There was a Presidential debate tonight. Given that fact, I want to bring forth one of the most morally outrageous events from the last election, so that you will be ready to react if we see examples of it in this election.
In one of his debates against President Bush, Democratic candidate John Kerry said
No president, through all of American history, has ever ceded, and nor would I, the right to preempt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America. But if and when you do it . . . you’ve got to do it in a way that passes the test, that passes the global test, where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you’re doing what you’re doing and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons.
President Bush and his campaign twisted Kerry's remarks as follows:
According to the Washington Post report
Kerry "said something revealing when he laid out the Kerry Doctrine," Bush said . . . . "He said that America has to pass a global test before we can use American troops to defend ourselves . . . . Senator Kerry's approach to foreign policy would give foreign governments veto power over our national security decisions.
See, Washington Post, Bush Says Kerry Will Allow Foreign Vetoes
This was a flat out lie – a complete misrepresentation of what Kerry had said. Kerry said that we America had to pass a moral test before it used its troops to defend itself – a test that required having legitimate reasons to engage in such an action.
It is the same test that is mentioned in the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence, though that test was applied to revolution rather than self defense. The Declaration of Independents starts out by saying,
W hen in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
The Declaration of Independence then goes on to list to those reasons.
In just the same way in which John Kerry said that we must be able to demonstrate that our reasons for attacking another country are legitimate, the Declaration of Independence states that we have an obligation to mankind to be able to demonstrate that our revolution was legitimate. And so Jefferson then went on to demonstrate that legitimacy by means of rational argument.
If Bush were to be consistent in his principles, we would have to imagine him objecting to the suggestion by Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and others at the Constitutional Convention, that they are anti-American because they dare to declare that the United States declare the causes that impel them to this separation – that such an act itself borders n treason.
We get further support for this view from the Federalist Paper #63
"An attention to the judgment of other nations is important to every government for two reasons: the one is, that, independently of the merits of any particular plan or measure, it is desirable, on various accounts, that it should appear to other nations as the offspring of a wise and honorable policy; the second is, that in doubtful cases, particularly where the national councils may be warped by some strong passion or momentary interest, the presumed or known opinion of the impartial world may be the best guide that can be followed. What has not America lost by her want of character with foreign nations; and how many errors and follies would she not have avoided, if the justice and propriety of her measures had, in every instance, been previously tried by the light in which they would probably appear to the unbiased part of mankind?"
But the Bush Campaign lied. They flat out lied about what Kerry had said, and they lied for the purpose of spinning the election in their favor.
Whenever we reward people who behave in this way, we teach future generations to behave the same way. The Bush Administration not only used these tactics against McCain in 2000. They worked then, and they tried them again in 2004. They worked then, and so McCain has learned this lesson, and has tried to use these same type of tactics in 2008.
Fortunately (and quite remarkably) McCain took a significant hit for his attempt to use these types of tactics after the conventions. His advertisement that Obama sought to teach sex to young children (when, in fact, Obama sought to have schools teach children how to be aware of sexual predators), and that Obama called Sarah Palin a pig (when Obama called McCain’s economic policy a pig) were examples of these types of tactics that met a harsh response.
There is only one way to put an end to these types of tactics. That is to make sure they fail.
There are some who will tell us that these tactics are doomed to failure. They say that we do need to do anything, because the people hate those who put out these types of advertisements and are naturally attracted to truth.
History tells us that those people are not living in the real world. In the real world, negative campaigns (lies) such as these work very well. They will continue to work very well unless and until we take steps to put an end to the fact that they work. They will continue to work until we make a decision to target those who use these tactics and resolve that we will cause their failure.
Their success or failure is in our hands. If we respond with praise and reward, we strengthen the traits that are responsible for these types of deceptions. If we respond with condemnation and punishment (at least punishment in the form of denying such people our political contributions, our volunteer labor, and our endorsement to our friends and neighbors) then we have a chance of putting this type of behavior to an end.
The speed and the volume with which people respond to distortions and lies that come out of a debate, the less effective those tactics will be.
So, please, stand ready The instant that you hear an outrageous interpretation of comments made during the debate. Help to put an end to these types of campaign tactics.