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Bush's Re-Election Campaign Begins on a Positive Note

His first three TV ads are downright bland, with lots of generalities and few facts for us to check.

March 3, 2004

Modified: March 4, 2004

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Summary

 

We found only one clear misstatement in the first batch of television ads from the President’s re-election committee. One ad claims that the recession started the month Bush took office. Economists date the start two month later.

Analysis

 

Bush-Cheney ’04, the President’s official re-election committee, unveiled a series of ads that it said would begin airing Thursday, March 4 on national cable networks and on selected local stations in key states.

Few Facts

All were positive, none named Kerry or any Democrat, and all spoke in high-sounding general terms. They were nearly devoid of factual claims for us to check.

Bush-Cheney ’04 Ad

  “Safer, Stronger”

Bush: I’m George W. Bush and I approve this message.

Graphics:

January 2001: The challenge:An economy in recession.  A stock market in decline. A dot-com boom….gone bust. Then…A day of tragedy. A test for all Americans.  

Today, America is turning the corner.  Rising to the challenge.Safer, stronger.

President Bush.Steady Leadership in times of change.

One 30-second spot laid down the basic message the Bush re-election team hopes to ride to victory, summed up in the ad’s name, “Safer, Stronger.” It said “America is turning the corner” after a rough time economically and is safer now than before America ’s “day of tragedy,” September 11, 2001.

This ad got one fact wrong when it showed Bush taking the oath of office January 20, 2001 and said that in that month a challenge facing Bush was “an economy in recession.” It’s true that the long economic boom of the Clinton years had run out of steam before Bush took office and that the nation’s economic output was flat. It grew at a weak 2.1 percent in the last three months of 2000 and then fell two-tenths of one percent in the three-month period of January, February and March 2001, according to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis . But the economy didn’t actually enter recession until March of that year, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, an association of academic economists whose Business Cycle Dating Committee is the generally accepted arbiter of when business booms and busts begin and end. So to be perfectly accurate the Bush ad should have said, “An economy nearing recession.”

It’s true as the ad says that the stock market had started a severe decline well before Bush took office, particularly for Internet stocks whose prices had risen to ridiculous heights during the dot-com craze.

But whether America is truly safer or stronger under Bush is, of course, a matter of opinion that will be debated in the months to come.

Lots of Flags

Bush-Cheney ’04 Ad

  “Tested”

Bush: I’m George W. Bush and I approve this message.

Announcer: The last few years have tested America in many ways. Some challenges we’ve seen before. And some were like no others. But America rose to the challenge. What sees us through tough times?

Freedom, faith, families, and sacrifice. 

President Bush: Steady leadership in times of change.

Another 30-second ad called “tested” is a flag-waving psalm to the American spirit: “What sees us through tough times? Freedom, faith, families and sacrifice.” You won't catch us quibbling with that sentiment.

This ad shows scenes of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and of senior citizens and children. It ends with the phrase: “President Bush, steady leadership in times of change.” That’s the campaign slogan, and it contains a hint of what may be future attacks on Kerry, whom Bush’s handlers have been trying to paint as a flip-flopping liberal with a weak record of support for the military. But as far as this particular ad goes, it's feel-good fluff.

Bush as Narrator

Bush-Cheney ’04 Ad

“Lead”

Bush: One of the things that must never change is the entrepreneurial spirit of America .  This country needs a President who clearly sees that.

Laura Bush: The strength, the focus, the characteristics that these times demand.

Bush: And as the economy grows, the job base grows and somebody who’s looking for work will be more likely to find a job. I know exactly where I want to lead this country; I know what we need to do to make the world more free and more peaceful. I know what we need to do to make sure every person has a chance at realizing the American dream. I know what we need to do to continue economic growth so people can find work, to raise the standards at schools so children can learn, to fulfill the promise to America ’s seniors.  Americans are hard working, decent, generous people. I’m optimistic about America because I believe in the people of America

I’m President Bush and I approve of this message.

Finally, a 60-second spot called “Lead” is, like the others, both completely positive and full of generalities, leaving little to criticize regarding factual accuracy.

In this ad Bush's voice is heard over pictures, saying nice things about "the entrepreneurial spirit of America" and its "hard-working, decent, generous people."

Bush says “I’m optimistic about America because I believe in the people of America, ” thus stating a position and not making a factual claim.

Regarding the economy, Bush says that growth makes it more likely that a jobseeker will find work, which is true as a matter of logic. He does not mention that job growth has been disappointing despite a US economy that has been growing for more than two years, or that steady job gains didn’t begin until August 2003, or that in January the total number of payroll jobs was still 2.2 million below where it was when he took office.

But Bush did touch on this sore point indirectly, saying “I know what we need to do to continue economic growth so people can find work.” That's putting a positive spin on a political weak point.

Similarly, Bush’s statement that he knows how to make the world safer and more peaceful omits any mention of wars he initiated in Afghanistan and Iraq. He mentions fulfilling “the promise to America's seniors” but leaves arguments about private Social Security accounts for another day. He speaks of raising standards at schools, but avoids the unpleasant subject of how much of the cost of Bush’s “No Child Left Behind Act” should be swallowed by state and local governments.

These are the first Bush-Cheney ads to appear on the air, and they are quite different from the attack video the campaign e-mailed to supporters last month. That one attacked Kerry personally as a man of "unprincipled" character, and we found that it twisted the facts. If these new, all-positive ads are any indication of what's to come, FactCheck.org won't have much to do during the rest of the general election campaign. History suggests we'll be busy soon enough, however.  

Sources

 

US Bureau of Economic Analysis, Press Release: " Gross Domestic Product : Fourth Quarter 2003 (Preliminary), Table 1" 27 Feb 2004.

Business Cycle Dating Committee, " The Business-Cycle Peak of March 2001 ," National Bureau of Economic Research 26 Nov 2001. 

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