October 18, 2004
John Kerry: Sophist for the 21st CenturyBy Mark S. Malaszczyk
Sophistry: (n): a deliberately invalid argument displaying ingenuity in reasoning in the hope of deceiving someone.
'The juggle of sophistry consists, for the most part, in using a word in one sense, and in another sense in the conclusion.' ————Coleridge
As a Social Sciences teacher and student of American politics, I find myself in agreement with Senator John Kerry on one of his assertions: that this is perhaps the most important Presidential election in modern American history. The decision that the voters make on November 2nd will mold the future of America at home and abroad for years come. Our President needs to be firm, decisive and strong in the direction that America pursues over the next four years; it is for this reason that I believe [as many others do] that John Kerry is unfit for command. As David Freddoso has written in Human Events, Kerry's 'constantly shifting position..., though enigmatic to some, is easily explained in three words: transparent political opportunism.'
Senator Kerry is guilty of engaging in the ancient Greek 'art' of sophistry. 'According to Plato, sophists were solely concerned in the acquisition of wealth and power, and solely responsible for the death of his master [Socrates] and the downfall of Athenian Democracy. Different kinds of truth relativity, brute force and rhetorical tricks were used by the Sophists in their teachings.' The Sophists believed that knowledge is relative to each person; it is impossible to discover the true nature of anything. A thing has as many characteristics as there are people perceiving it. As such, ABSOLUTE truth cannot exist.
It is with this mindset that Senator Kerry can claim to have 'voted for the $87 billion dollars before voting against it', or to call the military operations in Iraq [that he authorized with his vote] the 'War of Mass Deception'. He refuses to characterize himself as a 'flip—flopper'. From his perspective these divergent views can co—exist because there is not an absolute position on the issue(s).
When asked by ABC Journalist Diane Sawyer if the operation in Iraq was worthwhile, Kerry's response was that it 'depends on the outcome.' This type of relativism may serve a Senator in devising a multifaceted argument on an issue, but a commander—in—chief cannot function within this way of thinking. To put it bluntly, we'd all love to call the plays on Monday morning; unfortunately the game is played on Sunday afternoon. President Bush is correct to keep reminding Americans that Senator Kerry was privy to the same exact intelligence information as the Administration in deciding whether or not military force was justifiable in Iraq.
Kerry has attempted to portray himself as a strong leader, resolute in his commitment to defending America and not allowing the interests of other nations to dictate our foreign policy or national defense strategy. Yet in 1985 he opposed the Reagan Administration's approach to the Soviet Union when he argued that
'it is time that we accept the idea that the Soviet Union is not going to bargain with the United States from a position in which we have grabbed the upper hand through the development of some new technology. They are only going to agree with the United States on arms limitations if they have parity, in overall force capacity.'
It can easily be inferred from Kerry's orations on the floor of the Senate in the 1980's that the Soviet Union should still exist in a dynamic based on nuclear parity. History has proven that Reagan was correct, and now Kerry evokes Reagan's name and his selective support for the late President to lend credibility to his own Senatorial career. But the truth is that John Kerry's Senate Record clearly shows his commitment to disarmament, nuclear freezes, and supporting an American Foreign Policy that is in compliance with the directives of the United Nations.
In a free society, it is perfectly acceptable to run for the Presidency on a record such as Kerry's and let the electorate decide if this is in the best interests of the nation. Barry Goldwater wore his conservatism on his sleeve in the 1964 campaign while George McGovern ran on a very liberal platform in 1972. Kerry should stand by his record if he is truly proud of it; but that is not what we are witnessing.
America is watching a man try to reinvent himself in a run for the most powerful and important office in the world. Can America, the beacon of democracy, be led by a man who fallaciously testified against the conduct of his brothers—in—arms in Vietnam, thereby giving the enemy justification to torture and brutalize American prisoners—of war? Kerry claims to be a man of faith; yet by bearing false witness he may have indirectly caused the death of his fellow soldiers.
Furthermore, 'John Kerry's photograph hangs in the War Protestors Hall of the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City —— an indication of the value the Vietnamese communists place on Kerry's support of their efforts during the Vietnam War.' This is not something most Americans wish to see on their President's curriculum vita.
Can Kerry be believed in his commitment to liberty when he and Iowa Senator Tom Harkin organized a group of left—leaning Democrats to meet with Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas at a time in which America was backing the Contra rebels in an effort to eliminate the communist threat posed in Nicaragua? This is not the work of an individual desirous of spreading the natural rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to those who remain oppressed across the globe.
The President is right to remind Americans that a President Kerry in 2001 would have conducted operations in Afghanistan limited in scope to the hunt for bin Laden and the Afghani peoples would still be under the thumb of the terrorist—sponsoring Taliban; that Saddam would still be in power, defying UN resolutions and colluding with our supposed allies in the oil—for food program. Senator Kerry has been on the wrong side of history in every crucial foreign policy crisis of his adult life; this simply disqualifies him as a credible alternative to President Bush at this point in our history.
The campaign has focused mostly on Iraq and the War on Terror, but Kerry has been a sophist on domestic issues as well. 'Kerry has also flipped on education. Originally, the presidential hopeful was in full support of the President's No Child Left Behind (NCLB) package. He was one of many Senators who voted for the measure. Now, however, Kerry is criticizing the very bill he voted into law, calling it 'ideological' and 'laughable.'
He has waffled on the issues of abortion and same sex—marriages as well. In the third debate he played the 'faith card' three times, aware of the fact that most Americans respect President Bush's commitment to his religious beliefs. At one point he stated his agreement with the Biblical passage that 'faith without good deeds is dead.' This is fine if you are a Roman Catholic, but insulting to any and all who take a different view on their path to salvation.
The exchange between the two candidates on their faith showed Americans that while Bush draws strength from his faith and relies on it as his moral compass, Kerry is prepared to use faith to suit his political purposes. The Senator has portrayed the sitting President as a religious zealot on more than one occasion, but is now prepared to say that everything is the product of our Creator.
It is safe to say that the stakes are too high to explore the possibilities of a new administration that is neither focused nor steadfast on its own political platform. Domestic reforms are not the top priority in the immediate future; they are important but irrelevant if we are not safe at home. Former Democrat Mayor of New York City Ed Koch believes that
'one issue overwhelms all others: the President's strong commitment to fight the forces of international terrorism regardless of the cost or how long it takes to achieve victory.'
We are engaged in one of the greatest struggles in world history and only President Bush has the personal conviction and moral clarity to put us on the path to achieving our objective of eliminating transnational terrorism through the promotion of liberty and justice for all. Senator Kerry would probably accuse me of taking his statements and positions 'out of context' like the master Sophist that he is. We must all remember the teachings of Protagoras, who wrote that all moral judgments are relative. This may be true if you are the junior Senator from Massachusetts, but it cannot be true when you are the leader of the free world.
Dr. Mark S. Malaszczyk is a veteran Social Studies Teacher in the Babylon Union Free School District (Babylon, NY) and a Part—Time Associate Professor of Social Science at Saint John's University (Jamaica, NY).