Falsehoods and politicians, sadly, often go hand in hand.
Whereas Bush senior gave us "Read my lips: no new taxes," and
Bill Clinton gave us "I did not have sexual relations with that
woman," we have current US President George W. Bush to thank
either with us or against us in the fight against terror."
The nature of these falsehoods varies from one to the next. Bush
the father's statement is a promise about the future that was
not kept. Clinton's statement is a declaration about the past
that depended for its truthiness on a very unorthodox definition.
Dubya's statement is false because it illegitimately excludes
The law of excluded middle is a foundation of logic. If Bush
had said, "You're either with us or you're not with us," his
statement would have been logical. This, of course, is a far
weaker statement than the one he made, because contained in the
"not with us" camp are both antagonists and neutrals. In a
hockey match, for instance, the statement "Everyone is either on
my team or not on my team" makes perfect sense. It excludes no
one, for everyone really must fall into one of those two
categories. On the other hand, the statement "Everyone is either
on my team or on the other team" is absurd. It leaves out the
fans, the referees, the taxi driver who drove you to the game,
your great aunt Doris who could not care less about hockey, the
starving multitudes of Africa, and George W. Bush himself.
The purpose of Bush's illogical declaration was clear:
he wanted to intimidate his political opponents, and the
American people as a whole, and bully as many other nations as
possible into committing their armies to his war. Lest we
misunderstand him to mean "with us in spirit," he also said,
"Over time it's going to be important for nations to know they
will be held accountable for inactivity." Inaction will not be
tolerated. You must choose sides. If you think your interests
legitimately lie elsewhere, or that other problems are more
pressing, or that there are better ways of meeting the threat of
terrorism, you must sacrifice your interests (and your judgment)
to Bush's crusade.
Other politicians have, of course, promoted sacrifice as a
noble duty. Perhaps most famously, JFK chided his countrymen for
being self-interested and told them they should start doing more
for their country. GWB was merely continuing a long tradition
when he told everyone to start doing more for the world. Or else.
From each according to his ability, to the State according to
its voracious warfare/welfare needs.
Bush was also not the first political figure to try this
particular trick with regard to the War on Terrorism. On
September 13, 2001, in an interview with Dan Rather on the CBS
Evening News, Senator Hillary Clinton said "Every nation has to
either be with us, or against us." In her defense, maybe she
mean "in spirit." Or maybe she didn't. And historically, this
trick dates back at least to Biblical times, when none other
than The Son of God himself is said to have said, "He who is not
with me is against me." Politicians never change. Five years
into the Iraq War, maybe it's time we did.