The Bush and Kerry campaigns hit the airwaves with dueling economic ads on April 1, while the liberal interest group MoveOn.org moved quickly to capitalize on former anti-terror adviser Richard Clarke's explosive testimony before the 9/11 commission. How do the charges and countercharges stack up?
sponsor: bush campaign
The visual: The ad begins and ends with close-ups of John Kerry. Other photos scroll across a blueprintlike background: a young white couple, an African-American child, a frowning old man, a credit card being inserted into a gas pump. Next to the photos, a rolling meter clicks off the Kerry votes in question.
The verbal: "John Kerry's economic record. Troubling. He opposed tax relief for married couples 22 times. Opposed increasing the child tax credit 18 times. Kerry supported higher taxes over 350 times. He even supported increasing taxes on Social Security benefits and a 50-cent-a-gallon tax hike for gasoline. Now John Kerry's plan will raise taxes at least $900 billion his first 100 days. Kerry and the economy? Troubling."
The verdict: The Kerry campaign argues against the exact figure of 350 tax-raising votes, but there's no denying his long record in support of higher taxes.
A few specifics are truly troubling, however: The gas-tax proposal was mentioned in a single media interview more than a decade ago, and Mr. Kerry never voted for such a plan. And the $900 billion figure? That's not a proposed tax increase, but an estimate of how much Mr. Kerry's healthcare proposal might cost over 10 years.
sponsor: kerry campaign
The visual: Over a grainy, black-and-white photo of a chain-link fence, three workers leave a job site, lunch boxes in hand. Next, "newspaper" headlines like "Bush Supports Shift of Jobs Overseas" float across the cover of the president's budget. Finally, John Kerry shakes hands with hard-hatted construction workers, seniors, and veterans.
The verbal: "While jobs are leaving our country in record numbers, George Bush says sending jobs overseas makes sense for America. His top economic advisers say moving American jobs to low-cost countries is a plus for the U.S. John Kerry's proposed a different economic plan that encourages companies to keep jobs here. It's part of a detailed economic agenda to create 10 million jobs. John Kerry: A new direction for America."
The verdict: Mr. Kerry's highly touted economic plan appears dreamy rather than detailed, since he proposes a slew of new tax credits without offsetting tax increases elsewhere in the budget.
Besides, the Bush administration's free-market approach seems to be working: Just as Mr. Kerry's new ad hit the airwaves, the Labor Department announced the strongest job market in four years, with 308,000 new workers added to U.S. payrolls during the month of March alone.
The visual: Dark, flickering video of President Bush drifts diagonally across a black screen as jumpy white lettering spells out the charges of one of his fiercest critics.
The verbal: "George Bush shamelessly exploited 9/11 in his campaign commercials. Now Richard Clarke, his former counterterrorism chief, said: 'I find it outrageous that the president is running for reelection on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored terrorism for months when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11.' George Bush: A failure of leadership."
The verdict: Bush campaign commercials that mention what was perhaps the defining moment of the early 21st century would hardly qualify as shameless exploitation. On the other hand, regurgitating the charges of a single disgruntled former employee-one whose credibility is very much in question-might very well earn that dubious distinction for a "MoveOn" crowd that can't seem to move on.