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In Jan. 2002, President Bush promised he wouldn’t use 9/11 for political gain. Now that his first campaign ads—filled with gut-wrenching images from the Sept. 2001 terrorist attacks—have hit the airwaves, Americans can see how good Bush’s word really is.
Bush released his ads last Wednesday, and they are scheduled to run for at least three weeks—inundating swing states with patriotism-inducing images of national tragedy. In just a few 9/11-filled seconds, the president manages to break his promise not to politicize the attacks, offend those who gave their lives two and a half years ago and pretend to be the country’s leading patriot. Though it would be difficult to come up with an appropriate way to turn footage of the World Trade Center’s wreckage into a political promotion, the Bush ads don’t even attempt to put up a façade of respect for the attack victims.
The thirty-second spot dubbed “Safer, Stronger” shows off the greatest number of images from Sept. 11. Behind text reading, “Then...a day of tragedy” and a sound of sirens in the background, the ad shows an American flag flying in front of the World Trade Center rubble. The image fades into two shots. On the left, a man hoists an American flag, while on the right four firefighters carry a body, draped in another flag. Just before the new slogan, “A test for all Americans,” disappears, the flag on the left fades into a video of Bush delivering a speech.
Certainly, this is going to have a powerful effect on those independent viewers Bush is trying to scare into reelecting him. But Bush’s dirty trick—exploiting Sept. 11 in an attempt to recapture the community impulse that led Americans to rally behind the president after 9/11—isn’t going over as well as he had hoped. Already, victims’ families and firefighters’ unions have protested the ads, pointing out that just because Bush was president when terrorists slammed planes into the twin towers does not mean he deserves reelection.
The ads’ defenders counter that the TV spots aren’t about 9/11—even though their content is almost entirely from lower Manhattan (or, in some cases, staged to look like it)—but about the leadership Bush offered after the attacks. Even though this is demonstrably false, as there is little to nothing about Bush’s actual post-9/11 record in them, we hope that voters will take the time to consider Bush’s performance instead of just letting the images scare them into voting red.
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