WASHINGTON - Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy on Monday accused President Bush of having created at home and abroad "the largest credibility gap" since the Watergate scandal drove Richard Nixon from the White House 30 years ago.
Kennedy, a key backer of fellow Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry's campaign for the party's presidential nomination, also charged Iraq has become "George Bush's Vietnam," the war that divided the United States and helped force Lyndon Johnson from the presidency.
In addition, Kennedy said, Iraq has "diverted attention from the administration's deceptions here at home -- especially on the economy, health care and education."
In delivering perhaps his harshest assessment yet of Bush, Kennedy described the Republican president as someone who cannot be trusted on a host of fronts.
Kennedy, the leading liberal on Capitol Hill, renewed his charge that the administration had misled the American people and Congress into the Iraq war, straining relations with allies worldwide.
He also accused the administration of having knowingly sold an unsound tax-cutting economic plan that resulted in the loss of millions of jobs, a faulty Medicare prescription drug law that will cost far more than it acknowledged when the measure won final congressional passage late last year and an education program that Kennedy said Bush has refused to adequately fund.
"Sadly, this administration has failed to live up to basic standards of open and candid debate," Kennedy said in a speech at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.
"They repeatedly invent 'facts' to support their preconceived agenda -- facts which administration officials knew or should have known were not true," Kennedy said.
The senator said, "As a result, this president has now created the largest credibility gap since Richard Nixon," who was forced to resign as president in 1974 as a result of the Watergate scandal that exposed abuses of power.
In challenging Bush's credibility, Kennedy repeated a central them of Kerry's own attacks on the incumbent.
Just months ago, Kennedy helped pump new life into Kerry's then sputtering campaign for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. Kennedy has since remained a force in Kerry's bid to unseat Bush in the November elections.
Kennedy went after the Bush administration for pushing what he called misleading policies, as well as for attacking critics of those policies.
"Iraq. Jobs. Medicare. Schools," Kennedy said. "Issue after issue. Mislead. Deceive. Make up the needed facts. Smear the character of any critic."
"It is undermining our national security, undermining our economy, undermining our health care ... undermining our very democracy," Kennedy said. "We need change. November can't come soon enough."
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