“The Global Test”

Posted by Melvin Bray on October 14th, 2004 filed in Home-Training

I thought we were in the clear. After all, it’s been 2 weeks. But then I received this from one of my conservative friends:

Only a conservative! (They’re effective, I must admit.)

This stems, of course, from the assertion made by Sen. John Kerry during the first of only three 2004 Presidential Debates:

“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 have 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.”

In agony, you could hear him reaching . . . reaching . . . for a simple descriptor like “sniff”. The sniff test—“yeah, that’s the ticket!” Everyone would have understood, and no one could have accused him of setting new public policy. But true to form, Sen. Kerry couldn’t find the simplest way to describe the concept known to psychologists and statisticians as “face validity”. He had to make up a whole new way to discuss the matter! In the third and final debate with Pres. Bush, Sen. Kerry almost compounded his difficulties by explaining his global test comments with the statement, “We ought to pass a sort of truth standard.” Not that I disagree with him, but such suggested legislation simply begs for even further explanation.

So John Kerry stuck his foot in his mouth—what’s new? We all know that when he leaves his script he’s likely to stumble and fumble all over himself. It’s not because he’s not an intelligent person, for we know he is. He puts most politicians to shame, I’m sure, when you have the time to sit down and listen to him. There is no doubt Sen. Kerry is extremely bright and well informed, but he is not the cleverest politician on the block. He’s just not that quick-witted fellow—like, let’s say, John McCain.

John McCain is the master of the quick quip, while at the same time coming off as if he’s given some requisite thought to the subject matter at hand. John Kerry is just not that guy. (I can’t think of an instance during his campaign thus far that “quick” would have been aptly used to describe him.) Mind you, there is no shame in being contemplative and deliberate in one’s conversation as opposed to mentally nimble and verbally quick (“Jack be nimble, Jack be quick; Jack [should have] jumped over” the hot button issue that may cause him to lose the election!). In some respects I’m the same way.

I too try to be thoughtful. Often in my thoughtfulness I see so many shades and layers to an issue, and I want to communicate them all. I want to walk people through the same mental process I went through . . . over the course of several days or several weeks of thinking about a thing. Trying to condense that process down into one powerful, moving declaration is, quite frankly, difficult. My wife got all the wit in our family. So I think I understand where John Kerry is coming from, but I digress (as Sen. Kerry is also prone to do).

In the mist of the first 2004 Presidential Debate, out of nowhere John Kerry introduces to American politics the concept of “a global test”. (Now what did he go and do that for! As if we don’t have enough meaningless catch phrases flying around in American politics already!) Sen. Kerry suggests that before the US chooses to act in a preemptive manner—somehow trying to beat the bad guys to the punch without making us the bad guys—that we should weigh the prudence of our actions by whether or not they past “the global test”.

In all fairness I think Sen. Kerry did a decent job of explaining what he meant by providing a context of his “global test” faux pas. Nonetheless, he better be glad he was debating the President that night and not the President’s political strategists, Karen Hughes or Karl Rove or even Vice Pres. Dick Cheney. Either of them would have wiped the floor with him, explanation notwithstanding. All Pres. Bush could muster at the time was a schoolyard mocking which didn’t pack much of a punch.

In the partisan politics of the moment the significance of Sen. Kerry’s suggestion of “a global test” might very easily be overlooked. But not by this political observer, oh no. The moment I heard it my interest was peaked. True to my own pensive nature I immediately began to imagine all the ideas that must have been floating around Sen. Kerry’s mind at that very moment.

For instance, Sen. Kerry may have been thinking about how cleverly the Bush Administration had manipulated its language in making its case for invading Iraq so that their rationale had more to do with how they made their listeners feel as they discussed the war and less to do with evidence of wrong-doing on the part of Saddam Hussein. Listen to the language they used. Saddam Hussein was again and again characterized as a gathering or eminent “threat.” We heard these same descriptors repeated verbatim week after week by every spokesperson of the Bush Administration. The adjective that accompanied the term “threat” seemed to grow more ominous as the weeks passed, but the use of the word “threat” was consistent. As far as I can remember, only persons outside of the Administration would use what they thought to be synonymous terminology, but I don’t recall hearing Powell or Rice or Rumsfeld or Cheney or Bush make more than inadvertent use of another term like—oh, let’s say, “danger”. “Threat” was their descriptor for Saddam Hussein, and they were sticking to it. There was a reason for that, and I’m sure Sen. Kerry (being the thinker that he is) knew it.

