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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

A Premature Attack

Pro-Bush group's ad faults Democrats for criticisms they haven't yet made, about a Supreme Court nominee who hasn't been named, to a vacancy that doesn't yet exist.


A pro-Bush group fired the opening salvo – they call it “a warning shot” – in what threatens to become a multi-million dollar advertising and public relations campaign over a possible Bush appointment to the Supreme Court. The ad predicts “Democrats will attack anyone the President nominates,” saying that ” a Supreme Court nominee deserves real consideration, instead of instant attacks.”

But this ad itself is an attack that goes beyond “instant” – it was launched without waiting for Bush to name a replacement for the ailing Justice William Rehnquist, or even for Rehnquist to say publicly whether or not he will retire as he is reported to be considering. And whether or not Democrats will criticize “anyone” Bush names can’t be known for sure at this point – it may or may not turn out to be true.

To support its case, the ad cites editorial blurbs from Republican newspapers criticizing Democrats over their treatment of Supreme Court nominees in the past. But the ad fails to note that the blurbs were about the Robert Bork nomination fight that happened nearly 18 years ago.


The Republican group Progress for America released the television ad “Get Ready” on June 22. In a news release, the group reports that the ad will run through July 1 as part of a $700,000 effort to “warn opinion leaders in Washington, DC and beyond that some Democrats will soon unleash a fury of dishonest and ugly attacks about any Justice that President Bush nominates to the Supreme Court should a vacancy occur.”

 Progress for America Ad: “Get Ready”

(On screen: Howard Dean)

Announcer: Republicans “…never made an honest living in their lives.”

(On screen: Democratic Leader Harry Reid)

Announcer: President Bush is “…a loser,” a “…liar.”

So you know what the liberals will say about any Supreme Court nominees.

(On screen: Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush)

When past presidents named Supreme Court nominations, some Democrats instantly attacked. Newspapers called some of these liberal attacks a “smear,” “dishonest,” “ugly.”

Democrats will attack anyone the President nominates. But a Supreme Court nominee deserves real consideration, instead of instant attacks.

The group will air the television ad nationally on CNN and the Fox News Channel. In the Washington, D.C. area, the group plans to air the spot on MSNBC, CNBC, a number of Sunday morning political talk shows like NBC’s “Meet the Press,” and a local news channel. The group will sponsor banner ads linking to its www.UpOrDownVote.org site on the Web sites of several newspapers, including The New York Times and Washington Post, and blogs, including the Drudge Report and Instapundit.

What They Said

The ad begins by recounting some controversial statements from a pair of prominent Democrats. The quotes are accurate and only slightly out of context.

Howard Dean is pictured while a narrator says, “Republicans ‘never made an honest living in their lives.'”

Dean’s actual comments referred to “a lot of” Republicans and not, as the ad implies, all Republicans. Dean was speaking to the Campaign for America’s Future about election reform, arguing that long waits at the polls might discourage voters who can’t take much time away from their jobs:

Howard Dean, June 2: The idea that you have to wait on line for eight hours to cast your ballot in Florida, there’s something the matter with that. You think people can work all day and then pick up their kids at child care or whatever and get home and still manage to sandwich in an eight-hour vote?

Well, Republicans, I guess, can do that because a lot of them never made an honest living in their lives. But for ordinary working people who have to work eight hours a day, they have kids, they’ve got to get home to those kids–the idea of making them stand for eight hours to cast their ballot for democracy is wrong…

That remark was too much even for some fellow Democrats. Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware said June 5 on ABC’s “This Week” that Dean “doesn’t speak for me with that kind of rhetoric, and I don’t think he speaks for the majority of Democrats.” And the party’s 2004 vice presidential candidate, John Edwards, called Dean “a voice” that “I don’t agree with.”

The ad also shows a picture of Senate Minority leader Harry Reid while the announcer quotes him as calling President Bush both a “loser” and a “liar.”

