Democrats Force Bush onto Offense; White House Rips 'Gutter Politics'

Article excerpt

Byline: James G. Lakely, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The White House has begun to aggressively fight back against Democratic criticism of the war in Iraq, President Bush's service in the Air National Guard during the Vietnam War and his economic record - after passively enduring political shots for weeks.

A source close to the White House said the attacks by Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and his surrogates have changed - at least temporarily - the president's plan to stay entirely above the political fray.

"They got dragged into it this week against their own choosing," the source said, adding that Mr. Bush will continue to contrast his conduct in the war on terror with the record of Mr. Kerry.

"We have a president talking about the major threats of the day, as opposed to a candidate dredging up things from 30 years ago," he said.

Mr. Bush's willingness to fight has heartened his supporters, who worried that Mr. Bush would wait too long to retaliate against the Democrats - a tactic many think cost his father the election in 1992.

At yesterday's daily press briefing, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan accused Mr. Kerry's supporters of engaging in "gutter politics" by questioning whether Mr. Bush fulfilled his duties to the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.

"You know, I think that you expect the garbage can to be thrown at you in the eleventh hour of a campaign, but not nine months before Election Day," Mr. McClellan said. "I certainly hope that this level of discourse is not a reflection on what the American people can expect from the Democratic Party over the duration of the campaign."

Last night, the White House released a copy of a dental evaluation Mr. Bush had in the National Guard in Alabama.

The copy of the dental examination done on Jan. 6, 1973, documents the president serving at Dannelly Air National Guard Base, which is south of Montgomery, Ala., Mr. McClellan said in a statement.

The White House obtained the dental record, along with other medical records it did not release, from the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Denver, Mr. …