AUSTIN, Texas -- Living proof that the Democrats haven't gotten any smarter since the last time they ran a candidate for president. Much huffing (and a huffy Democrat is a terrifying sight) over the fact that George W. Bush used images of 9-11 and of the firefighters at Ground Zero to tout his candidacy in his first campaign ad. How crass, said the D's. Exploiting a national tragedy for political purposes -- oh, how tacky.

Dammit, the problem is not that the ad is in bad taste, the problem is that Bush screwed the firefighters in a famous case of his favorite bait-and-switch tactic, and now he has the chutzpah to exploit them anyway and that, my friends, is gall. Bait, switch and then claim credit anyway.

For those of you who have forgotten what happened (apparently including the entire Bush campaign) shortly after the 9-11 attacks, President Bush promised a $3.5 billion aid package to provide equipment and training in dealing with such attacks to local police and fire departments. For over 18 months, no money appeared, and when money finally did appear, it was nowhere near the promised levels (hey, he had to cut those taxes on the richest 1 percent of Americans).

Furthermore, the New York City firefighters who worked Ground Zero were specifically screwed. They were promised $90 million to monitor the long-term health effects of breathing in all that ash for months while they cleaned up. The money was to have been included in the overall post 9-11 aid package for New York City, but it got shifted to another bill that Bush rejected the following August. About half the workers screened before the money ran out suffered from respiratory problems.

Republicans in Congress twice voted down first-responder money. New York's congressional delegation, led by Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton, put up a huge battle before the long-promised $90 million was finally pried out of a reluctant Congress and White House, but the responder money is still not fully funded to this good day.

Despite disingenuous statements put out by the White House ("There's more assistance going to state and local officials than ever before"), Bush is still behind on his initial commitment. You do not have to be an ace Washington reporter to figure this out. Ask your local fire department.

You can see that this is already shaping up as a campaign where the media observe Kerry under a microscope (has he switched to earth-tones yet?) and neglect to point out the obvious facts about Bush's record. Kerry, say the Republicans solemnly, is given to flip-flopping. Kerry is?

Let's just start counting off the top of our heads: George W. Bush was opposed to a commission to investigate how and why 9-11 occurred, but then he changed his mind and backed it. (Political pressure.) He was certainly opposed to a commission to investigate the intelligence failures on Iraq, but then he changed his mind and backed it. (Political pressure.) He now brags, "I went to the U.N. (before invading Iraq)"? Who recalls why he changed his mind about doing that? He originally said he not only did not need to consult the United Nations, he said he did not even have to consult the U.S. Congress.

Anyone remember how Bush, the corporate ethicist of Harken Energy, opposed the Sarbanes-Oxley bill? Sarbanes-Oxley was a mildly reformist piece of legislation deemed slightly necessary in the wake of the staggering accounting scandals that caused the collapse of Enron, Tyco and WorldCom. There seemed to be a new record-bankruptcy every week, but our president didn't think we needed any new laws to prevent such things, my no. When did he change his mind and decide to sign it? After it passed the House of Representatives with one vote against it.

Remember when we weren't gong to negotiate with North Korea? Then we weren't gong to negotiate with North Korea again, but we would "talk" to North Korea, but only in multilateral "talking," until Bush changed his mind yet again and now we're in multilateral negotiations.

Remember when the United Nations was "unnecessary" and "irrelevant," and boy was Bush ever ready to tell them to go jump in the lake? We now think the United Nations is so useful and necessary, we call on it not just for Iraq, but Haiti and other trouble spots, as well.

Remember when we didn't need any civilian or international advice about how to pacify and reconstruct Iraq, our military could do it just fine, thank you?

Remember when "nation-building" was a dirty word?

Boy, that John Kerry, he just flip-flops all the time, doesn't he?

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