator? How much? Whoo!
BOB GARFIELD: Yes, an attack ad from the President of the United States nine months before the election, attempting to discredit a potential opponent only three and a half weeks into the primary season. So far it's only on the campaign website, but it surely doesn't bode well for the tenor of political discourse between now and November. [AD EXCERPT PLAYS]
WOMAN: Facts: Kerry -- brought to you by the special interests, millions from executives at HMOs, telecoms, drug companies, ka-ching. Unprincipled?
JOHN KERRY: I have a message for the influence-peddlars and the special interests - - and the special interests - - the special interests -
BOB GARFIELD: Okay. The Willie Horton smear, it isn't. And no doubt the accusation of John Kerry's hypocrisy will raise questions about the sources of Bush's own 150 million dollar war chest. But why this, and why now? Historically the initial campaign video recaps a president's own heroic successes in office and re-affirms his commitment to God, family, democracy, prosperity, peace, security, law, order and free twisty bread with every pizza. As opposed to early-bird character assassination. Yet this episode does adhere to a certain internal logic. Perhaps it represents the articulation of the Bush doctrine, part two: pre-emptive political warfare. [MUSIC]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Up next, another made-for-TV murder, the Indian theater of war, and face time in Afghanistan.
BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media from NPR. [FUNDING CREDITS]