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Closing the Toughness Gap

Reported by Judy - September 4, 2004 -

In this week's Newsweek, Jonathan Alter declared that Democrats have a "toughness gap" vis a vis the Republicans because they are so polite they don't want to offend anyone. He basically said Democrats should forget about trying to run a positive campaign and just get down in the mud with Bush. I'm ready. Here's my idea. See if you can improve on it.

My idea revolves around the contrast between Bush's inaction the morning of 9/11 and the farcical portrayal of Little George as a "Not on my watch" tough guy. Although many people saw and were shocked by Fahrenheit 911's footage of Bush blending in with the kindergarteners, not every one has seen it. Furthermore, most people believe Bush could not have done anything in that "seven minutes."

In actuality, Bush was inactive for much longer than seven minutes. He went into the classroom after the first plane hit the WTC, assuming that it was a small plane and an accident. A take-charge guy who was just briefed the previous month on Al Qaeda wanting to attack the U.S. would have said, "Andy, call the White House and see what the hell is going on."

Furthermore, after Bush's seven-minute nap he roused himself and his first order of business was to huddle with his staff and try to figure out what he was going to say to the nation. As the 9/11 report says, "Between 9:15 and 9:30, the staff was busy arranging a return to Washington, while the President consulted his senior advisers about his remarks. ... no one with the President was in contact with the Pentagon. The focus was on the President's statement to the nation. The only decision made during this time was to return to Washington." (p. 39) He doesn't think to call the Pentagon, even though he tells Cheney a few minutes later, "We're at war." A nation under attack and the only thing Bush can do is insist on riding his plane back to Washington? Grace under fire? In more than 45 minutes, Bush has made one decision: to go back to Washington.

The full extent of Bush's inaction that morning has been overshadowed by the national intelligence director debate. Democrats need to bring the issue to public attention in the most vivid way possible.

My dream ad would somehow combine visual images of what was happening on 9/11 with what George Bush was actually doing.

I'm thinking a split screen. One side shows Rudy Giuliani telling the GOP convention that his first reaction to the attacks on the Twin Towers was to say, "Thank God George Bush is our president," followed by video of the WTC burning. The other shows George Bush sitting and sitting and sitting in the classroom as the towers crumble. The voice-over says something like: "This is leadership?" or "Thank God Bush is our president?"

Another possibility is showing Bush sitting like a potted plant in the classroom with a voice-over of what the FAA and other agencies were saying during the same time period. At 9:02, someone at the New York FAA control center says, "We have several situations going on here. It's escalating big, big time. We need to get the military involved with us" and later "Heads up man, it looks like another one coming in." At 9:05, Boston confirms that the hi-jackers have been heard saying, "We have planes." Maybe start with a black screen with white lettering showing a phrase from the radio traffic: "It's escalating, big, big time" with a clock showing the time. Then switch to My Pet Goat in the classroom and continue to run snippets of the radio traffic in voice-over, with a clock showing the time and video of Bush licking his lips and looking scared. Bush fiddles while Rome burns. End with the statement from the report that the only thing Bush decided in this 45-minute period was to go back to Washington.

There is plenty of material in the 9/11 report and the staff reports to the commission to work with. Such an ad would be disturbing, but powerful. According to the new standards of political advertising, it would be fair. Remember, if George Bush makes his response to 9/11 the centerpiece of his campaign, it's fair to attack it, even with lies.

The Kerry campaign should not run this ad. The Democratic Party or some other entity should. It will create quite a buzz, I would think. During this time, reporters should be encouraged to more closely examine the timeline of what happened that morning, with the aid of a DNC handout highlighting crucial points in time. Even with a small ad buy, it should get a lot of free publicity. Maybe after a few days, Kerry could call on the party to stop the ad, as Bush refused to do with the smear boats. Or maybe there needs to be a new 527 formed to do it.

Then the DNC or whoever comes back with a milder version, still flashes of Bush in the classroom. Enough to get more free publicity.

The convention made it clear Bush is going to run on his response to terrorism. If he thinks that is his strength, Democrats need to attack and attack and attack it. Running ads on health care won't do any good. They need to stress Bush's kindergarten offensive and turn Bush's biggest strength into his biggest weakness.