President Bush turned to a pack of wolves yesterday to dramatize his argument that John F. Kerry would endanger the country as commander in chief.
A new ad uses wolves as a metaphor for the threat of terrorism, much as a 1984 commercial for President Ronald Reagan used a bear to symbolize the Soviet threat during the Cold War.
By the time the dust settled, Kerry's running mate, John Edwards, had called the ad "despicable and contemptible," and the Democratic National Committee had rushed out an ad likening Bush to an ostrich.
Bush strategists tested the wolves ad with voters five months ago and, after receiving one of the most powerful reactions drawn by any of their commercials, decided to hold it until the campaign's final days.
Nearly every incumbent since Lyndon B. Johnson has run some version of the "Who do you trust?" spot in the campaign's final weeks. A 1964 Johnson ad, with a little girl and a daisy giving way to a mushroom cloud, raised the specter of a nuclear war if Barry M. Goldwater was elected. The ad sparked so much controversy that it ran only once.
The Bush ad uses a previously aired charge against the Massachusetts senator against a backdrop of roving wolves: "In an increasingly dangerous world, even after the first terrorist attack on America, John Kerry and the liberals in Congress voted to slash America's intelligence operations by $6 billion. Cuts so deep they would have weakened America's defenses. And weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm."
But Kerry's proposed 1994 reduction in the intelligence budget, which was rejected 75 to 20, would have been just $1 billion a year over six years. Kerry campaign spokesman Chad Clanton noted that some Republicans were pushing even deeper intelligence cutbacks in that post-Cold War era, including then-Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), selected by Bush as the new director of the CIA. Goss had proposed at least a 4 percent cut in intelligence spending.
Edwards, campaigning in Florida, said: "The reason they're trying to scare people . . . is because of their failures." Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt responded that "the Kerry campaign's attempt to obscure his record from the American people cannot change the facts. John Kerry has been wrong on national security for 20 years."
The DNC ad uses a very different animal metaphor: "The eagle soars high above the earth. The ostrich buries its head in the sand. The eagle can see everything for miles around. The ostrich? Can't see at all. . . . Given the choice, in these challenging times, shouldn't we be the eagle again?"
"Like the ostrich featured in our new ad," DNC Chairman Terence R. McAuliffe said, "George W. Bush has got his head buried in the sand."
Kerry also released an ad in which he vows, in effect, not to be a lone wolf. "To make America safer, we can no longer go it alone in the world," Kerry says, adding: "When it comes to protecting our nation, I will stop at nothing to find and kill the terrorists. . . . But I will return our foreign policy to the values that have always earned us the respect of the world."
Kerry aides, who have made more than half a dozen response ads without buying time for them, did not provide information confirming that the spot would actually be aired.