Enemies of the States
If you're against Bush, you're against America.
If you oppose George Bush's policies, or if you're supported by anybody who opposes George Bush's policies, you're anti-American.
That was the message of the 1988 presidential campaign of George H.W. Bush, who suggested that his opponent from Massachusetts was against the Pledge of Allegiance. Now it's his son's campaign message, too.
Facts don't matter when you run on this theme. In June 1988, George H.W. Bush said of Michael Dukakis, "I'll never understand, when it came to his desk, why he vetoed a bill that called for the Pledge of Allegiance to be said in the schools of Massachusetts. I'll never understand it. We are one nation under God. Our kids should say the Pledge of Allegiance."
The bill Dukakis vetoed didn't "call for" the pledge to be said. It imposed criminal penalties on teachers who failed to start the day by leading students in the pledge. The Massachusetts Supreme Court told Dukakis it was unconstitutional. But never mind. According to Bush, Dukakis was against saying the pledge and being one nation under God.
History repeats itself. Last week, George W. Bush aired a TV ad in which the following charges appeared on the screen for nine seconds: "John Kerry's Plan: Weaken Fight Against Terrorists"; "John Kerry's Plan: Delay Defending America."
What was Bush's evidence for the first charge? His campaign cited four Kerry quotes. In the first, Kerry called for "replacing the Patriot Act with a new law that protects our people and our liberties at the same time." In the second, Kerry called for "provisions to guarantee that there is not this blind spot in the American justice system that there is today under the Patriot Act." In the third, Kerry said, "I voted for the USA Patriot Act in the Senate right after 9/11 to advance our security at home, but I am concerned that Attorney General John Ashcroft's Justice Department is abusing the powers conferred on it by that act." In the fourth, Kerry said, "We are a nation of laws and liberties, not of a knock in the night."
Among those four statements, I count zero in favor of weakening the fight against terrorists and two in favor of protecting American security. But never mind. According to Bush, "Kerry's Plan" is "Weaken Fight Against Terrorists."
What was Bush's evidence for the second charge? His campaign cited eight quotes, of which four expressed a position. In the first, Kerry said Bush should "take the time, for a period of time, to continue to build [support]" for using force against Iraq. In the second, Kerry said he would have "exhausted the available remedies with the French and the Russians." In the third, Kerry speculated that if Bush had built up U.S. troops around Iraq more gradually, "It might have allowed you to use the United Nations process to really build consent." In the fourth, Kerry said, "You have to try to build the multilateral effort, even if it fails."
Among those four statements, I count four in favor of delaying the use of force in Iraq, zero against ultimately using force in Iraq, zero in favor of making the use of force contingent on U.N. approval, and zero in favor of delaying the defense of America. We now know that contrary to what Bush told us, Iraq had no WMD programs capable of threatening America. But never mind. According to Bush, "Kerry's Plan" is "Delay Defending America."
On Wednesday, Dick Cheney, who was defense secretary under George H.W. Bush and is now vice president under George W. Bush, denounced Kerry for saying at a March 8 fund-raiser, "I've met more leaders who can't go out and say it all publicly, but boy, they look at you and say, 'You've got to win this, you've got to beat this guy, we need a new policy,' things like that." Kerry's comment was stupid and off-message. Cheney's was not. In a scripted, 150-word rebuttal, Cheney used the phrase "foreigners" or "foreign leaders"—which he knew Kerry had never used—five times. Cheney mocked the "unnamed foreigners he's [Kerry] been spending time with" and demanded, "We have a right to know what he is saying to foreign leaders that makes them so supportive of his candidacy."
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of Dick Cheney by Jim Ruymen/Reuters.