"The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness: and the end of his talk is mischievous madness." -- Ecclesiastes 10:13
"I don't understand how poor people think. [I'm] a white Republican guy who doesn't get it, but I'd like to." -- George W. Bush, quoted in the New York Times in August 2003
"I'm also not very analytical. You know I don't spend a lot of time thinking about myself, about why I do things." -- George W. Bush, June 4, 2003
"He was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple." -- former Texas Governor Ann Richards, 1988 Democratic convention
"Bush does not seem to understand that, while it is not a sin to be born to privilege, it is a sin to spend your life defending it." -- Arthur Blaustein
"Sometimes when I sleep at night I think of Hop on Pop." -- George W. Bush, April 2, 2002
"I fear for the Republic now. When I see Bush, Rice, or Rumsfeld on television, I find myself thinking that if these are the people who represent the United States, we as a nation are so much more than they are. Politically and philosophically. America is a much richer country and has so much more to bring to the world than this administration." -- former NSC counterterrorism expert Rand Beers, quoted by Bill Katovsky
Incoming Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, in his first meeting with Bush to discuss taking the position, is startled at the condescending, cavalier way Bush treats his senior staff members. The first example he sees is Bush demanding that his chief of staff, Andrew Card, a former secretary of transportation under Bush I, a former aide to Ronald Reagan, and a former vice president at General Motors, bring the group meeting with Bush some lunch. "You're the chief of staff," Bush snapped at Card. "Think you're up to getting us some cheeseburgers?" Watching Card almost run out of the room, O'Neill thought on his rule about buying companies: see how the CEO treats the receptionist, the secretary, whoever is at the bottom of the ladder. "It's a sign of how a boss values the people around him," writes O'Neill biographer Ron Suskind. "It's a character issue." O'Neill, a former CEO of Alcoa, realizes from the outset that he is going to have to work to insist upon his independence and ability to perform his job without becoming a Bush yes-man. He has no idea how difficult that task will be. -- Ron Suskind
"Bush belongs to the real elite. Yet he appears far more comfortable playing the role of commoner than his father, whose taste for pork rinds always seemed out of character. George W. used to say that the big difference between them is that his father went to Greenwich Day School in that tony Connecticut suburb, while he attended San Jacinto High School in dusty Midland, Texas. He didn't mention that after one year, he left public education behind to attend exclusive prep schools in Houston and Massachusetts, leading inextricably to his Yale matriculation as an underachieving 'legacy.' George W. is the kind of 'regular guy' who burns through millions of other people's dollars in failed businesses, drinks too much until early middle age, dodges an insider-trading scandal, picks up a major-league baseball franchise, and eventually finds himself in the Oval Office as commander-in-chief of the world's only superpower, thanks to a justice appointed to the Supreme Court by his father." -- Joe Conason
The mass media has long since decided that Bush's famous penchant for mangling his words is endearing, and more "proof" that Bush is "just plain folks," not some snobbish scion of an Eastern elitist family with an Ivy League college degree (of course, that is exactly who Bush is). But media studies professor and author Mark Crispin Miller believes that Bush only stumbles and blithers when he's talking about subjects that bore him or offend his sensibilities. When he talks about peace, he fumbles: "I will use our military as a last resort, and as a first resort." Educational discussions result in gibberish: "We want results in every single classroom so that one single child is left behind." Restoring calm and peace in Iraq obviously gives him trouble: "It'll take time to restore chaos and order." And statements on American the environment don't leave his mouth without some hitches: "We need an energy bill that encourages consumption." Nor do concerns about needy Americans: "The goals for this country are a compassionate American for every single citizen." But, Miller observes, Bush never has trouble talking movie-tough: belligerent challenges come forth perfectly well, as with his challenge, "The evil ones think they can hide. They think they can run." "Either you're with the United States of America or you're against the United States of America." Miller writes, caustically but accurately, "Trying to discuss domestic issues or extol the arts of peace, the president can't help but lurch and stumble often, as his heart is just not in it; but, generally, the thought of war or vengeance limbers up his tongue, working on his system like a good stiff drink. When extemporizing as a punisher, in short, the man has always been coherent, first as a candidate and then as president." -- Mark Crispin Miller
The editors of the liberal news site Buzzflash paint a harshly vivid, but all too accurate, picture of Bush: "When he was young, caretakers picked up his toys. When he was a dissolute adult, protectors covered up for his seedy, irresponsible behavior and dereliction of duty. When he was older, his father's friends cleaned up after his business failures. Someone has always cleaned up Bush's messes for him. He's never had to or been able to do it himself. ...As he always has, Bush blames others. Now, he is even pointing the finger at the Iraqis, claiming that they botched this great gift of invasion and occupation that Bush 'gave' to them. He is telling us that our 'national psyche' is 'strained.' Everyone is to bear fault but Bush. He doesn't solve problems; he creates them for others to handle after he has long left the scene. The fabulous, quintessential American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald knew the George W. Bush type long before Bush was born. In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald writes of two of the main blue-blood, wealthy, self-absorbed characters in his novel: 'They were careless people, Tom and Daisy -- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness ... and let other people clean up the mess they had made.' ...He is a careless, reckless person who smashes up things and creatures, and retreats back to his money -- the bubble of his ignorant, feckless privilege -- and lets other people clean up the mess that he has made. It has always been that way with George W. Bush, and always will be." -- Buzzflash, August 22, 2006
