A firestorm raced through the presidential campaigns last week over the use of ground zero images in televised ads to re-elect George Bush.
The ads feature World Trade Center ruins and firefighters removing a victim's flag-draped remains. Some of the 9/11 families and a firefighters union condemned the ads as exploiting a tragedy for political gain.
The president refuses to alter or drop the ads, arguing that the way the administration handled that day, and the war on terror, is "worthy of discussion." He is right, but he should proceed with caution.
From the American Revolution to Vietnam, wars have defined presidents - for good or bad. As an issue requiring voter judgment, the war on terror is no different. The inclusion of 9/11 in Bush campaign ads is just as legitimate as, say, tax cuts. Both are signature aspects of his term, building a record on which to run, or stumble.
Taste is an individual matter, but considering how gruesome the media can get with war imagery, the ads appear to pass the test of appropriateness. As for political exploitation, it's difficult to see how these ads differ from Democratic candidate John Kerry's emphasis on Vietnam.
But here's a cautionary note. A senior Bush political strategist was recently quoted as saying the president "owns" 9/11. He does not "own" this event; the country does. The remark hints at the kind of arrogance that so often creeps into a presidency, and it bears watching as the campaign progresses, especially at the GOP convention in New York City.
A double standard also seems to be at work here. The president approves the image of the ceremonial removal of a ground zero victim, but does not allow the media to film the arrival ceremonies of soldiers killed in Iraq as they are returned to the US. That speaks to a side of the war also "worthy of discussion." What might Mr. Kerry do with such footage?