Three Monkeys Online

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The President of Good and Evil – The ethics of George W. Bush

Browsing through a conservative message board on the net, as Three Monkeys is wont to do, we came across a debate about George W.Bush. One poster, an obvious liberal, had complained that Bush can't even put a sentence together. The response was along the lines of 'Who cares about putting a sentence together – he sticks by his guns'. And therein lies the crux of the problem for the liberal left with Bush junior: while he's perceived by many as too dumb to be President, and a dangerous joke, to his supporters, he represents a specific set of qualities much revered by a large section of the American electorate. Arguably the most powerful man in the world, many have chosen to see him as not worth taking seriously, preferring to see the sinister puppet masters behind him as being worthy of scrutiny.

Australian philosopher Peter Singer, never shy to take a challenge (he's a strident and controversial Animal Rights theorist and bio-ethicist), became intrigued with Bush's ethics when the President made a speech about stem cell research, an area that Singer has a particular interest in . He then paid closer attention to Bush's positions, noting that, more than any other President, Bush has framed his policy decisions firmly in the moral foreground, constantly referring to right and wrong, good and evil. From there Singer decided it was time to take President Bush seriously, to hold him up to his own ethics and see the results. I put it to Singer that holding Bush up to his own ethics and finding him wanting, is like shooting fish in a barrel. &ldquoHe's the most powerful person in the world, and he talks about morality all the time. That makes it much fairer than shooting fish in a barrel, or even, hooking them out of a stream, for that matter. George W. Bush talks a lot about good and evil, and right and wrong. He's always trying to present himself as a person who does the right thing. And polls have shown that tens of millions of Americans accept that he is a good person. In 2000, this was probably the decisive factor in getting him elected, or at least, in getting him enough votes so that the election had to be decided by the Supreme Court. I felt that his reputation was undeserved, and that it would be valuable to show this – preferably before the election of November 2004″.

The book The President of Good and Evil examines Bush's stated positions on a number of issues, taking in both domestic and foreign policy. &ldquoI looked at the most important issues on which he has offered an ethical justification for what he has done”, says the author. These range from the aforementioned stem cell research, the right to life of the unborn, and the death penalty – all juxtaposed together to highlight what Singer sees as muddled and contradictory positions, to the war on terrorism, tax cuts and human rights.

Many outside America find it difficult to fathom Bush's popularity in America. Singer, an Australian, found however a certain objective distance afforded by his nationality. &ldquoI think that being an outsider who has lived in the U.S. for five years, including the entire period of the Bush presidency, was very helpful. It enabled me to see things in a different way from Americans, who often lack the perspective that familiarity with different ways of doing things can bring”.

At the same time though, one sees a certain incredulity remains with Singer, particularly after examining so many issues, that Bush does still have a strong support, after such an eventful Presidency. While many pro-Bush supporters identify with him precisely because they see him as a simple man doing his best in difficult times, Singer doesn't buy the argument: &ldquoIndeed, it is part of his appeal. That's a disturbing fact about the American electorate. Gore obviously knew far more than Bush about the entire range of issues with which an American president must deal, but when he displayed this knowledge – as in the first of the presidential debates – his ratings fell and Bush's rose. What needs to be shown is that Bush may be simple, but this doesn't mean that he is a good man, or that he can be a good president”.

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