"I think war is a dangerous place." -- George W. Bush, January 27, 2002
"I've been to war. I've raised twins. If I had a choice, I'd rather go to war." -- George W. Bush, January 27, 2002 (note: Bush has never been to war)
"I can never forgive a leadership that said, in effect: These young men -- poorer, less educated, less privileged -- are expendable (someone described them as 'economic cannon fodder'), but the rest are too good to risk. I am angry that so many of the sons of the powerful and well-placed and so many professional athletes (who were probably healthier than any of us) managed to wangle slots in Reserve and National Guard units. Of the many tragedies of Vietnam, this raw class discrimination strikes me as the most damaging to the ideal that all Americans are created equal and owe equal allegiance to their country." -- General Colin Powell, 1995
Veteran investigative reporter Ian Williams writes, "...Bush's military career has more to do with fraud" than with any real service to his country, though he has worked very hard over the years to reinvent himself as a "war hero," or at least a veteran of military service. He has continued a pretense of having shared the experience of war and of military duty for over thirty years with little or no questioning of his record. Williams notes that especially since the 2000 election, politician Bush has always wrapped himself in the flag. "He continually refers to himself as 'commander-in-chief.' and dresses up whenever he can in quasi-uniform...indeed, he seems to much prefer speaking to handpicked military audiences on bases to addressing the unruly citizenry outside. It is a continuation of the same role he used to have at his Andover prep school -- cheerleader for the football team, where his job was to wear funny costumes and lead an appreciative crowd in shared chanting. More sinisterly, one has to look to Fidel Castro, or Saddam Hussein, to see someone with a similar appreciation for military tailoring and martial backdrops." -- Ian Williams
George W. Bush's "military record with the Texas Air National Guard, and his explanations of it, are orbited by recollections and nonrecollections that he and his team subject to constant revision as documentary evidence surfaces that spurs his cortex into more intense cerebration. A dose of documentation has often cured his expedient amnesia. But then, so often, the documentation itself has developed some form of amnesia. The record of drills, attendances, and crucial correspondence all seem to have fallen down some memory hole in Texas or Alabama. Their absence is a continual accomplice to the intermitten attempts to put truth in the rumors his campaign spreads about his military service." -- Ian Williams
Ian Williams answers the question of why George W. Bush's inglorious military career is so important thirty-odd years down the road: "[W]hen that scion of a moneyed and privileged family, whose main qualification has always been his inspired choice of father and family, ...runs for president on issues of 'character,' and struts in borrowed military plumage on the world stage while launching a real war that has killed thousands of real people, then he becomes fair game. ...So it seems proper, since the president has misappropriated a soldierly mien, to look at his actual record: in the military while he was in the National Guard, as a commander in chief in his conduct of the military policy of the United States, and, finally, to test him by the standards of all great commanders: how he has looked after the welfare and safety of the troops whose command he has assumed." -- Ian Williams
"Was George W. Bush a deserter? Possibly in the legal sense, but certainly in the moral sense. He took active and multiple steps to avoid physical risk in a war to which he lent political support -- 'the war of his generation.' Absent without leave? Certainly. He went missing, failed to report for duty, and defied a direct order to attend a medical examination. In doing so he made himself unfit for his duty, flying, every bit as surely as if he had 'let off a shotgun beside his ear.' A careless child of privilege? Indisputably. He could not have done any of the above if he had not been armed with a silver spoon in his mouth. ...[A]bove all he is a hypocrite, a poseur, and someone with dangerous daydreams of military might and prowess that may have been tempered if he had actually experienced combat first hand, or even had the empathy to feel for those who do. Would someone who had actually been in combat, crouched in a foxhole under enemy fire, or who had carried away the bleeding corpse of a dead comrade tell Iraqi insurgents 'Bring 'em on?'" -- Ian Williams
"The time is long past for us to rip off George W. Bush's feigned military splendor, to stop him wrapping himself in the flag -- before any more of those flags are used to cover the remains of dismembered and shattered real soldiers. Too many people have died already to exorcise whatever demons haunt the young Googen Bush from his failure to emulate his father's genuine heroism. ...We have been too polite with George W. Bush. His every appearance as commander-in-chief should evoke hoots of derision. His every pronouncement on military matters should be sneered at and questionedm and he should be pilloried for his lack of concern for those maimed and for those families orphaned and bereft by his policies. It is time for him to be given extended leave, even if we cannot persuade him to go missing for this war, the way he did his last." -- Ian Williams
After a careful search of the records, journalist Paul Waldman determines that "[t]he media gave Bush a pass" on his military service in comparison to the firestorm that the media encouraged over Bill Clinton's own failure to serve in Vietnam. "[D]uring their respective election years," Waldman writes, "there were nearly ten press stories written about Clinton's efforts to avoid serving in Vietnam for every one story about Bush's efforts to avoid serving in Vietnam. In major papers, there were almost fourteen Clinton stories for every Bush story. This difference is enormous. The media gave Bush a pass." Television reporters were equally as soft. When ABC's Sam Donaldson, a reputed attack dog of journalism, asked Bush in 1999 whether his father pulled any strings to get him into the Texas National Guard, Bush replied, "Absolutely not." Donaldson never again mentions Bush's service.
