- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2004

President Bush yesterday lashed out at his Democratic opponents for the first time in the 2004 campaign, charging his challengers with espousing “old bitterness and partisan anger” to mask their record of raising taxes and endangering Americans with a weak national defense.

After abstaining from politics for months as Democrats attacked him throughout their primary season, the president took aim at presidential front-runner John Kerry, branding the Massachusetts senator an equivocator who changes course for political expediency.

“The other party’s nomination battle is still playing out. The candidates are an interesting group, with diverse opinions. For tax cuts, and against them. For NAFTA, and against NAFTA. For the Patriot Act, and against the Patriot Act. In favor of liberating Iraq, and opposed to it.

“And that’s just one senator from Massachusetts,” Mr. Bush said, drawing raucous applause and whoops of appreciation from 1,500 supporters at the Republican Governors Association fund-raiser last night at the Washington Convention Center.

In his speech, Mr. Bush also assailed the whole Democratic as offering no vision for the nation, only rhetoric that seeks to divide Americans.

“So far, all we hear is a lot of old bitterness and partisan anger. Anger is not an agenda for the future of America,” the president said, drawing applause.

The president said the November election will offer a choice between an agenda that empowers Americans, cuts taxes and protects national security and one that seeks to control Americans’ choice and their money and bases U.S. sovereignty on the whims of other nations.

“It’s a choice between keeping the tax relief that is moving this economy forward — or putting the burden of higher taxes back on the American people,” Mr. Bush told the gathering.

“It’s a choice between an America that leads the world with strength and confidence — or an America that is uncertain in the face of danger.”

He said in the election, “the American people will decide between two visions of government: a government that encourages ownership and opportunity and responsibility — or a government that takes your money and makes your choices.”

Mr. Bush said voters will see the starkest difference among the candidates for the presidency in the realm of national security.

He defended his decision to invade Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein, who was deemed a threat by both Republicans and Democrats stretching back a dozen years.

“No friend or enemy today doubts the word of the United States,” he said.

Addressing critics — including Mr. Kerry, who voted in the Senate for military action in Iraq but now says he objects to Mr. Bush’s acting without international consensus — the president said, “Others would have chosen differently.”

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