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The NYT Editorial today slaps Darth Cheney on his implication that if BC04 isn’t re-elected, we’re all going to die.

here are some things a presidential campaign should steer clear of, through innate good taste, prudence or just a sensible fear of a voter backlash. We’d have thought that both the Kerry and Bush camps would instinctively know that it would be appalling to suggest that terrorists were rooting for one side or another in this race. But Vice President Dick Cheney seemed to breach that unspoken barrier this week in Des Moines. If John Kerry was elected president, Mr. Cheney warned the crowd, “the danger is that we’ll get hit again.” In a long, rather rambling statement, he said the United States might then fall back into a “pre-9/11 mind-set” that “these terrorist attacks are just criminal acts.”

At the very best, Mr. Cheney was speaking loosely and carelessly about the area in this campaign that deserves the most careful and serious discussion. It sounds to us more likely that he stepped across a line that the Bush campaign team had flirted with throughout its convention, telling his audience that re-electing the president would be the only way to stay safe from another attack.

There is a danger that we’ll be hit again no matter who is elected president this November, as President Bush himself has said on many occasions. The danger might be a bit less if the current administration had chosen to spend less on tax cuts for the wealthy and more on protecting our ports, securing nuclear materials in Russia and establishing an enforceable immigration policy that would keep better track of people who enter the country from abroad.

Immigration and homeland security strategies are policy fights, fair game for a political campaign. What’s totally unacceptable is to tell the American people that the mere act of voting for your opponent opens the door to a terrorist attack. For Mr. Cheney to suggest that is flat wrong. There was a time in this country when elected officials knew how to separate the position from the person. The American people, we’re sure, would like to return to it.

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Maureen Dowd didn’t hold back either:

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have always used the president’s father as a reverse lodestar. In 1992, the senior Mr. Bush wooed the voters with “Message: I care.” So this week, Mr. Cheney wooed the voters with, Message: You die.

The terrible beauty of its simplicity grows on you. It is a sign of the dark, macho, paranoid vice president’s restraint that he didn’t really take it to its emotionally satisfying conclusion: Message: Vote for us or we’ll kill you.

Without Zell Miller around to out-crazy him, and unplugged after a convention that tried to “humanize” him with grandchildren, horses and wifely anecdotes about his inability to dance the twist, Mr. Cheney is back as Terrifier in Chief.

…The vice president and president did not even mention Osama at the convention because of the inconvenient fact that the fiend is still out there, plotting. Yet they denigrate Mr. Kerry as too weak to battle Osama, and treat him as a greater threat.

Mr. Cheney implies that John Kerry couldn’t protect us from an attack like 9/11, blithely ignoring the fact that he and President Bush didn’t protect us from the real 9/11. Think of what brass-knuckled Republicans could have made of a 9/11 tape of an uncertain Democratic president giving a shaky statement that looked like a hostage tape and flying randomly from air base to air base, as the veep ordered that planes be shot down.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding