Bush's Third Campaign

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, November 14, 2005; 3:33 PM

President Bush on Friday launched his third presidential campaign -- this one to salvage his reputation, and what's left of his second term.

His goal this time is not to win an election; it's to gain back the public trust.

Amid all the tumbling poll numbers of late, Bush's biggest problem is this: A sizeable majority of Americans -- 55 percent according to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll -- believe that he intentionally misled the American public in making his case for war in Iraq.

So Bush's speechwriters on Veteran's Day added a few fiery paragraphs to his standard war-on-terror address.

Here's the text : "Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war. These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community's judgments related to Iraq's weapons programs," Bush said.

"[M]ore than a hundred Democrats in the House and the Senate -- who had access to the same intelligence -- voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power," he noted.

And, he concluded: "The stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important, for politicians to throw out false charges. (Applause.) These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will."

But Bush's argument is deeply flawed. Far from being baseless, the charge that he intentionally misled the public in the run-up to war is built on a growing amount of evidence. And the longer Bush goes without refuting that evidence in detail, the more persuasive it becomes.

And his most prized talking point -- that many Democrats agreed with him at the time -- is problematic. Many of those Democrats did so because they believed the information the president gave them. Now they are coming to the conclusion that they shouldn't have.

Like other Bush campaigns, this one will inevitably feature the ceaseless repetition of key sound bytes -- the hope being that they will be carried, largely unchallenged, by the media -- and virulent attacks by the White House on those who dare to disagree, even going so far as to question their patriotism.

The Coverage

The coverage in most major papers made it clear that Bush's speech came within the context of a pitched battle over the president's reputation.

Linton Weeks and Peter Baker wrote in The Washington Post: "President Bush and leading congressional Democrats lobbed angry charges at each other Friday in an increasingly personal battle over the origins of the Iraq war."

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