There was a brief hubbub over the web earlier this afternoon when it seemed that President Bush had denounced the Swift Boat ads. Needless to say, of course, he had done no such thing. He simply repeated the line Scott McClellan has been peddling for days -- that he denounces all independent expenditure ads.
Here's the exchange ....
QUESTION: But why won't you denounce the charges that your supporters are making against Kerry?
BUSH: I'm denouncing all the stuff being on TV, all the 527s. That's what I've said.
I said this kind of unregulated soft money is wrong for the process. And I asked Senator Kerry to join me in getting rid of all that kind of soft money, not only on TV, but to use for other purposes as well.
I, frankly, thought we'd gotten rid of that when I signed the McCain-Feingold bill. I thought we were going to once and for all get rid of a system where people could just pour tons of money in and not be held to account for the advertising.
And so, I'm disappointed with all those kinds of ads.
QUESTION: This doesn't have anything to do with other 527 ads. You've been accused of mounting a smear campaign.
Do you think Senator Kerry lied about his war record?
BUSH: I think Senator Kerry served admirably and he ought to be proud of his record.
But the question is who best to lead the country in the war on terror? Who can handle the responsibilities of the commander in chief? Who's got a clear vision of the risks that the country faces?
QUESTION: Some Republicans such as Bob Dole and some Republican donors such as Bob Perry have contributed and endorsed the message of those 527 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads.
QUESTION: When you say that you want to stop all...
BUSH: All of them.
QUESTION: So, I mean...
BUSH: That means that ad, every other ad.
BUSH: Absolutely. I don't think we ought to have 527s.
I can't be more plain about it. And I wish -- I hope my opponent joins me in saying -- condemning these activities of the 527s. It's -- I think they're bad for the system. That's why I signed the bill, McCain-Feingold.
I've been disappointed that for the first, you know, six months of this year, 527s were just pouring tons of money -- billionaires writing checks. And, you know, I spoke out against them early. I tried to get others to speak out against them as well. And I just don't -- I think they're bad for the system.
He won't say it. He won't embrace it. He won't denounce it. He won't say he doesn't have an opinion. He won't say he won't get drawn into the debate. Nothing. He hides behind words and behind his friends.
As it happens, as <$Ad$>Atrios notes, this isn't even Bush's position -- at least it wasn't until it became political advantageous. He opposed the provisions he's now hanging his hat on.
But of course the bigger point is that President Bush won't denounce the ads. If someone asks me to denounce Joseph Stalin and I say, "Well, yes, I'm against all politicians who support the death penalty" then I haven't denounced Joseph Stalin, right? This is the same thing.
(MSNBC, of course, fell for it. Their headline -- as of 4:57 PM -- is "Bush: Vets Should Halt anti-Kerry Ads".)
Now, let's step back and consider where we are. Everyone in the country seems to have an opinion on this -- just go see the chat shows, the opinion columns and talk radio. Everybody has an opinion but George W. Bush, the man at the center of it all.
The reason, as we said earlier, is that the president is a coward -- a fact for which this dust-up constitutes merely an example. And as we'll discuss in a post later this evening, President Bush's moral cowardice -- not his physical cowardice or bravery, of which we know little and which is simply a side issue -- is the essence of this campaign.