Reid originally called Bush a “liar” in 2002 after a speech that Bush gave about storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, saying, “President Bush is a liar. He betrayed Nevada and the betrayed the country.”

Reid questioned Bush’s truthfulness again in late April of 2005 in the midst of the battle over judicial filibusters in the Senate. In a press release, Reid said:

Harry Reid, April 5: Last week, I met with the president and was encouraged when he told me he would not become involved in Republican efforts to break the Senate rules. Now, it appears he was not being honest, and that the White House is encouraging this raw abuse of power.

Reid made another personal attack on Bush at Del Sol High School in Nevada on May 6, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

Reid, May 6: The man’s father is a wonderful human being. I think this guy is a loser.

Later, in an interview with Rolling Stone from June 2, Reid confirmed that he had called Bush both a “liar” and a “loser”:

Q: You’ve called Bush a loser.

Reid: And a liar.

Q: You’ve apologized for the loser comment.

Reid: But never for the liar, have I.

The ad invites viewers to conclude that “the liberals” will make similar comments about a future Bush nominee to the Supreme Court. That, however, may or may not turn out to be the case.

Old Criticisms

The ad then turns to Democratic attacks on nominees of “past Presidents,” while briefly showing images of Ronald Reagan and of Bush’s father: “Some Democrats instantly attacked. Newspapers called some of these liberal attacks a ‘smear,’ ‘dishonest,’ ‘ugly.'” The articles that the ad cites are editorials that ran in September and October of 1987 about then-President Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court.

It is true that the newspaper opinion pieces cited were extremely critical of liberal interest groups who were accusing Bork of being an extremist and a judicial radical. The Chicago Tribune lamented that “the campaign to smear him has become, quite simply, a disgrace.” The Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial page similarly bemoaned that “none of Judge Bork’s friends, including us, could  believe that this dishonest, despicably anti-intellectual campaign could succeed against the nation’s outstanding jurist.” The Chicago Tribune said the Bork fight “has sunk to an ugly level.”

Worth noting, however, is that the Tribune – a newspaper that habitually endorses Republican presidential candidates – also stated that the Bork fight wasn’t the first such “ugly” nomination battle. It observed that Democratic President Jimmy Carter’s nominee to the D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Abner Mikva, “had a hard time with conservatives.”

It has been almost 18 years since the uncommonly contentious and bruising fight over Bork’s nomination. He was rejected by the Senate, then controlled by Democrats, by a vote of 58 to 42. Since Bork’s ill-fated nomination, five other justices have been nominated and confirmed – Anthony Kennedy in 1988, David Souter in 1990, Clarence Thomas in 1991, Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993, and Stephen Breyer in 1994 – under both Republican Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush and Democratic President Bill Clinton.

The ad predicts that “Democrats will attack anyone the president nominates.” Perhaps so. But that is, of course, an opinion. Democrats have criticized Supreme Court nominees in the past, but it remains to be seen whether – when there is actually a vacancy to fill – President Bush will nominate someone who Democrats might at least tolerate.

– by Matthew Barge


Watch Progress for America Ad: “Get Ready”



Howard Dean, Remarks to the Campaign for America’s Future, FDCH Political Transcripts, 2 June 2005.

Greg Pierce, “Inside Politics , Washington Times, 6 June 2005.

Erin Neff, “Political rift could hurt state’s Yucca fight ,” Las Vegas Sun , 5 March 2002.

“Meet the Press,” transcript , 05 December 2004.

Harry Reid, “Bush Goes Back on Word and Encourages Irresponsible Abuse of Power,” press release , 22 April 2005.

Erin Neff, “Del Sol High School Appearance: Reid Calls Bush ‘A Loser,'” Las Vegas Review-Journal, 7 May 2005.

Eric Bates, “The Gunslinger ,” Rolling Stone, 2 June 2005.

“The Disfigured Debate Over Bork,” editorial, Chicago Tribune, 6 September 1987.

“Nuts,” editorial, Wall Street Journal, 8 October 1987.