On October 8, 2000's edition of Meet the Press, Democratic campaign consultant and political commentator Paul Begala challenged Karl Rove on Bush's failure to show up for duty in Alabama; Rove replies, "Well, that's obviously not true, and the governor has talked about that as have people in Alabama who were with the governor during that period of time." Rove wais lying; the Bush campaign had been unable to find a single person who recalls serving with Bush in Alabama. Begala called Rove out by saying, "Who served with him? Name one," and Rove deflected the question: "Nice attempt, Paul, to distract attention from the fact that your candidate is a serial exaggerator." Waldman writes, "This aggressive scare tactic, accusing your opponent of the exact misdeed you are guilty of, is what I call the 'Orwellian Misdirection'...." In total, the three network news programs did one news story on Bush's guard service: a July 1999 piece on NBC that focused more on Bush's denials that he received preferential treatment in getting a Guard slot. (The story will be raised more directly in the 2004 campaign, but will be overshadowed by the media's hot pursuit of the farrago of lies about opponent John Kerry's military service by the "swift Boat Veterans for Truth" and the "scandal in a teapot" of CBS's attempt to prove Bush's failure to serve by presenting questionable documentation to its viewers; the resulting cries of outrage from the right eventually force anchor Dan Rather to retire, and the underlying questions about Bush's service are successfully dodged.) -- Paul Waldman
"On the balance sheet of moral bravery, as opposed to physical bravery, [Bush and Kerry] are about as far apart as you can be on Vietnam. On the one hand you have Kerry, who already had doubts about whether we should be fighting in Vietnam before he went, and put his life on the line anyway. On the other hand, you have George W. Bush who supported the war, which means he believed the goal was worth the cost in American lives. Only, not his life. He believed others should go; just not him. It's the story of his life. That is almost the definition of moral cowardice." -- Joshua Micah Marshall, August 24, 2004
The AWOL Project is a tremendous resource for military and government documents related to Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard. Their summary is quite clear: "An examination of the Bush military files within the context of US Statutory Law, Department of Defense regulations, and Air Force policies and procedures of that era lead to a single conclusion: George W. Bush was considered a deserter by the United States Air Force. After Bush quit TXANG, he still had nine months of his six-year military commitment left to serve. As a result, Bush became a member of the Air Force Reserves and was transferred to the authority of the Air Reserve Personnel Center (ARPC) in Denver, Colorado. Because this was supposed to be a temporary assignment, ARPC had to review Bush's records to determine where he should ultimately be assigned. That examination would have led to three conclusions: That Bush had 'failed to satisfactorily participate' as defined by United States law and Air Force policy, that TXANG could not account for Bush's actions for an entire year, and that Bush's medical records were not up to date. Regardless of what actions ARPC contemplated when reviewing Bush's records, all options required that Bush be certified as physically fit to serve, or as unfit to serve. ARPC thus had to order Bush to get a physical examination, for which Bush did not show up. ARPC then designated Bush as AWOL and a 'non-locatee' (i.e. a deserter) who had failed to satisfactorily participate in TXANG, and certified him for immediate induction through his local draft board. Once the Houston draft board got wind of the situation, strings were pulled; and documents were generated which directly contradict Air Force policy, and which were inconsistent with the rest of the records released by the White House."
