- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 17, 2004

President Bush yesterday hailed the advances he has advocated in a comprehensive missile defense system, taking a swipe at challenger John Kerry and other opponents by saying they are “living in the past.”

Mr. Bush used his 33rd visit to the key electoral state of Pennsylvania to visit a Boeing factory in the eastern town of Ridley Park, where he complimented factory workers who have worked on the missile defense system and aircraft used in the war on terror.

The missile defense system, which is still in the experimental stages after first being proposed by President Reagan, is “a system necessary to protect us against the threats of the 21st century,” Mr. Bush said.

“We want to continue to perfect this system, so we can say to those tyrants who believe they can blackmail America and the free world: ‘You fire, we’re going to shoot it down,’” the president said.

“I think those who oppose this ballistic missile system really don’t understand the threats of the 21st century,” Mr. Bush said. “They’re living in the past. We’re living in the future. We’re going to do what is necessary to protect this country.”

Mr. Kerry, the Democratic nominee for president, generally has joined his party’s long-standing opposition to funding a missile defense system, citing its cost and charging that early tests have shown it to be ineffective.

But in a campaign appearance this month, Mr. Kerry said, “I don’t believe in rapid deployment of a system that hasn’t been adequately tested. I will continue missile defense research, I will continue missile defense work.”

The Kerry campaign’s national security adviser, Rand Beers, mocked Mr. Bush’s “near obsession with missile defense,” and said the administration’s desire to build a system dilutes the focus on fighting terrorists.

“In the months preceding 9/11, George W. Bush and his closest advisers were preoccupied with missile defense and their misunderstanding about the threats we face continues to this day,” Mr. Beers said. “John Kerry believes an effective missile defense is crucial to our national security strategy. But John Kerry also understands the importance of facing our most pressing national security threats while continuing to develop and deploy a national missile defense which we know will work.”

Mr. Bush took a tour of a helicopter assembly line at the Boeing plant, which builds the CH-47 Chinook helicopter, used daily in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“I just came out of a sophisticated Chinook chopper that some brave soldier is going to be flying soon,” Mr. Bush told the factory workers. “And I can tell him and I can tell his loved ones that chopper has got the best equipment, the best hydraulics, made by the best hands in America.”

Mr. Bush lost Pennsylvania, a traditional Democratic stronghold, to Al Gore in the 2000 election 51 percent to 46 percent. Recent polling shows Mr. Kerry has a one to eight percentage-point lead in the state this year.

Mr. Bush leaves today for a campaign trip to Wisconsin and Minnesota, two other battleground states. He will spend the rest of the week at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, preparing for the Republican National Convention at the end of the month.

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