President Bush unwittingly provided an appropriate response to the gruesome terrorist attacks on London.

Highlighting the “vivid” contrast between the Group of Eight summit in Gleneagles, Scotland — where the world’s most powerful leaders have been forced by grassroots pressure to address issues of global poverty and climate change — and the carnage in London after coordinated bomb blasts killed dozens of commuters Thursday morning, Bush said, “On the one hand, we got people here who are working to alleviate poverty and to help rid the world of the pandemic of AIDS and that are working on ways to have a clean environment. And on the other hand, you’ve got people killing innocent people. And the contrast couldn’t be clearer between the intentions and the hearts of those of us who care deeply about human rights and human liberty, and those who kill, those who’ve got such evil in their heart that they will take the lives of innocent folks.”

Bush went on to promise that, “we will spread an ideology of hope and compassion that will overwhelm their ideology of hate.”

Imagine the cries of outrage and incomprehension that would have arisen from right-wing talk radio and television pundits if a President Al Gore or a President John Kerry had called, in the immediate aftermath of an attack linked to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network, for spreading an “ideology of hope and compassion” as part of the response to terrorism.

Imagine if a President Gore or a Kerry had spoken, as Bush did, of bringing those responsible for the attacks “to justice” rather than pledging to “hunt them down and kill them.”

Imagine if a President Gore or Kerry had failed to make any mention of the invasion and occupation of Iraq — supposedly a critical front in the “war on terror” — at such a moment.

Bush’s amen corner in the media is, of course, packed with hypocrites who hear echoes of Churchill in the president’s every utterance, just as they detect the language of treason in the mere mention of alternative approaches to fighting terrorism.

But the failings of his followers ought not obscure the fact that the president’s response — intentionally or otherwise –went to the issues that should be addressed.

Bush expressed his “heartfelt condolences,” he called for bringing the killers to justice. And then he spoke — in the context of a broader discussion about alleviating poverty, disease and environmental decay — about combating terrorism with “hope and compassion.” In the end, it will only be when hope and compassion are delivered to the world’s most dispossessed peoples — through debt reduction, aid and measures that combat the spread of easily treated diseases — that those who preach violence as a response to inequity and injustice will be sufficiently marginalized to make it possible to talk of “winning” a war on terrorism.

Is it possible that the president is beginning to accept this reality? Could he be coming to realize that the challenges posed by international terrorism cannot be met merely with cowboy rhetoric and bombs?

Surely, the painful recognition that, almost four years after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, al-Qaeda is apparently still capable of pulling off coordinated, and extremely deadly, attacks in one of the most security-savvy cities on the planet ought to cause Bush to rethink his misguided response to what he describes as the great challenge of his presidency.

Unfortunately, Bush has shown little capacity for growth in his knowledge or understanding of world affairs. So it is wise to remain skeptical about how far he plans to take his “hope and compassion” response.

That said, we ought to hold the man to his words — and to remind the president’s amen corner that it was not Ted Kennedy or Nancy Pelosi who responded to the news of a terrorist attack with a discussion about alleviating poverty and ridding the world of disease. It was George W. Bush. And, at least in that moment, he was right.