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That Number Is 1-800-BUSH-PIX

In his latest Against the Grain commentary,'s Dick Meyer takes the flash out of the Bush Bush Foto Flap.

A perennial part of opining about politics is wondering why people with no shame aren’t ashamed of themselves. Here I go again.

PhotoGate. Republican Party campaign committees are hawking to donors that pony up at least $150 a set of three commemorative pictures of President Bush in action, including one taken on Air Force One on 9/11.

This is a scandal. It is an exploitation of 9/11 and its victims. It is the political peddling of a national tragedy. One operative who just happens to be a Democrat says it’s downright “sacrilegious.”

Spare me.

It may have been ham-handed. Perhaps it was crass. Certainly it was undignified, but then so is the entire campaign money-raising process. But you’d have to be riding a very high horse to call it insensitive.

What is truly insufferable here is the loud, sanctimonious kvetching of certain ethically compromised Democrats.

Low-grade tackiness leaves a bad taste in the mouth, yes. But full-blown hypocrisy is nauseating.

And Al Gore proved to be just the man for the job.

“While most pictures are worth a thousand words,” Mr. Gore said, “a photo that seeks to capitalize on one of the most tragic moments in our nation’s history is worth only one – disgraceful.”

This from Mr. Buddhist Temple, Dial-For-Dollars? Gag me with a controlling legal authority.

It’s fine and dandy for Gore to chime in on issues like the environment, where he has both credibility and expertise. The unseemly fundraising techniques of Presidents and Vice Presidents, however, are topics he’d best avoid. (And would he have bothered to comment if he weren’t plotting his return?)

It gets worse, courtesy of Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe. He said using the photo of President Bush on the phone from Air Force One on 9/11 was “nothing short of grotesque” (a word that happened to be Newt Gingrich’s favorite insult).

This from the man who allegedly hatched the plan to turn the Lincoln Bedroom into a time-share and White House parlors into a state Starbucks for endless fundraising coffees? Gag me with a soft-money bundle.

Who is going to weigh in next? Webb Hubbell?

The blatant dishonesty of the accusers here is all the more galling because President Bush has been relatively restrained and dignified when it comes to harvesting low-grade political grain from 9/11.

Can you imagine how many funerals and memorial services Bill Clinton would have shown up at last fall? The Dick Morris campaign ads would have been on the air before Santa was out of the chimney.

Yes, Bush has capitalized on the popularity his handling of the war on terrorism brought him. That’s called leadership, otherwise known as governing. Every president in American history has used the symbols and status of being commander-in-chief to sway Congress, Cabinets, allies and voters. It is practically impossible for a wartime president not to do so, even for a war-on-terrorism-time president.

The bone I would pick with this crowd is that they are extraordinarily quick to accuse their policy foes of being unpatriotic. And they are good it; they’ve stifled a lot of criticism.

I don’t know if this comes from the President or his immediate brain trust. But some of his minions have ruthlessly played the “criticism is treason” card, especially John Ashcroft, Tom Delay and Trent Lott. Because of that, we haven’t had the smart debates on a number of topics that we should have – on possible national lapses prior to 9/11, on Ashcroft’s Patriot Act, on Iraq, on funding the entire project.

The Democrats have been bullied into meek silence on the big issues and squawk loudly about the petty ones.

Dick Meyer, a veteran political and investigative producer for CBS News, is Editorial Director of based in Washington.

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Against the Grain

By Dick Meyer

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