- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Wartime presidents have always been the target of criticism from their political opponents, especially in election years. But many observers say the level of invective lobbed at President Bush has escalated to a new and dangerous level.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry used the normally politics-free holiday of Memorial Day to attack Mr. Bush as a man who “didn’t learn the lessons of our generation in Vietnam” and is “putting our troops at greater risk.”

Former Vice President Al Gore, in a speech last week before the liberal activist group MoveOn.org, went further, accusing Mr. Bush of having “betrayed” his country, of being guilty of “war crimes,” and setting up an “American gulag” in Iraq.

Those comments come on the heels of press conference remarks by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, who called Mr. Bush an “incompetent leader.”

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, has said the limited reports of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq is an indication that Saddam Hussein’s deadly torture chambers “have opened under new management — American management.”

Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said Mr. Kerry and his Democratic allies “never miss an opportunity to deliver a political attack.”

“Sadly, that even seems to include Memorial Day, a day of remembrance that should be above politics,” he said.

Charles O. Jones, presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution, said Mr. Gore’s speech to MoveOn.org — the most dramatic expression of anti-Bush rhetoric — was a “puzzling” moment brought on by a “desire to vent because he didn’t win the presidency.”

“He gets himself worked up and can’t seem to stop,” Mr. Jones said. “He ought to be a little careful about that. Clearly, he’s willing to engage in a kind of overstated case [against the war] and do it in a fashion which seems to be — at the very least — less than generous” to the motivations of Mr. Bush.

Other wartime presidents facing partisan opposition — Harry S. Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon — faced fierce opposition, but not at the current level, Mr. Jones said.

Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, said he never has seen such “profane” political language directed at a commander in chief.

“Never before in time of war, when soldiers are dying, has this kind of vocal criticism by party leaders been directed at an administration,” Mr. Miller said. “They should be ashamed of themselves. It’s just criminal; it is profane.”

Casey Aden-Wansbury, spokeswoman for Mr. Gore’s 2000 running mate, Sen. Joe Lieberman, said the Connecticut Democrat has spoken out many times against the most vitriolic anti-Bush, antiwar rhetoric.

She pointed to a statement Mr. Lieberman released in April denouncing “the poisonous partisan rhetoric about Iraq.”

“Now, more than ever, politics must stop at the water’s edge, because now, more than ever, our politics has deep consequences for security within our borders and beyond our shores,” Mr. Lieberman said.

Few Democrats took Mr. Lieberman’s suggestion.

In the past month, Mrs. Pelosi has called the war in Iraq “unwinnable” and implored Americans to “face the reality” that “the emperor (Bush) has no clothes.”

“In fact, he’s not a leader,” Mrs. Pelosi said in press briefing last month, when the Abu Ghraib scandal was at its peak. “He’s a person who has no judgment, no experience and no knowledge of the subjects that he has to decide upon.”

Mrs. Pelosi said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday that she made her comments “with great reluctance,” but it took “great courage” to utter this “cry for help for the troops.”

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