Sun, Mar 14, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Bush courts the bigot vote with anti-Arab ads

THE GUARDIAN , WASHINGTON

The re-election campaign of President George Bush provoked a new controversy yesterday Friday, with a television ad campaign using a picture of an olive-skinned man to illustrate terrorism.

As a voiceover warns that Bush's presumptive opponent, John Kerry, is soft on terrorists, a split-screen shows people at an airport, and a young man with flickering eyes who turns menacingly towards the camera.

The ads are the most aggressive so far -- targeting John Kerry by name. Arab Americans said the campaign played on racism and fear, and could inflict further damage on a community marginalized after September 11.

"When they turn around and say John Kerry would be soft on terror, they don't use a picture of Osama bin Laden. They use a young good-looking, Middle-Eastern male turning around looking furtively," said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, which called on the Republicans to change the ads.

Amid the furore, there were suggestions yesterday that Bush's strategists are seeking such controversies to shore up Christian Right support.

Although the first round of the campaign ads last week were criticized for images of flag-draped coffins at the charred shell of the World Trade Centre, such imagery has played well to Bush's core supporters.

Meanwhile, Bush has been assiduous in courting the party right. On Thursday, he addressed an evangelical Christian convention, putting himself firmly in their camp by reiterating his opposition to stem cell research, abortion and same sex marriage.

In preying on bigotry, Republicans may have calculated there was little need to court the Arab American vote. A poll yesterday put Bush's approval rating at just 32 percent among Arab communities living in swing states.

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