Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Going public

John's Bright Idea

This is a suggestion I originally had with Gen. Clark in mind, but I'd dearly love to see Kerry take it up now.

I feel that a campaign promise to take the oath "to tell the truth, and nothing but the truth"¹ before delivering each State of the Union Address would be an excellent move. I realize that this may make him vulnerable to impeachment if he were ever misinformed prior to a SotU address, but think of the distinction it would make between him and the incumbent with his infamous "sixteen words".
And after the acceptance speech, which included these excerpts, it could easily be tied in with existing themes:
"We have it in our power to change the world again. But only if we're true to our ideals – and that starts by telling the truth to the American people. That is my first pledge to you tonight. As President, I will restore trust and credibility to the White House."
"As President, I will ask hard questions and demand hard evidence. I will immediately reform the intelligence system – so policy is guided by facts, and facts are never distorted by politics."
"We need a President who has the credibility to bring our allies to our side and share the burden, reduce the cost to American taxpayers, and reduce the risk to American soldiers."
"As President, I will not evade or equivocate;..."

The State of the Union address is only very vaguely defined in the Constitution, and almost all of what we consider essential to it is precedent and tradition. Here's what the Constitution itself has to say about it:

Article II
Section 3
[The President] shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient....
So, much like we now consider it to be standard that "from time to time" means once a year, and usually during the last week in January (unless you want to time it to steal the opposition's thunder), John Kerry, if elected President, could set a precedent for years, or even centuries, to come, by taking that oath before each Address. That might be a legacy worth leaving in and of itself.

And of course, consider the contrast this would give with recent history. While President Clinton's evasion about Monica Lewinsky was impeachable because (and only because) he was under oath, President Bush could get away with those "sixteen words" in his 2003 State of the Union Address without fear of impeachment, because he was not under any oath to tell any part of the truth. If John Kerry made a promise to take the oath before each Address, it would be an excellent way to emphasize his intent to "restore trust and credibility to the White House," and to differentiate himself from his opponent.

1) Due to national security considerations, he probably couldn't swear "to tell the whole truth." However, it may be that the legal interpretation of the phrase is loose enough to let him say that. Not being a lawyer, I don't know just how it's interpreted in court.

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