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E.J. Dionne Jr.

Twisting the Truth

By E. J. Dionne Jr.
Friday, September 24, 2004; Page A25

There is one good thing about President Bush's new advertisement showing John Kerry windsurfing: Kerry does enjoy windsurfing.

That alone puts the ad on a higher plane of truthfulness than many of the statements the president regularly makes on the campaign trail. A press corps that relentlessly nitpicked Al Gore in 2000 in search of "little lies" and exaggerations has given Bush wide latitude to make things up. I guess the incumbent benefits from the soft bigotry of low expectations.

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At the top of my personal hit parade of Bush Distortions is a statement the president has made over and over, notably during his speech at the Republican National Convention. "If you say the heart and soul of America is found in Hollywood," Bush said to loud cheers, "I'm afraid you are not the candidate of conservative values."

Bush has repeated variations of that sentiment so often that I bet you didn't know that Kerry never said that the heart and soul of America is found in Hollywood.

What Kerry actually said, after a fundraiser in which a group of stars performed on his behalf (and, yes, during which some of them said distasteful things about Bush), was this: "Every performer tonight, in their own way, either verbally or through their music, through their lyrics, have conveyed to you the heart and soul of our country."

And by the way, Kerry didn't even make those comments in Hollywood. The fundraiser was held in New York.

If you don't care about Hollywood, how about Iraq? Kerry gave a tough speech attacking Bush's policies there. Bush fired back, as he had every right to do, and denounced what Kerry said.

"Incredibly," Bush said of his opponent, "he now believes our national security would be stronger with Saddam Hussein in power, not in prison." Then Bush quoted Kerry. "Today he said, and I quote, 'We have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure.' He's saying he prefers the stability of a dictatorship to the hope and security of democracy."

Now, to have a Democratic nominee preferring dictatorship to democracy would be big news indeed. But here is a full rendition of the passage from Kerry's speech that Bush partially quoted: "Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who deserves his own special place in hell. But that was not, that was not in and of itself, a reason to go to war. The satisfaction that we take in his downfall does not hide this fact: We have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure."

Read the full Kerry quote again. Does that sound like someone who "prefers the stability of a dictatorship to the hope and security of democracy"? After all, in that same speech Kerry said he "would have tightened the noose and continued to pressure and isolate Saddam Hussein."

There is a real argument to be had over whether this war has made us safer. But it is not surprising that Bush finds it easier to cast his opponent as a friend of dictatorship than to address whether his policies have worked. Kerry probably shouldn't feel too bad. Bush also dismissed a bleak report from his own CIA on the Iraq situation by saying the analysts were "just guessing." Don't pay attention to what's behind the curtain.

Speaking of curtains, Bush deserves a curtain call and perhaps an award from Hollywood for how he manages to translate Kerry's promise that he would increase taxes only on Americans who earn more than $200,000 a year into a tax increase on everybody. "He says he's going to tax the rich," Bush said on Wednesday in King of Prussia, Pa. "Rich hire lawyers and accountants for a reason -- to stick you with the bill. We're not going to let him tax you, because we're going to win in November."

So a president who signed all kinds of provisions to help wealthy taxpayers turns around, blames the lawyers and -- presto! -- Kerry, by implication and association, becomes a friend of the wealthy who want to raise your taxes. Clever? Manipulative? You decide.

I could go on. For example, Bush describes Kerry's health insurance plan, which even critics say is designed to strengthen the existing employer-based system, as an effort to put "Washington bureaucrats in control." But you get the drift.

A very intelligent political reporter I know said the other night that Republicans simply run better campaigns than Democrats. If I were given a free pass to stretch the truth to the breaking point, I could run a pretty good campaign, too.

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