The most amazing quote of the 2004 campaign.
Two weeks ago, when President Bush accused John Kerry of subjecting American national security decisions to a "global test," I reviewed Kerry's words and found that Bush had misunderstood them. The test, as Kerry defined it, had two parts. First, it was a test of evidence, not moral opinion. Second, since evidence is a universal standard, Americans were among the people administering the test. In other words, the test was simply the measurement of the president's and vice president's assertions—about weapons of mass destruction, for example, or about the relationship between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida—against reality.
Bush rejected this test. "The president's job is not to take an international poll," he said at the time. "Our national security decisions will be made in the Oval Office, not in foreign capitals." By reserving all decisions for the Oval Office—not for the American public—and by dismissing demands for evidence as an "international poll," Bush was refusing to measure his claims and decisions against the truth. Or so I argued.
I don't have to argue the point anymore, because last night, Bush confirmed it. Here's what he said at a rally in Oregon, according to a White House transcript:
Once again, last night, with a straight face, the senator said—well, shall we say, refined his answer on his proposed global test. That's the test he would administer before defending America. After trying to say it really wasn't a test at all, last night he once again defended his approach, saying, I think it makes sense. (Laughter.) The senator now says we'd have to pass some international truth standard. The truth is we should never turn America's national security decisions over to international bodies or leaders of other countries. (Applause.)
You heard that right. The president explicitly refuses "to pass some international truth standard." Because evidence is the fundamental test applied in France as well as in the United States, Bush thinks he shouldn't have to back up his claims or decisions with evidence.
He couldn't really be saying that, could he?
Again, let's look at the words to which Bush was responding. In Wednesday's debate, when Bush ridiculed the "global test," Kerry repeated his definition of the test. "I will never turn the security of the United States over to any nation. No nation will ever have a veto over us," said Kerry. "But I think it makes sense—I think most Americans in their guts know—that we ought to pass a sort of truth standard. That's how you gain legitimacy with your own countrypeople, and that's how you gain legitimacy in the world."
This is the second time Kerry has defined the test. Each time, he has made clear that it's a test of evidence, not opinion, and that Americans, "your own countrypeople," are the first people to whom the evidence must be shown.
When Bush replied last night that he refuses to pass this "truth standard," there's really no other way to interpret his position. He's saying that he doesn't have to show you any evidence, because evidence is the sort of thing a Frenchman would ask for.
I know I've been hard on the president lately. I'd like to say something nice about him. I'd like to be "fair and balanced." But my first responsibility as a reporter is to the truth. When one candidate tells half the truth, and the other says the truth doesn't matter, it becomes irresponsible for me or any other journalist not to report that by that standard—the standard of respecting the truth standard—one candidate is head and shoulders above the other.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of George Bush by Rick Wilking/Reuters.