- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 12, 2004

DENVER — President Bush yesterday seized on Sen. John Kerry’s remark that terrorism should be reduced to a “nuisance” like prostitution that doesn’t define Americans’ lives, saying it showed his ignorance of America’s most urgent national-security imperative.

“Senator Kerry talked of reducing terrorism to — quote — nuisance — end quote; and compared it to prostitution and illegal gambling,” Mr. Bush said. “I couldn’t disagree more.

“Our goal is not to reduce terror to some acceptable level of nuisance,” he added. “Our goal is to defeat terror by staying on the offensive, destroying terrorists and spreading freedom and liberty around the world.”

The Kerry campaign defended the “nuisance” quote, which was published in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, and said the administration was taking it out of context.

“John Kerry is going to hunt and kill the terrorists before they can come after us, and no amount of selective editing by the Bush campaign can change that basic fact,” said Kerry campaign spokesman Phil Singer.

“Once again, the Bush campaign is insulting the basic intelligence of the public by resorting to tired and desperate tactics to cling to power,” he said.

The full, unedited quote, which the New York Times interviewer called “remarkable,” revealed an approach to terrorism that contrasts sharply with the president’s belief that it will remain a global war for the foreseeable future.

“We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they’re a nuisance,” Mr. Kerry said.

“As a former law-enforcement person, I know we’re never going to end prostitution. We’re never going to end illegal gambling.

“But we’re going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn’t on the rise. It isn’t threatening people’s lives every day, and fundamentally, it’s something that you continue to fight, but it’s not threatening the fabric of your life,” he concluded.

The president, stumping in New Mexico before traveling to Denver, called the remark “new evidence that Senator Kerry fundamentally misunderstands the war on terror.”

He added: “Earlier, he questioned whether it was really a war at all, describing it as primarily a law-enforcement and intelligence-gathering operation, instead of a threat that demands the full use of American power.”

Vice President Dick Cheney also hammered Mr. Kerry for the “nuisance” remark and said it was part of a pattern of the Massachusetts senator’s minimizing the war on terror.

“This is naive and dangerous, as was Senator Kerry’s reluctance earlier this year to call the war on terror an actual war,” he said at a rally in Medford, N.J. “He preferred to think of it, he said, as primarily an intelligence and law-enforcement operation.”

Even before the president and vice president went after the “nuisance” remark, their campaign raced to air a TV spot highlighting the quote.

“First, Kerry said defeating terrorism was really more about law enforcement and intelligence than a strong military operation,” says the ad’s narrator. “More about law enforcement than a strong military?

“Now Kerry says we have to get back to the place where terrorists are a nuisance like gambling and prostitution. We’re never going to end them,” the voice continues. “Terrorism — a nuisance? How can Kerry protect us when he doesn’t understand the threat?”

Mr. Singer said the ad is “a dishonest and disingenuous way to campaign for president and another pathetic way to play the politics of fear.”

He also alluded to an interview that Mr. Bush gave to NBC’s “Today” show on Aug. 30, in which he said “we can’t win” the war on terror in the next four years.

“Considering that George Bush doesn’t think we can win the war on terror, let Osama bin Laden escape and rushed into Iraq with no plan to win the peace, it’s no surprise that his campaign is distorting every word John Kerry has ever said,” Mr. Singer said.

The Kerry response ad, titled “Can’t Win,” accused Mr. Bush of not doing enough to inspect cargo ships that enter the United States, giving $7 billion in “no-bid” contracts to Halliburton for Iraq reconstruction.

“And on the war on terror, Mr. Bush said, ‘I don’t think you can win it,’ ” the Democrat’s ad says. “Not with his failed leadership. It’s time for a new direction.”

Bush campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel said the new Kerry ad takes Mr. Bush’s words out of context. After he made his remarks, the president told radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh that he meant to say that terrorists will never formally surrender to America, as Japan did at the close of World War II.

“They throw out these baseless charges whenever the senator’s words are highlighted,” said Mr. Stanzel, who accused Mr. Kerry of having a “September 10th mind-set.” “They seem to have the most negative reaction when we simply repeat things John Kerry has said.”

Mr. Cheney also accused the Democrat of not having learned from the September 11 attacks.

“This is all part of a pre-9/11 mind-set, and it is a view we cannot go back to,” he said in New Jersey. “This is a global conflict. If we fail to aggressively prosecute the war on terror, destroying terrorists where we find them and confronting governments that sponsor terror, the danger will only increase.”

The campaign will enter the final stage after tomorrow night’s final presidential debate in Tempe, Ariz. Both campaigns expect the race to be close, just like in 2000, but the small lead that Mr. Bush enjoyed after his early September convention seems to be holding.

An ABC News-Washington Post poll conducted Friday through Sunday put Mr. Bush at 51 percent and Mr. Kerry at 46 percent among likely voters nationwide. A Rasmussen daily tracking poll gave Mr. Bush 49 percent and Mr. Kerry 45 percent.

Two other polls, however, give the Democratic challenger a slight lead.

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll of likely voters gave Mr. Kerry the support of 49 percent to Mr. Bush’s 48 percent. And a Zogby International/Reuters poll gave Mr. Kerry a 47 percent to 44 percent lead, just outside the margin of error of 2.9 percent.

James G. Lakely contributed to this report from Washington.

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