. . . Tuesday October 5, 2004

Global (Crash) Test Dummies

A few words about the much ballyhooed twisting of John Kerry’s statement about the need to pass a global test; what it means for the election so far and how it can mean a lot more if John Edwards hits the issue hard on Tuesday night.

It’s difficult to miss, but just in case you did, here is W’s twist on what Kerry said:

He said that America has to pass a global test before we can use American troops to defend ourselves. That’s what he said. Think about this. Sen. Kerry’s approach to foreign policy would give foreign governments veto power over our national security decisions. I have a different view. When our country is in danger, the president’s job is not to take an international poll. The president’s job is to defend America. I’ll continue to work every day with our friends and allies for the sake of freedom and peace. But our national security decisions will be made in the Oval Office, not in foreign capitals.

(I’m sure he meant no offense to Jim Baker who visited 18 foreign capitals during a 5 month period prior to Gulf War I.)

Amazingly, Bush thinks that by latching onto a single phrase (Global Test) and twisting its meaning, he can change the meaning of what was heard by tens of millions of viewers. It would be like trying to convince Americans that Rachel and Ross never got back together in the finale of Friends.

For those among the shrinking number of people susceptible to such trickery, here is what Kerry actually 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, Jim, you’ve got to do 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.

Wait. Kerry is arguing for wars that are understood by Americans and seen as legitimate by the world. The wimp. Is he running for president or the Barbara Streisand role in Yentl 2?

There are two interesting trends that we’ve seen unroll since the President began his false attack on the global test. They represent a change in this election. But this issue can be exploited to an even greater extent.

The trends so far:

First, much of the media is starting to include Kerry’s actual statements (this one was so readily available after all) along with the Bush recreations. That’s bad news for Bush. It ruins the fun. This is one case where the folks doing the makeover don’t want you to see the before picture.

Second, Kerry himself is fighting back in a timely manner. This week, Kerry explained: “It’s almost sad; it’s certainly pathetic, because all they can do is grab a little phrase and try to play a game and scare Americans. They’re misleading Americans about what I said. What I said in the sentence preceding that was, ‘I will never cede America’s security to any institution or any other country.’ No one gets a veto over our security. No one.”

Wait. Cede? That’s French isn’t it?

These trends are a major step in the right direction. I’d like to see John Edwards go one step further on Tuesday night (and you can bet Cheney will use the phrase).

Edwards should lay out for viewers exactly how Cheney and Bush have twisted Kerry’s words. But he should do more. He should also point out that this is a constant strategy employed the Bush team. He should warn viewers that in the next day or two after his debate with Cheney, they will likely be hearing twisted versions of what he is saying to them at that moment. And they should watch out for that strategy and trust their own eyes and ears.

I still think the Kerry/Edwards campaign should adopt the slogan:

The American People are Smarter than That.

Or in this case, we don’t want to be treated like global (crash) test dummies.

I really believe that this outing of the transparent Bush strategy will put the final nail in its effectiveness. And its effectiveness is at the core of the Bush campaign.

See, today, even with the obvious distortions, the issue is still basically framed around questions related to Kerry’s strength. He is forced to defend (even if he is doing so more strongly) a position of his that should never have required defending in the first place. The same could of course be said for his service in Vietnam and several other issues.

This frame finally has cracks. By talking openly about not only W’s distortions but also about his broad strategy of distortions, the frame gets ground into sawdust.

Suddenly, there will be a new frame. When Bush tries to use the tactic, people’s first response will be, “Hmm, I wonder if he’s doing it again.” He’ll be on the defensive. And every negative ad aimed at Kerry will be turned into a confirmation that these guys are trying to dupe the American people.

Concentration is important!