- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2004

The White House has begun to aggressively fight back against Democratic criticism of the war in Iraq, President Bush’s service in the Air National Guard during the Vietnam War and his economic record — after passively enduring political shots for weeks.

A source close to the White House said the attacks by Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and his surrogates have changed — at least temporarily — the president’s plan to stay entirely above the political fray.

“They got dragged into it this week against their own choosing,” the source said, adding that Mr. Bush will continue to contrast his conduct in the war on terror with the record of Mr. Kerry.

“We have a president talking about the major threats of the day, as opposed to a candidate dredging up things from 30 years ago,” he said.

Mr. Bush’s willingness to fight has heartened his supporters, who worried that Mr. Bush would wait too long to retaliate against the Democrats — a tactic many think cost his father the election in 1992.

At yesterday’s daily press briefing, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan accused Mr. Kerry’s supporters of engaging in “gutter politics” by questioning whether Mr. Bush fulfilled his duties to the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.

“You know, I think that you expect the garbage can to be thrown at you in the eleventh hour of a campaign, but not nine months before Election Day,” Mr. McClellan said. “I certainly hope that this level of discourse is not a reflection on what the American people can expect from the Democratic Party over the duration of the campaign.”

Last night, the White House released a copy of a dental evaluation Mr. Bush had in the National Guard in Alabama.

The copy of the dental examination done on Jan. 6, 1973, documents the president serving at Dannelly Air National Guard Base, which is south of Montgomery, Ala., Mr. McClellan said in a statement.

The White House obtained the dental record, along with other medical records it did not release, from the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Denver, Mr. McClellan said.

The record was accompanied by a statement from Dr. Richard J. Tubb, the president’s current physician, who stated that he read Mr. Bush’s records, which covered a period from 1968 to 1973, and concurred with the doctors’ assertion that Mr. Bush was “fit” for service.

“The records reflect no disqualifying medical information,” Dr. Tubb said.

For weeks, White House officials have refused to respond directly to Democratic attacks on Mr. Bush, saying the time for politics will not arrive until the Democratic Party had picked its presidential nominee.

But now that Mr. Kerry has won 12 of 14 primary contests — all but eliminating a once-large field of rivals — Mr. Bush’s supporters, and the president himself, have a single target upon which to direct their fire.

In response to a question about Mr. Bush’s service in the National Guard during the Vietnam War, Mr. McClellan alluded to a speech Mr. Kerry made on the Senate floor in 1992 defending then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton’s avoidance of the draft.

“By the way, you know, in that time period, a lot of people said things that are one way, and are certainly saying other things these days,” Mr. McClellan said.

In that 1992 Senate floor speech, Mr. Kerry decried those obsessed with “refighting the many conflicts of Vietnam in order to win the current political conflict of a presidential primary.”

The Bush-Cheney re-election campaign has become more engaged in defending the president, sending out a video through the Internet to rally supporters.

Called “Responsibility,” the video highlights what it characterizes as Mr. Bush’s “leadership in times of change.”

It uses a clip from the president’s appearance Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” in which Mr. Bush says, “I’ve got a foreign policy that is one that believes America has a responsibility to lead.”

Though not aired on television, it represents the president’s first ad of any kind fighting back against Mr. Kerry’s charges that he is leading the country “in the wrong direction.”

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