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Running on Bush Time

One advantage an incumbent president enjoys in an election year is being in a far stronger position than his competitor to control the timing of news.

At the beginning of last week, John Kerry was briefly able to best that advantage. Coming off of a largely newsless holiday weekend, he created a splash by announcing his running mate, John Edwards. But just days later, the administration was back on top, with the indictment of former Enron chief, Kenneth Lay, on charges from fraud to making false statements.

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Mr. Kerry accused the Bush administration of waiting too long for the indictment. "Values are putting the full force of the Justice Department on Day 1 in an effort not to take three years and a few months before an election before you bring Ken Lay to justice."

That was a cheap shot. If anything, the administration should be congratulated for casting one of the largest prosecution nets in modern corporate history. Since its creation two years ago, the Corporate Fraud Task Force has investigated nationwide, and the Securities and Exchange Commission has made a dozen companies pay settlements of $50 million or more.

And it hasn't just been the little fish who've been caught. Former chief executives of Adelphia, ImClone Systems, Martha Stewart Living, and Rite Aid were convicted. Their counterparts at WorldCom, HealthSouth, Tyco International, and Westar Energy were indicted. For a scandal as massive as Enron (31 people have been ensnared), it's perhaps not surprising it took this long to build a case against the No. 1.

Questions about timing might be more appropriately applied to last week's terrorism warning from Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. At a well-publicized press conference, he warned Al Qaeda was planning a major attack in the US to disrupt the elections.

Yet domestic and foreign terrorism experts found nothing new in his warning. Indeed, the secretary did not see the need to raise the national threat level, and said the government had no specific intelligence relating to the most immediate political events - this summer's conventions.

Polls show Mr. Bush on firmest ground when he's talking about the war on terrorism. It would be a disservice to the nation if warnings such as last week's were even marginally politically motivated.


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