Whereas in ordinary conversation the terms “threat” and “danger” mean basically the same thing, in politics the precedent has generally been that “threat” is used to describe an adversary who if given the right circumstances and resources might do us harm, and “danger” is used to describe an enemy who is pursuing the opportunity and resources to do us harm. (We all remember the movie Clear and Present Danger, don’t we?) Thus, by continually reiterating the message, “Saddam Hussein is a threat,” the Administration was able to inflame our emotions without really being factually dishonest. Even now, instead of apologizing for emotionally manipulating the American people, the Bush Administration continues to take the approach that if we can say it enough times we came make it true—no matter what “it” is. I imagine something like this was on Sen. Kerry’s mind when he proposed the need for a “global test”.

Or he may have been considering the monstrous ramifications of our actions in light of the comments of Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at MIT, who declares, “There’s nothing about ‘preemptive war’ in their [the Bush Administration’s] strategy. ‘Preemptive war’ means something. It has a meaning in international law and is on the boarders of legality. ‘Preemptive war’ means the use of military force to counter an eminent, ongoing attack when there is no time for deliberation and no choice of means. That’s ‘preemptive war’. So if planes are flying across the Atlantic to bomb the United States and the US shoots them down that’s ‘preemptive war,’ generally considered legitimate under international law and the UN charter. There’s nothing like that in what they’re talking about. When they say ‘Preemptive War,’ they mean the supreme crime of Nuremberg—namely aggression. And to disguise outright aggression—unprovoked, without pretext, without authority—to disguise that as ‘preemptive war’ is simply grotesque.” But somehow we expected to be supported in our arrogance by the league of nations. Maybe Sen. Kerry couldn’t help but be appalled by this realization when he acknowledged the need for a “global test”.

Or he may have been thinking of the frightening racial and religious implications of the US going after the leader of a sovereign nation whose only commonality with Osama bin Laden was that he was also Arab and Muslim. In one fell swoop, no matter how unintentionally, the Bush Administration had made the War on Terror look like a war on Arabs and/or Orthodox Muslims. Masquerading US aggression toward Iraq as a part of the War on Terror only lends credence to the false claims of bin Laden in the minds of frustrated and frightened followers of Islam. Not to mention the fight back instincts that kick in when anyone of God’s children feels singled out and oppressed. Perhaps Sen. Kerry empathized with the need to reassure Arab and Muslim peoples that our anger for 9/11 was not directed at them but exclusively at the terrorists who perpetrated the acts.

Whatever he may have been pondering at the moment of his “global test” gaffe, though he often takes the extended route getting to it as I have in this essay, Sen. Kerry reminds us of what it means to be a good neighbor in the global community. Not simply because we are the last super power left and don’t want to be perceived as bullies, but also because in many respects we are the creators that global community. The Roosevelts championed the formation of a United Nations. It was our persistence in opening international markets to our country’s businesses that galvanized the cause of economic globalization. Like it or not the US founded the Global Community as we know it today. And the Jewish, Christian or Islamic traditions that inform our sense of right and wrong unequivocally promote that he/she who creates something ought to take responsibility for it. That’s just good home-training.

As I reflect on my own home-training, I am reminded of The Golden Rule. My mother taught me that you should “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Author Stephen Covey taught me what this actually means: one should treat as important that which is important to other people, which will incline them to do the same in return. That’s what it means to be a good neighbor; that’s what having a global test, a standard of truth is all about. If as US citizens we want the privilege of raising our families in peace, if we want to be respected abroad for the freedoms (of religion, of sovereignty, of democracy, of due process, etc.) we cherish, if we desire for the rule of law to become a universally acceptable principle . . . we must forever extend that same empathy to others.

The only difference between a terrorist and a tyrant is that the tyrant has the power that the terrorists wish they had. Maybe “the global test” is the last safeguard to keep us from becoming the very persons we fear.

One Response to ““The Global Test””

  1. Keith S. Goodman Says:

    Good piece, Mel. To be honest with you, I think that Americans know what Kerry meant when he said “global test.” I refuse to believe that Americans on the side of the incumbent are really blind to his lies that took us to war. I think they know that basic “home training” is to apologize when you have done somebody wrong. It is common courtesy to apologize when you have done something wrong, especially if you didn’t mean to do it. We are long overdue an apology from the President. He knows better. His cabinet officials know better. And — I still have faith that — the American people know better.

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