President Bush on Wednesday night leveled his most aggressive criticism yet of the Democratic Party and its presumptive presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, by mocking his campaign mottos of “hope” and “change.”
Mr. Bush, speaking to a partisan crowd at a Republican fundraiser in the D.C. Convention Center, also criticized the Supreme Court’s recent decision awarding certain due process rights to suspected enemy combatants in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Though he did not mention Mr. Obama by name, the president, who previously made only a few references to Mr. Obama’s candidacy, took the gloves off for the first time, testing out lines likely to be used in numerous stump speeches between now and Election Day.
Saying that “this election season is just beginning,” Mr. Bush began by portraying Mr. Obama’s signature phrase, “hope,” as a symbol of foreign policy naivete.
“The other side talks a lot about ‘hope,’” Mr. Bush said. “And that sums up their Iraq policy pretty well: They want to retreat from Iraq and hope nothing bad happens.
“But wishful thinking is no way to fight a war and to protect the American people,” the president said to applause.
Mr. Bush praised Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican nominee, as “tested” by adversity, a man of experience who “will not flinch,” and said he is the only candidate with those qualities “in trying times.”
The president also said unequivocally that the Democratic Party cannot be trusted to prevent terrorism in the U.S.
“The war on terror is the great challenge of our time. And on this vital issue, the Democratic Party has repeatedly shown it would take America down the wrong direction,” Mr. Bush said.
He referred to the Democratic-controlled Congress’ failure to renew the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, their opposition to aggressive interrogation techniques that at one point in 2002 are known to have included “waterboarding,” attempts to defund the war, and their overall stance on Iraq.
Declaring that “a democracy is taking root” in Iraq, Mr. Bush said Democrats are ignoring progress sparked by his surge of 30,000 troops last year, and labeled them the party of retreat.
“The Democrats declared the surge a failure before it began. And now that the surge has turned the situation around, they still call for retreat,” Mr. Bush said.
The Obama campaign said it had no immediate comment.
But Mr. Obama continued to campaign Wednesday night on his familiar themes, telling a fundraiser crowd at Ethel Kennedy’s house in McLean, “We will not just win this election. We will inspire a generation. … We will change the world.”
The president also for the first time Wednesday publicly criticized the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on detainee rights at the U.S. Navy Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba.
Mr. Bush called the 5-4 decision granting enemy combatants the right to challenge their incarceration in U.S. civilian courts “judicial activism that frustrates the American people.”
“A bare majority of five Supreme Court justices overturned a bipartisan law that the United States Congress passed and I signed to deliver justice to detainees at Guantanamo Bay,” Mr. Bush said. “With this decision … hardened foreign terrorists now enjoy certain legal rights previously reserved for American citizens.”
Mr. Bush said the decision was “a fresh reminder of the importance of the courts” and said only Mr. McCain can be trusted to “put good judges on the bench.”