Bush's deceptive new ad.

Military analysis.
Oct. 22 2004 6:25 PM

When Is a Cut Not a Cut?

When it's a con. Bush's deceptive new ad.

Have you seen George W. Bush's latest campaign ad—the one with the wolves? A shaky hand-held camera moves through a forest at twilight. Suddenly a wolf darts across the screen, then another, until finally we see a whole pack of wolves, rising from their slumber to come get us. Over a soundtrack of rustling leaves and spooky music, the narrator—a breathy woman—says:

In an increasingly dangerous world, even after the first terrorist attack on America, John Kerry and the liberals in Congress voted to slash America's intelligence operations. By $6 billion. Cuts so deep, they would have weakened America's defenses. And weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm.


The key phrase here is "after the first terrorist attack on America." At first viewing, I took this as a reference to the aftermath of 9/11. (Millions of other viewers probably did, too; no doubt the scriptwriters meant us to make the connection.) This puzzled me, because nobody proposed cutting intelligence after 9/11. On second viewing, though, I realized that the phrase was a veiled reference to the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.

Once this is clarified, the rest becomes plain. The Bush campaign appears to be repeating a falsehood that the Republican National Committee first propagated last March. We've been through this before, but now, with the "Wolves" ad, it's worth reciting again.

In 1995, several legislators, among them Sen. Kerry, did introduce amendments to cut the intelligence budget by $1 billion to $1.5 billion, which, spread out over several years, could have added up to $6 billion.

But these were not cuts in the sense that the term is usually understood. Certainly none of the amendments would have resulted in a cut—much less a "slash"—in "America's intelligence operations," as the ad puts it.

Here's the background: In the early-to-mid '90s, the National Reconnaissance Office—the branch of the U.S. intelligence community that controls spy satellites—had come under investigation for serious financial malfeasance. The probe found vast waste, extravagance, and hoarding. In one instance, the NRO canceled the launching of a highly expensive spy satellite, didn't tell Congress (or any federal agency) about it, and kept the money.

So, Congress voted to cut the budget—not to curtail intelligence operations, but simply to retrieve money that was never spent. As I put it at the time, "[I]t's as if Kerry had once filed for a personal tax refund—and Bush accused him of raiding the Treasury."

Another distortion in the "Wolves" ad: It wasn't just "the liberals in Congress" who voted for this refund. The sponsor of the Senate amendment that passed—and it passed without controversy—was Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania.

Now, it may be that the ad is referring to a slightly different amendment, an omnibus deficit-reduction bill that Sen. Kerry proposed in 1994. It would have imposed cuts across several federal agencies, including a $1 billion cut—for that year and each of the following five years—in the intelligence budget. Kerry didn't link these cuts to specific programs, though the NRO scandal was emerging, and it was widely known that waste and inefficiency pervaded intelligence programs, especially in the high-tech sectors. The amendment didn't pass, mainly because omnibus budget cuts of all sorts rarely pass.


Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company


The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.


How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

Scotland Is Inspiring Secessionists Across America

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Sept. 18 2014 10:42 AM Scalia’s Liberal Streak The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
Sept. 18 2014 11:25 AM Gays on TV: From National Freakout to Modern Family Fun
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 12:03 PM The NFL Opines on “the Role of the Female”
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 11:48 AM Watch the Hilarious First Sketch From Season 4 of Key & Peele
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 10:07 AM “The Day It All Ended” A short story from Hieroglyph, a new science fiction anthology.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 18 2014 7:30 AM Red and Green Ghosts Haunt the Stormy Night
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.