Investigative journalist Greg Palast speaks with a former TANG colleague of Bush's, who refuses to let his identity be revealed; the source says that the other pilots in Bush's unit had strong feelings about Bush. They hated his guts. They viewed him as a "goof-off and a coward," because he was one of the only pilots who ran from combat service. While TANG flyers were not required to fly combat runs in Vietnam, nearly all did, voluntarily, except for Bush. Palast concludes, "I don't blame Bush Se. or [Democratic senator Lloyd] Bentsen for keeping their sons out of Vietnam. I do blame them for sending other men's sons in their place." -- Greg Palast
"Some people think it's inappropriate to draw a moral line. Not me. For our children to have the lives we want for them, they must learn to say yes to responsibility, yes to family, yes to honesty." -- George W. Bush, June 12, 1999
"I think what this country needs to do is to usher in what I call 'the responsibility era' -- where you are responsible for the decisions you make. But we can't usher in the responsibility era when a figure that is on your TV screen on a daily basis has behaved irresponsibly. It sends a mixed message. What's needed in a president is a consistent message." -- George W. Bush, November 2000
"I kinda like ducking questions." -- George W. Bush, April 21, 2004
Paul O'Neill, the former Alcoa CEO who was Treasury Secretary from 2001 through December 2002, believes that Bush's "lack of inquisitiveness or pertinent experience -- Jack Kennedy, at least, had spent a decade in Congress -- meant he didn't know or really care about the position of the US government [on a host of issues]. It wasn't just a matter of doing the opposite of whatever Clinton had done, which was a prevalent theme throughout the administration. The president was starting from scratch on most issues and relying on ideologues like [economic advisor] Larry Lindsey, Karl Rove, and...Dick [Cheney]. Not an honest broker in sight. 'Administrations are defined by their president,' O'Neill said. And, while it was already apparent to many inside the administration that this president ceded significant authority to others, he was 'clearly signing on to strong ideological positions that had not been fully thought through. But, of course, that's the nature of ideology. Thinking it through is the last thing an ideologue wants to do.'" It is only later that O'Neill realizes that Bush is not only a conservative ideologue, but wont to lie as casually as most men change their clothes. O'Neill finds the realization of these two overriding characterizations of Bush to be horrifying. He adds that he could never justify, or adjust to, the overwhelming level of personal loyalty Bush demands from his officials. "That's a false kind of loyalty, loyalty to a person and whatever they say or do, that's the opposite of real loyalty, which is loyalty based on inquiry, and telling someone what you really think and feel -- your best estimation of the truth instead of what they want to hear." -- Ron Suskind
"George W. Bush is a liar. He has lied large and small. He has lied directly and by omission. He has misstated facts, knowingly or not. He has misled. He has broken promises, been unfaithful to political vows. Through his campaign for the presidency and his first years in the White House, he has mugged the truth -- not merely in honest error, but deliberately, consistently, and repeatedly to advance his career and his agenda. Lying greased his path toward the White House; it has been one of the essential tools of his presidency. To call the 43rd president of the United States a prevaricator is not an exercise of opinion, not an inflammatory talk-radio device. This insult is supported by an all too extensive record of self-serving falsification. So constant is his fibbing that a history of his lies offers a close approximation of the history of his presidential tenure. While politicians are often derided as liars, this charge should be particularly stinging for Bush. During the campaign of 2000, he pitched himself as a candidate who could "restore" honor and integrity to an Oval Office stained by the misdeeds and falsehoods of his predecessor. To brand Bush a liar is to negate what he and his supporters claimed as his most basic and most important qualification for the job; it is a challenge, in a sense, to his legitimacy. But it is a challenge fully supported by his words and actions, as well as those of the aides and officials who speak and act for him. The list of falsehoods is long. And only one man bears responsibility for that -- the fellow who campaigned in an airplane christened Responsibility One. ...Bush has failed to achieve what he claimed as one of his prime objectives. He has not been a president of integrity. The Bush White House has been no beacon of honesty. This president has treated the truth in the manner his predecessor treated an intern." -- David Corn
"What Bush and his advisors have perpetuated is nothing short of a fraud -- and an epic one at that -- that started when they began planning his ascension to the White House in the early 1990s and continues to the present day. The fraud involves the propagation of a set of central lies about Bush, each carefully crafted and spoken with a numbing repetition. He and his companions have known from the beginning that if the lies are asserted often enough, they will stand despite being refuted on a continual basis by Bush's actions. They have said that George W. Bush is an ordinary guy, that he believes in American values, that he loves freedom and democracy, that he is compassionate, that he brings Democrats and Republicans together, and above all, that he is a man of great character and integrity. Each of these contentions is demonstrably untrue, but each has nonetheless been often accepted by the press and largely accepted by the American people, including a healthy portion of those who voted against Bush in 2000 and plan to do so again in 2004.
"Contrary to what he never seems of tiring of assuring us, George W. Bush is not a man of integrity; in fact, he ranks among the most dishonest presidents in American history. For this president, lying is only sometimes done ad hoc, as a reaction to an unexpected question or a discomforting criticism. But most often is the essence of his political strategy, the key to every major policy move. Whether the topic is taxes or Social Security, the environment or education, Medicare or foreign wars, the aggressive deception of the American people is the foundation on which each Bush policy is built. He consistently deceives the American people by masking his agenda in a carefully constructed cloud of misleading rhetoric, pleasing pictures, disingenuous displays of emotions unfelt, and outright lies. ...At some point, George W. Bush took a good long look at what he was and what he wanted for the country and decided that the American people would never buy it if he gave it to them straight. He came to understand that they would never elect to the highest office in the land a man of such limited skills who had been given so much and accomplished so little, whose claim to power rested solely on his last name, who was so plainly hostile to the values on which their nation was founded. They would never assent to a reactionary agenda whose every element was opposed by a majority of Americans. They would never knowingly elect someone whose most passionate convictions lay in enhancing the wealth of the wealthy and the power of the powerful.
