There is seemingly no charge the Bush campaign can level against John F. Kerry that will not produce a one-word retort: Halliburton.
Kerry's proposed tax increases? Halliburton.
Kerry's vote against Iraq war spending? Halliburton.
Kerry's anti-terrorism credentials? Halliburton.
Kerry's ties to Hollywood liberals? Halliburton, Halliburton, Halliburton.
"Halliburton," says Kerry spokesman Chad Clanton, "will always be the fire Dick Cheney can't put out." That is certainly the Democrats' hope, as they try to portray the oil services company once run by Vice President Cheney as a metaphor for all things anti-Bush.
When Cheney spoke about health care yesterday in Toledo, Kerry forces held a counter-rally featuring signs saying "Health Care, Not Halliburton." Explaining that apparent non sequitur, the campaign said in a news release that health care costs would be lower if Cheney spent "as much energy on lowering health care costs as getting Halliburton their no-bid contracts."
Likewise, when the Bush campaign last week demanded video footage of an event where Whoopi Goldberg delivered a crude anti-Bush message, the Kerry campaign had a ready response: The Bush campaign should release correspondence about Halliburton's contracts.
Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said the "baseless charges" by the Kerry campaign are a sign of desperation. "As they flail around, unable to explain the fact that John Kerry has multiple positions on every issue from the war on terror to what type of car he owns, you see the silly chants and slogans," he said.
There is no proof the government was wrong to award Iraq contracts to Halliburton without competitive bidding, or that Cheney helped his former employer. Democrats, though, are hoping the image of Halliburton, and President Bush, could be damaged further by news from one of the ongoing investigations into the company. The Treasury Department is examining whether a Halliburton unit violated laws against doing business in Iran. The Securities and Exchange Commission is probing a change in Halliburton accounting practices. And various entities are examining charges about Halliburton bribery in Nigeria.
Already, the company has a serious image problem stemming from overcharging and kickbacks. A Newsweek poll earlier this year found that, by 58 percent to 32 percent, Americans disapproved of the awarding of Iraq rebuilding contracts to Halliburton. The Kerry campaign is doing whatever it can to worsen that image problem, linking the company to everything from higher fuel prices to lower funding for community policing.
Democrats held a "Halliburton Week" last month with events in 20 states portraying the Bush-Halliburton relationship as cronyism. It was Vermont Sen. Patrick J. Leahy's role in Halliburton Week that prompted Cheney's obscenity last month on the Senate floor -- leading the Kerry campaign to distribute bars of soap outside a Cheney appearance in Cleveland.
Oh -- Canada?
During last year's enactment of the Medicare prescription drug benefit, the White House vigorously opposed legalizing the "reimportation" of drugs from Canada, where they are cheaper. So it came as a surprise yesterday to visit the Web site of Sav-Rx, one of the companies tapped by the administration to provide the new Medicare drug discounts championed by President Bush.
"Sav-Rx is giving you the opportunity to save an additional 20% -30% on your mail order prescriptions through the use of our Canadian Mail Order Pharmacy," boasts the company, which states that the consumer is appointing an "agent to bring this prescription into the United States."
It is illegal to bring prescription drugs into the United States, and Medicare chief Mark McClellan said in a White House briefing last month that there are "real safety problems" with reimported drugs. But Sav-Rx says it "guarantees the same quality product from Canada that you have come to expect from regular Sav-Rx." A Sav-Rx saleswoman cheerfully explained yesterday that Medicare cardholders are eligible.
A spokesman for the Health and Human Services Department told The Washington Post's Ceci Connolly yesterday that Sav-Rx has been warned about the matter. The company did not respond to a reporter's inquiry yesterday.
The Misquotable Bush
"I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn't do my job."
-- statement attributed to President Bush in the Lancaster (Pa.) New Era from a private meeting with Amish families on July 9. The White House said Bush said no such thing.