The Bush-Cheney campaign has never been shy about misrepresenting John Kerry's views. At the Republican National Convention, for instance, Zell Miller claimed that Kerry "has made it clear that he would use military force only if approved by the United Nations. " It's a reference to a quote from an interview Kerry gave to the Harvard Crimson 35 years ago -- and hence just as accurate as saying that George W. Bush "has made it clear that he likes to get drunk every night."
But even by the slippery standards of the Bush-Cheney camp, the president's latest misrepresentation about a Kerry position shows a remarkable willingness to veer from the truth. On the campaign trial this weekend, Bush has lambasted Kerry for what the Republicans call Kerry's "'global test' doctrine." In Ohio Saturday, Bush said: "In the debate, Senator Kerry said something revealing when he laid out the Kerry doctrine. He said -- he said that America has to pass a global test before we can use American troops to defend ourselves."
Only that's not what Kerry said. At Thursday night's debate, Kerry said that an American president "always has the right, and always has had the right, for pre-emptive strike." He said that he would never "cede away" the right "to preempt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America." But, Kerry said, "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 reason."
Hear that, George? You've got to be able to "prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons." That's called the past tense -- as in, act now and ask questions later. What Kerry said -- what Kerry plainly meant -- was that the United States was free to take pre-emptive action if there was a legitimate reason for doing so, a reason so powerful that the world would understand.
Former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke held a conference call with reporters Saturday to set the record straight, but it shouldn't have been necessary. A few hours beforehand, the Bush-Cheney campaign sent around an email highlighting Bush's attack on Kerry. It included Bush's quotes from Ohio, followed immediately by the words Kerry actually said during the debate. One of these things was not like the other, but the Bush-Cheney campaign apparently thought no one would notice.