"So Bush and his political machine made their decision: the American people would have to be lied to. They would construct a persona that would be everything Bush was not. They would take the same old Republican agenda and cloak it in comforting catch-phrases and pleasing visuals, presenting to the public a false image of sympathy. And they would repeat this message endlessly.
"The project isn't an easy one, and it requires sustained effort and plenty of money. How do you convince working people that unions are a threat to them? Or that making sure everyone has medical coverage is a bad idea? Or that the only way to respond to a poor economy is to give the largest tax cuts to the wealthiest among us? Or that investment income should be taxed at a lower rate than wage income, money people actually work for? Or that working people are a 'special interest,' while corporations are not? Or that a man who has a former president for a father and a former senator for a grandfather, whose entire life has been graced by wealth and privilege, is just an ordinary guy? It is hard to do so by being honest. The only way to pull off such a feat is to build lie upon lie, always keeping the media and the people deceived and off-balance." -- Paul Waldman
"Bush has lied to obtain power and has lied while using it. And so far -- so far -- he has not suffered for repeatedly violating the truth. Unfortunately, lying often works for presidents. American history does not teach presidents that they must expect to pay a direct and immediate price for deception. Reagan, who constantly spilled misstatements and false information, was elected twice. Clinton saved his candidacy in 1992 by falsely denying he had ever had a sexual relationship with Gennifer Flowers (a fact he was forced to acknowledge six years later in a sworn deposition in a sexual harassment case). And he survived an impeachment trial that focused on his lies about sex. Many of Clinton's Republican tormentors could not believe the American public did not rise up en masse against a president who had defiled the Oval Office and lied about his acts of sacrilege. They kept waiting for popular outrage to catch up to their own. It did not."
"With his misrepresentations and false assertions, Bush has dramatically changed the nation and the world. He has turned the United States into an occupying power. Via his tilted-to-the-wealthy tax cuts, he has profoundly reshaped the US budget for years to come, most likely ensuring a long stretch of deficits that will make it quite difficult for the federal government to fund existing programs or contemplate new ones. He did all this with lies. They were essential to Bush's successes. ...Does Bush lie more than his predecessors, more than his political opponents? That is irrelevant. Bush is guiding the nation during difficult and dangerous times, in which a credible president is much in need. Prosperity or economic decline? War or peace? Security or fear? This country has a lot to deal with. Lies from the White House poison the debates and discussions that must transpire if Americans are going to confront and overcome the challenges of this century at home and abroad.
"Presidential lying threatens the country. To render informed and wise choices about the crucial and complicated controversies of the day, people need truthful information. What if the fellow with the most powerful megaphone is supplying the public wrong information? The president is often in a position to defuse and dominate a debate, more so than other political players. He can influence the national discourse like nobody else. What a president tells the public matters greatly -- especially when the policy issues of the day are complex and tough to navigate. A lie from the White House -- or a fib or a misrepresentation or a fudged number -- can go a long way toward distorting the national discussion. ...[O]n his first full day on the job, while swearing in his White House staff, Bush reminded his cadre, 'On a mantelpiece in this great house is inscribed the prayer of John Adams, that only the wise and honest may rule under this roof.' But Adams's prayer has once more gone unanswered. A liar is in the house again. There has been no restoration of integrity. Bush's promise was a lie. The future of the United States remains in the hands of a dishonest man." -- David Corn
"Whether [George W. Bush] lies to his wife or his friends is something I could not care less about, and I would suspect most Americans would agree. What Bush does is far worse: he lies to the American people about things that matter. He lies about who he is and what he believes; he lies about what he has done; and he lies about what he plans to do.
"In this, Bush is the inverse of Bill Clinton -- Bush's lies are legion but have nothing to do with whom he sleeps with. While many on both the right and the left took issue with Clinton's policies, Clinton did not try to deceive Americans about what those policies were. Bush, on the other hand, lies not to protect himself from embarrassment but to conceal the nature of his ideology and plans. Bush tells more lies about policy in a week than Bill Clinton did in eight years. Even the lies he tells about who he is as a person...are told in the service of a narrow partisan agenda. While Bill Clinton lied about his personal life to save his own skin, George W. Bush does something far worse: he deceives Americans about the things he does that will actually affect their lives.
