Bush Windsurfing Ad: Right On or Tasteless?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," Sept. 23, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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BUSH RE-ELECTION AD SHOWING JOHN KERRY ON A SURFBOARD (unknown speaker): In which direction would John Kerry (search) lead? Kerry voted for the Iraq War. Opposed it; supported it; and now opposes it again.

KERRY RE-ELECTION AD (unknown speaker): In the face of the Iraq quagmire, George Bush's answer was to run a juvenile and tasteless attack ad. John Kerry has a plan for success.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: President Bush's campaign using John Kerry's wind surfing hobby against him in that new ad you just saw. The Kerry campaign says that's pretty darn frivolous considering the serious times we're in.

Joining me now to talk about the ads and the presidential race, Bush-Cheney campaign Spokesman Steve Schmidt (search) and Kerry campaign adviser Michael Meehan (search).

So, Steve, let me ask you first. Upon reflection, do you think that ad was frivolous?

STEVE SCHMIDT, BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: Absolutely not, John. I think that that ad raises deadly serious issues.

The fact is is that John Kerry's taking his 10th distinct position on the war on terror: the situation in Iraq this week. He voted for the war, then he said he was against the war. He said it would be irresponsible to vote against money for troops, then he voted against money for the troops when Howard Dean passed him in the opinion polls.

At every opportunity, John Kerry changed his position when he saw there to be a political benefit.

GIBSON: Hey, Michael, would I be wrong to say what I think is going on here is a so-called Carville effect, which is: when attacked, respond immediately and respond in the same news cycle. And as much as you might have been outraged by the ad, really, the important thing was to get an ad on quick.

MICHAEL MEEHAN, KERRY CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: Yes, the ad was juvenile and tasteless. We've got Americans being beheaded in Iraq; we've got 1000 Americans died; thousands more injured; tens of thousands Iraqis injured...

GIBSON: But what does that have to do with the criticism about Kerry's apparent — I'll use their phrase — flip-flop?

MEEHAN: Well, it's a juvenile ad and if you don't have a plan to win the peace, I understand why you got to this dumb humor kind of stuff. John Kerry does have a plan. And when he's president, he'll be able to put it in place, but for now, we're stuck with what this president has set up for us in Iraq.

GIBSON: OK. Let's talk about plans.

Steve, what's the President's plan?

SCHMIDT: I think you heard what the president's plan is today. You heard the President say very clearly that this nation must stay resolved through the hard times. Is that part of this plan is the political solution, is that there's going to the elections in January. You heard Prime Minister Allawi speak to that.

Part of this is the military solution: to train the Iraqi forces to deal with the insurgents in the three provinces that are not yet secure. And the third solution is to work with our allies to give the Iraqi people what they need to move towards freedom.

GIBSON: OK. Michael, what's the John Kerry plan?

SCHMIDT: And all of John Kerry's plans — John, I think this is important...

GIBSON: Wait a little bit, Steve. Let me just get Michael to tell me the Kerry plan.

SCHMIDT: ... John Kerry's plan is things that are already being done.

GIBSON: Michael, what's the Kerry plan?

MEEHAN: Well, first you deal with the reality on the ground. The President today said that Iraq's on the right track...

GIBSON: No, Michael, give me the four points. There are four points. Tell me what they are.

MEEHAN: OK. Deal with the reality. The President said Iraq's in a better place than the United States of America is today. That's outrageous, that's not real. The country's in the middle of a war. This country is a battlefield right now and a hot fire zone.

GIBSON: But the plan? The plan?

MEEHAN: Deal with the reality. George Bush today says that Iraq...

GIBSON: The plan, Michael. What is Kerry's plan?

SCHMIDT: There is no plan.

MEEHAN: Well, first you have to have an honest assessment about what's going on on the ground. You got 140,000 men and women; that's clearly not enough troops over there to do more jobs.

GIBSON: Oh, you want more. So more troops.

MEEHAN: Clearly that's not enough to do. The President sent men and women over there without the sufficient armor, without the sufficient troops.

GIBSON: Before we run out of time, what's point two?

MEEHAN: Well, you got to give the troops the tools they need to do the job.

GIBSON: All right. More troops, more body armor, more armored Humvees. What's point three?

MEEHAN: A plan to win the peace, which the President doesn't have.

GIBSON: OK. What's point four?

MEEHAN: We went in alone and he's put us in a spot, because he went in and 90 percent of the troops and 90 percent of the money...

GIBSON: Yes, but Michael, you're giving me criticism, while I'm just asking, "What's Kerry's plan?" Because it sounds to me it's the same as the President's plan? Just that Kerry doesn't like the way the President's doing it.

MEEHAN: Well, when you're in a hole, you've got to stop digging and deal with the reality and the reality is the President's not dealing with the reality in Iraq. He says things are going great over there; better than in our country. That's just flat out wrong.

GIBSON: Well, you don't believe Allawi?

MEEHAN: I don't believe what Bush said today either. We're not on the right track.

GIBSON: You don't believe Allawi?

MEEHAN: Iraq is not on the right track. No, we got a situation where men and women are dying by the days over there.

GIBSON: You don't believe Allawi? The prime minister, you don't believe him?

MEEHAN: I don't believe him that the things are going better in Iraq than in the United States. Absolutely not.

GIBSON: Steve?

SCHMIDT: Well, it's a ridiculous assertion that Michael just made. Fundamentally dishonest...

MEEHAN: The president made it. The president said that today.

SCHMIDT: Let me finish, Michael, please.

MEEHAN: Your boss said it in his own words today.

SCHMIDT: It's like the dishonesty of John Kerry's comments today.

MEEHAN: Your boss said that today.

SCHMIDT: Here's why John Kerry's vacillations matter: because it sends a mixed signal to America's enemies and to America's allies. And the consequences of John Kerry's vacillation is that it makes the world more dangerous and it makes America less safe.

MEEHAN: There's no mixed signal there.

GIBSON: This argument will continue.

I want to thank Steve Schmidt and Michael Meehan. Thanks to both of you. I guess there'll be some more ads, so we'll see you again.

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