Lunatic House of Usher--Bu$h 'War on Terror' tops Re-Elect Agenda
An internal White House document outlining President Bush's re-election agenda starts with "War on terrorism (Con't)" and homeland security. It's the latest sign, critics say, that presidential advisers are seeking political gain from the Sept. 11 attacks.
Terror War Tops Bush Re-Election Agenda
Sun Dec 29, 5:50 AM ET
By RON FOURNIER, AP White House Correspondent
CRAWFORD, Texas - An internal White House document outlining President Bush's re-election agenda starts with "War on terrorism (Con't)" and homeland security. It's the latest sign, critics say, that presidential advisers are seeking political gain from the Sept. 11 attacks.
The single-page, sparsely worded document titled "Possible '04 Signature Issues" was discussed this month in a White House meeting chaired by chief of staff Andrew Card to fine tune Bush's 2003 legislative agenda, several senior White House officials told The Associated Press.
White House communications director Dan Bartlett said the "Signature Issues" list does not portend efforts to make terrorism a political centerpiece in 2004. It simply outlines a complicated set of issues Bush must confront, such as terrorism, or that he wants to put forward, such as Social Security reform, he said.
"The items reflected in this particular document speak to issues in which the country and this administration will be facing in the next few years, including the war on terrorism," Bartlett said. Bush has said the fight against terrorism will take years to win.
But Democrats said the document bolsters their claim that White House officials have methodically worked to politicize the war on terrorism — starting with tactics that helped Republicans make major gains in November's midterm elections.
"It continues to be shocking, but it's not surprising, that this administration will exploit the war on terrorism and national security issues for their advantage if they can," said Sen. John Kerry (news, bio, voting record), D-Mass., who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.
After the midterm shellacking, Democratic leaders vowed to be more critical of Bush's anti-terrorism campaign, even at the risk of politicizing the issue themselves.
"The president is going to learn that Democrats have learned from our mistakes," said Democratic Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont, a presidential candidate. He denounced the 2004 issues list "another attempt to play politics with terrorism."
The document lists 10 issues starting with the "War on terrorism (Con't)" and "Protecting the homeland (Con't)." There is no further elaboration, but the abbreviation for "continued" also is noted with the next four issues: health care costs and access; legal reform, faith-based services and education.
Higher education, Social Security reform, tax reform and immigration reform round out the list.
White House officials, most of whom spoke on condition of anonymity about the list obtained by the AP, said the document was not intended to rank issues in any priority. They said it was produced by a White House aide — whom they wouldn't identify — in an effort to make sure the 2003 and 2004 agendas did not conflict.
Democrats scoffed at the explanation.
"It's always been clear what they've been trying to do. You just don't very often find a document that spells it out so clearly," said Joe Lockhart, press secretary in the Clinton White House.
While denying Lockhart's charge, White House officials concede the document reflects a growing attentiveness to Bush's re-election prospects. Political strategist Karl Rove will run the campaign from the White House while top deputy Ken Mehlman is likely to head the separate campaign headquarters, aides say.
Bush may begin raising money as early as June or July, they said.
The "Signature Issues" document also reflects many of Bush's well-known priorities for 2003 — with one major, previously undisclosed exception. Tax reform has slipped from Bush's first-term agenda because it is a politically charged issue that would crowd others from the picture, officials said.
But the list should put to rest speculation that Bush may drop his proposal to give Americans the means to invest portions of their Social Security benefits in the stock market. White House officials said Bush will make Social Security reform an issue in 2003 and the campaign year.
Bush's promise to ease immigration laws got lost after the Sept. 11 attacks, but the issue's appearance on the list reflects plans to rejuvenate the debate in 2003 in an effort to court Hispanic voters in 2004, officials said.
In his weekly radio address Saturday, Bush outlined his agenda for 2003 starting with the war against terrorism. "We will make certain that terrorists and their supporters are not safe in any cave or corner of the world," the president said.
The 2004 "Signature Issues" list was part of a large collection of documents on the 2003 agenda prepared for review by Bush's staff, but not the president, officials said. The 2004 document and Bush's re-election campaign were only briefly mentioned at the end of the December meeting, one of the officials said.
Though chaired by Card, the meeting was organized by Rove's strategic planning unit, one official said.
Rove upset Democrats in January when he told Republicans, "We can go to the country on this issue" of terrorism. It was the first public acknowledgment that the war on terrorism — then less than six months old — would be a potent political issue for the White House.
Other examples soon followed, including:
_ Mehlman gave GOP activists a PowerPoint computer slide presentation that had as its first item: "Focus on War and Economy."
_ Republicans raised money by selling pictures of Bush aboard Air Force One during the Sept. 11 crisis.
_ In the midterm campaign, some GOP candidates worked with the White House to obliquely challenge the patriotism of Democrats who contested details of Bush's homeland security department plan.
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