"Columnist Michael Kinsley [in Slate, April 18, 2002] offered one explanation for this peculiar perspective on honesty, which Bush seems to share with his father, that one may lie about political matters but still consider oneself an honest person. 'This derived,' Kinsley wrote, 'from the cherished preppy-snob distinction between life and games. In life one must be decent and honest and must not seem to be trying too hard. But in games -- including politics -- one must be ruthless, and one must win. One is not really misbehaving because it's only a game.' Bush is certainly ruthless when it comes to politics. One of the many things the 2000 campaign revealed about his vaunted 'character' is that when power is on the line, he has no qualms about lying, whether about himself or his opponent." -- Paul Waldman
Using a September 2003 article by New Republic's Michael Kinsley as a frame, Eric Alterman and Mark Green write, "Michael Kinsley succinctly describes the Bush administration technique: 'What's going on here is something like lying-by-reflex. If the opposition accuses you of saying the world is round, you lunge for the microphone to declare your passionate belief that the world is flat.' The ferocity is often accompanied by insouciance. What is odd about the Bush technique is that frequently no one in the administration appears to concern himself with whether such deceptions are necessary or even credible. Kinsley adds, 'Bush II administration lies are often so laughably obvious that you wonder why they bother. Until you realize: They haven't bothered. If telling the truth was less bother, they'd try that, too. The characteristic Bush II form of dishonesty is to construct an alternative reality on some topic and to regard anyone who objects to it as a sniveling dweeb obsessed with "nuance," which the president of this class, I mean the United States, has more important things to do than worry about.'" And quoting Joshua Micah Marshall: "...Bush and his ideological supporters reject 'the facts' as nothing more than the spin of experts blinded by their own unacknowledged biases. ...[B]y the time Bush has been disproven, we are stuck with the results of his ideologically driven policies." -- Eric Alterman and Mark Green
The famous ethicist Peter Singer has written a book, The President of Good and Evil, which closely examines the ethical and moral foundation of George W. Bush. He provides an interesting take on the subject; unlike most political liberals, he doesn't quickly conclude that Bush is "merely" an inverterate liar who wouldn't know the truth if it boxed his ears. Instead, he combs through Bush's public statements and his actions as a public figure, and though he refuses to pass ultimate judgment on Bush's inner self, nevertheless he draws some fascinating conclusions.
First, he notes that Bush does not possess a strong internal ethical framework. Instead, he relies on his "instinct" or his "gut" to tell him what is right and what is wrong: "He feels that he knows what to do on any given occasion, but because he is not a reflective kind of person, he makes no attempt to put his judgments on specific issues together and see how coherently they fit with each other. David Frum [Bush's former speechwriter] describes the president as 'a politician of conservative instincts rather than conservative principles. He knew in a general way what he believed and what he did not. But on any specific issue, nobody could ever be sure where the line was beyond which he could not be pushed.'" Singer continues, "For someone in Bush's situation, called upon to decide important and complex issues on a daily basis, relying on moral instincts or intuitions is not enough. Reflection and critical thought are needed as well; but that is not something Bush relishes. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has described Bush as 'less interested in ideas than perhaps anybody I've ever interviewed' and added, 'Nuance isn't his natural state.'"
One of his strongest instincts, and one of the driving forces behind his policies, is his bedrock belief that Saddam Hussein is "evil," in the most Biblical and unforgiving sense. To Bush, the fact of Hussein's unquestionable evil made it a fact that he must be building weapons of mass destruction, regardless of what intelligence reports and experts did or did not say. This kind of unquestioning "moral clarity" that sees the world as black/white, good/bad, with no shades of gray, can be in a political or social leader a vice and not a virtue. "When it is coupled with a firm belief that the nation you lead is on the right side of history, pursuing 'God's justice,' and even that there is some divine plan that has put you in the position of leader of that nation, what you see as moral clarity, others will see as self-righteousness. When that self-proclaimed moral clarity is coupled with actions that fail to live up to the rhetoric, others will see it as hypocrisy. In the president of the most powerful nation on earth, self-righteousness and hypocrisy are dangerous vices."
Bush is said by virtually everyone who knows him to be a good and moral man, even by those who oppose his policies. Frum describes the "moral fervor" of Bush's White House, where mild profanity is frowned upon and Bible studies are virtually mandatory. Singer accepts this, but reveals it a kind of moral fundamentalism that takes simple moral rules to be absolute and literal, evidence of Bush's undeveloped moral development. For instance, he balked at recording a radio address in Washington to be broadcast the next day, when he would be in California, when he was to say, "Today I am in California," then broke off and snapped, "But I'm not in California." Singer writes, "Taking the obligation to be truthful so literally suggests an arrested moral development." Using the widely accepted "moral development scale" of psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg, Singer places Bush at the stage of moral development reached by most pre-teenagers: "an orientation toward authority, fixed rules, and the maintenance of the social order." By the age of 16, many will have progressed past that stage into an understanding of principles rather than mere rules, understanding that rules at times must give way to "self-chosen ethical principles appealing to logical comprehensiveness, universality, and consistency."
