THINK LOCALLY, ATTACK GLOBALLY. Keep your eye on the phrase "global test." It's Media Log's nomination for Most Likely to Be Spun Mindlessly by the Bush Campaign into a Negative. But let me back up. Here is the exchange from last night's debate that led Kerry to use the phrase:
JIM LEHRER: New question. Two minutes, Senator Kerry. What is your position on the whole concept of pre-emptive war?
KERRY: The president always has the right, and always has had the right, for pre-emptive strike. That was a great doctrine throughout the Cold War. And it was always one of the things we argued about with respect to arms control. No president, though all of American history, has ever ceded, and nor would I, the right to pre-empt 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. Here we have our own secretary of state who has had to apologize to the world for the presentation he made to the United Nations.
A few minutes later, George W. Bush came back with this: "Let me - I'm not exactly sure what you mean, 'passes the global test,' you take pre-emptive action if you pass a global test. My attitude is you take pre-emptive action in order to protect the American people, that you act in order to make this country secure."
As you can see, taken in context, Kerry's comment made perfect sense: the president should be able to take pre-emptive action to protect the security of the United States, but if he does so without first convincing the world community of the legitimacy of said action, then the president is going to have a big, honking mess on his hands. Need an example? Hmmm ... maybe if I think hard enough I'll be able to come up with one.
Bush, though, managed to turn Kerry's phrase around, and use it as a sort of French-bashing-by-proxy. And his sycophants are already starting to pick up on it. For instance, this morning, on WRKO Radio (AM 680), Peter Blute and Scott Allen Miller were very worked up about this, all but declaring that Kerry would turn over foreign policy to the cheese-eating surrender monkeys. The Prince of Darkness, syndicated columnist Robert Novak, picks up on that theme as well, in an entry in what might just be the worst blog in the short history of blogging.
Can Karl Rove turn this sickly acorn into a mighty oak over the next few days? We'll see. And, obviously, it's up to the media not to play along.
Meanwhile, the consensus of public opinion seems to be that Kerry won the debate handily, but that Bush did a good enough job of getting his points across that the central dynamic of the race probably won't change all that much. ABC's instant poll had respondents giving it to Kerry, 45 percent to 36 percent, but with Bush retaining a 51 percent to 47 percent lead in the presidential-preference question. Then again, ABC calls that "customary," raising the possibility that as the reality of Kerry's superior performance sinks in, Kerry may start to move up.
Finally, the Phoenix crew offers its thoughts on the debate at BostonPhoenix.com.