Lights, Camera, 9/11

Published: September 28, 2004

There was a time not too long ago when political strategists were uncertain whether candidates would even be able to use the threat of terror or the Sept. 11 attacks in their campaigns. The emotions were thought to be too raw, the trauma too real. The thinking was that voters might recoil at the use of the terror attacks for political purposes.

Well, those days are long gone. A new ad for President Bush released today goes right at Senator John Kerry over the terror issue, similar in some ways to claims by Vice President Dick Cheney and other Bush supporters that a vote for Mr. Kerry would make the nation more susceptible to a terror strike.

"Weakness invites those who would do us harm," says the new, pre-debate ad titled " Peace and Security." (Watch the Ad)

"Unfortunately, after the first World Trade Center attack, John Kerry and congressional liberals tried to slash $6 billion from intelligence budgets," the ad says. "And tried to cut or eliminate over 40 weapons now fighting the war on terror. And refused to support our troops in combat with the latest weapons and body armor."

Democrats and others call such an approach outrageous, noting that it was the Bush administration that was in office when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred. They say the president's campaign is politicizing a national tragedy. And they say the ad itself distorts Mr. Kerry's record by attacking him for defense cuts that were also supported by Mr. Cheney when he was vice president.

But one thing is certain: the ad starkly illustrates the change in the political tone since early 2002, when just the suggestion by Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's political adviser, that Republicans might use their handling of the security issue to partisan advantage was enough to fuel a strenuous debate.

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