Kohlberg says that this level transcends the simple rules of the Ten Commandments, or canards such as "Do not lie," but instead embraces more progressive ethical principles like the Golden Rule, or Immanuel Kant's categorical imperative of "act always as if the maxim of your action were to be a universal law." Bush, like many other adults, does not understand this level of thinking. Frum writes that "The country could trust the Bush administration not to cheat and not to lie," but this has been proven false time and again. Singer writes that, instead, "the Bush White House has provided us with a textbook example of what is wrong with an ethic based on rigid adherence to fixed moral rules, literally interpreted. While Bush may naively consider that it would be lying, and therefore wrong, to say that he is in California when he is recording a speech in Washington, he has failed to see that he did something gravely wrong when he created false impressions in his worldwide audiences about Iraq's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction. ...Bush's childishly literal notion of what is to be truthful has set the tone for his entire administration."
Bush's infamous "sixteen words" declaring that Iraq was in possession of weapons-grade uranium during his January 2003 State of the Union address is a prime example. Literally, the words are almost true: "the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant qualities of uranium from Africa." Parsing the phrase tells us much about Bush's level of truth-telling. The phrase puts the responsibility of the content on the British, and not on Bush himself; therefore, when the allegation is proven false (as the administration already knew), Bush could simply point to the British and claim that they, not he, made the claim and that he was merely passing it along. The British did indeed make such a report, though the CIA and Joseph Wilson had already proven it false. This fact gave Bush officials such as Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld the basis for their defense of the statement, with Rice telling the press, "the statement that [Bush] made was indeed accurate. The British government did say that." Rumsfeld said that Bush's claim was "technically accurate." But even so, the phrasing is deceptive. Saying that the British "learned" of the attempt to buy uranium gives it a credibility, an endorsement, that the allegation does not possess. As for being "technically accurate," even if this is true, the claim is designed to mislead the world into thinking Hussein was attempting to become a nuclear power, a claim known to be false.
"If Bush's staff new that the information in his speech was not reliable," writes Singer, "then Bush himself should have known. And if he knew, then he is, of course, as culpable as they are. If he did not know, then either he had not properly instructed his staff on the importance of passing such information on to him, or he had properly instructed them, and they failed to follow his instructions. If they had failed to follow his instructions, then a president who was sensitive to the seriousness of misleading the Congress and the American people on so vital a matter as the basis for starting a war would, on first learning of the possibility that his staff had acted improperly, have seen that whoever was responsible for this serious error of judgment suffered the usual consequences that befall senior officials or political leaders who make such mistakes. Bush, however, did nothing of the sort." Instead, he derided his critics as "revisionist historians," and evaded questions about his credibility by declaring that the war had, in the overthrow of Hussein, a good ending. Later, Bush laid the blame for his lie on the CIA, "as if that absolved him of all responsibility for it," and even then expressed his absolute confidence in CIA director George Tenet and said the matter was closed. He went on to defend Rice's supporting lie, telling the press that she "is an honest, fabulous person and America is lucky to have her service." (Rice later admitted that she feels "personal responsibility for the entire episode," not that her admission changed anything.)
Bush seems to believe that "taking responsibility" is enough -- neither Rice, Tenet, nor anyone else lost their jobs, no one was reprimanded, and Bush never admitted any kind of error nor made any sort of apology. He even helped block an attempt to investigate questions such as the assumption that Iraq possessed WMDs. "A word from Bush would have cleared the way for it," Singer writes, "[b]ut he was evidently more interested in protecting his own position than in establishing the truth about these matters, or in preventing something similar from happening again." On June 14, 2003, Bush admitted that there were doubts about the credibility of the African uranium claims, but the following day, his press secretary, Scott McClellan, refused to answer whether or not Bush knew that the claims were suspect before his speech.
Singer does not believe that Bush is "consciously deceiving his audience every time he speaks of morality, of right and wrong, and even of his religious faith. ...No one who has known Bush personally, at least not since he became a Christian, has suggested that he is so shameless, nor so good an actor. ...It is difficult to believe that Bush could be so successfully living a lie." However, Singer gives strong credence to the possibility that Bush is being manipulated by those around him for their own purposes, a manipulation that Bush is either comfortable with, or too intellectually and morally dense to recognize. Singer highlights the teachings of neoconservative guru Leo Strauss. Strauss, who died in 1973, was a survivor of the Nazi regime, whose philosophy was shaped by watching the liberal, tolerant Weimar Republic fall prey to the power of fascism. Strauss taught political science and philosophy at the University of Chicago, and taught his followers that there is one kind of truth for the masses, and another for the "philosophers," or those in the know and presumably in power.
