POLITICAL AD REVIEW: Bush delivers a poor reading

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It's just a little thing, but it is the first thing -- the very first thing George W. Bush utters in his official advertising campaign for the presidency.

"Seven of 10 fourth graders in our highest-poverty schools cannot read a simple children's book," he begins, and fair enough. It's a shocking statistic. But the really shocking thing is that Bush himself can't read it -- or, at least, not correctly.

He puts the emphasis on the word "poverty" instead of on "schools." So it sounds as if he's speaking of some strange institution called Poverty Schools.

After a moment you figure out what he's talking about, but you can't miss the gaffe. And given how the mistake dovetails with his reputation as an imbecile, it's hard to imagine how his Maverick Media ad team let the thing out the door, much less open the campaign with it.

What follows is a summary of the Texas governor's plans for public schools: "The Bush Education Agenda," says the voice-over. "Reform Head Start. Focus on reading. Restore local control. Triple funding for character education. Hold schools accountable for results."

Who's to quibble much with that? There doesn't seem to be a big anti-education constituency he's taking on. This is something like coming out in favor of gall bladders. What's more interesting -- is that on the heels of the issues-intensive Democratic convention -- the GOP immediately undercuts the Dems' "seriousness" positioning by trotting out specific proposals of their own.

It's also worth observing that the nominee's father, George H.W. Bush, 12 years ago resolved to be the "education president." If anyone remembers that, he'd be forgiven for wondering whose mess Dubya is vowing to clean up.

Still, amid peace and prosperity, Gov. Bush will have a hard time finding things to find fault with, and this issue mines a deep vein of frustration.

"Now is the time to teach all our children to read and renew the promise of America's public schools," he declares, again putting the odd emphasis on the word "public."

As opposed, we suppose, to Poverty Schools.

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