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Handcuffs instead of gold stars for war mom

In World Wars I and II, gold star mothers were the queens of their neighborhoods, the stars in their windows ensuring that they would be treated with great respect for their sacrifice in sending sons overseas to fight and die against the Germans and Japanese.

Instead of a gold star, Sue Niederer, 55, of Hopewell, N.J., got handcuffed, arrested and charged with a crime for daring to challenge the Bush policy in Iraq, where her son, Army First Lt. Seth Dvorin, 24, died in February while attempting to disarm a bomb.

She came to a Laura Bush rally last week at a firehouse in Hamilton, N.J., wearing a T-shirt that blazed with her agony and anger: "President Bush You Killed My Son."

Niederer tried to shout while the first lady was delivering her standard ode to her husband's efforts to fight terrorism. She wanted to know why the Bush twins weren't serving in Iraq "if it's such a justified war," as she put it afterward. The Record of Hackensack, N.J., reported that the mother of the dead soldier was boxed in by Bush supporters yelling "Four more years!" and wielding "Bush/Cheney" signs. Though she eventually left voluntarily, she was charged with trespassing while talking to reporters.

The moment was emblematic of how far the Bushies will go to squelch any voice that presents a view of Iraq that's different from the sunny party line, which they continue to dish out despite a torrent of alarming evidence to the contrary.

Aside from moms who are handcuffed at Bush events, the president is doing very well with women. The so-called security moms, who have replaced soccer moms as a desirable demographic, are now flocking to Bush over Kerry, believing he can better protect their kids from scary terrorists.

In the new New York Times poll, 48 percent of women supported the president, compared with Kerry's 43 percent _ a reversal from July, when Kerry had the women's vote 52 percent to 40 percent.

How did the president who has caused so much insecurity in the world become the hero of security moms? He was, after all, in charge when al-Qaida struck, and he was the one to send off Niederer's son and other kids to die in a war sold on a false premise. And that conflict has, despite what Bush claims, spurred more acts of terror and been a recruiting bonanza for Osama bin Laden.

In the New York Times poll, half of all registered voters said they had a lot of confidence in Bush's ability to protect the nation from another terrorist attack, compared with 26 percent who felt that way about Kerry.

While Bush managed to duck service in Vietnam and let Osama get away, he has been relentless in John Wayne-ing the election and turning war hero John Kerry into a sniveling wimp.

Last week, Kerry finally tried to change the subject from Bush's mockery of Kerry's tortuous stances on Iraq to the awful reality of what's happening in Iraq. He got an assist from the president's own intelligence community, which issued a gloomy report that gave the lie to the administration's continued insistence that Iraq is a desert flower of democracy.

This was followed by a report by Charles A. Duelfer, the top American weapons inspector in Iraq, that found no evidence that Iraq had begun any large-scale program for weapons production by the time of the American invasion last year. To rationalize its idie fixe on Iraq, the administration squandered 15 months, with 1,200 people _ at a time when our scarce supply of Arabic experts should have been focused on the Iraqi insurgency and al-Qaida _ just to figure out that Saddam would have loved to have dangerous weapons if he could have, but he couldn't, so he didn't.

Even with the help of his new Clintonistas, Kerry is nibbling around the edges of the moral case against W(rong) and Dark Cheney. He charged that the president was living in "a fantasy world of spin" on Iraq.

But the Bushies are way beyond spin, which is a staple of politics. These guys are about turning the world upside down, and saying it's right side up. And that should really give security moms the jitters.

Maureen Dowd is a New York Times columnist.

New York Times News Service