For example, Strauss, an atheist, taught that a leader of a Christian nation need not himself believe in God, but since religion "breeds deference to the ruling classes," the leader must publicly espouse such faith. Right-wing magazine editor Thomas Fleming writes bluntly that for Strauss, "religion [is] a useful thing to take in the suckers with." Fleming and many others believe that Strauss has similar beliefs about democracy and liberty. His ruling class does not themselves believe in democracy, instead preferring to rule as an all-powerful oligarchy, but the rulers must loudly and publicly proclaim their belief in democratic values in order to remain in power. Many Straussians harbor similar beliefs about equality. Straussian Robert Locke writes that "Civil equality may be salutary for the functioning of society, but men are not truly equal in value...." And Strauss bluntly averred, in the words of the University of Calgary's Shadia Drury, "those who are fit to rule are those who realize there is no morality and that there is only one natural right, the right of the superior to rule over the inferior."
Straussians, who have long worked their way up into the hierarchies of power in the Republican party, have found unprecedented success in gaining power in the Bush administration. One Straussian conceit is that of the "gentleman," the presumably rich and influential fellow who is intellectually lacking, and therefore pliable and useful for Strauss's elite. These "gentlemen" have a special place in the Straussian scheme. Philosophical scholar Miles Burnyear wrote, "The leading characters in Strauss's writing are 'the gentlemen' and 'the philosopher.' 'The gentlemen' come, preferably, from patrician urban backgrounds and have money without having to work too hard for it.... Such 'gentlemen' are idealistic, devoted to virtuous ends, and sympathetic to philosophy. They are thus ready to be taken in hand by 'the philosopher,' who will teach them the great lesson they need to learn before they join the governing elite."
A number of Strauss devotees populate the Bush administration, including Paul Wolfowitz, the architect of the Iraq invasion, and Abram Shulsky, whose Office of Special Plans doctored the intelligence used to "prove" that Iraq posed a threat to the US. So is William Kristol, the founder of the PNAC, as is Leon Kass, who heads Bush's Council on Bioethics. Bush may well be a Straussian "gentleman," being used (willingly or not) for Straussian ends. Bush's rhetoric of God and country helps placate the masses, as is his talk of "no child left behind" and his belief in "a just and equal society." The Straussians want nothing of the sort, but it keeps the multitudes at bay while they cement their grip on power. Singer finds this argument quite plausible, especially in light of events such as the manipulation of the 9/11 attacks to serve his administration's desire to invade Iraq, and Bush's own ridiculous claim that Hussein refused to allow UN inspectors in his country, therefore giving us no alternative but to attack: "Bush's astonishing statement makes it seem possible tht on Iraq, he really was someone's puppet." And if his strings are being pulled on Iraq, they are likely being pulled on other issues as well. Popular wisdom points at two men most likely to be the ultimate "puppet masters" -- Dick Cheney and Karl Rove.
Whatever the truth of the matter, "it is clear that Bush has no real interest in the policy details needed to achieve the aspirations he has voiced. He has failed to follow through on most of the commitments he has made to work for a better, more just society. He has said that deep, persistent poverty is unworthy of America's promise, but the number of Americans living in poverty increased in both 2001 and 2002. Instead of combating that increase, he has pressed for tax cuts that hobble the government's capacity to do anything about it. Rather than ensure that the nation he leads is a good global citizen, Bush has spurned institutions for global cooperation and set back the task of making the rule of law, rather than force, the determining factor in world affairs. He has launched an unnecessary war, costly in human lives and in dollars, with a final outcome that is still uncertain. ...Nor has Bush's own moral character stood up well to the test of high office. ...He trails behind him a string of broken promises and reversed policies, from his claim that he would champion the rights of states against the power of the federal government, to his pledge to bring the American dream to the poor, and his opposition to 'nation-building.' Instead of ushering in 'the responsibility era' of which he often spoke, his tax cuts have pushed the budget further into the red, piling up problems for future generations. If what's needed in a president is, as Bush himself said in November 2000, a consistent message, then George W. Bush is a conspicuous failure." -- Peter Singer, Mark Crispin Miller
Journalist Greg Palast, who works for the BBC as well as independently, notes that most people in other countries do not dislike America or Americans. "We love Americans," they tell him. It's Bush that they hate. "They don't love George W. Bush," he writes. "That's because George Bush is not an American. Look, I didn't think much of Bill Clinton, and he dropped into some of the worst quasi-imperial habits of the New World Trade Order. But Clinton is also more popular worldwide than the pope and pizza combined because he represents that American sense of giving a sh*t, empathy and sincere friendship which are hallmarks of America's Manifest Destiny." They view Bush as little more than a liar, a corporate sycophant, and an ignorant buffoon who hates and despises their country and their people merely because they aren't Americans -- his definition of Americans. -- Greg Palast