September 4, 2004

THE PHILOSOPHER'S CASE FOR BUSH:

Philosophically, It's a Pure Choice: Intrepid in making bad policy, or restrained but cowardly. Pick one. (Crispin Sartwell, September 3, 2004, LA Times)

A basic distinction in philosophical ethics concerns the evaluation of persons as against the evaluation of actions.

The former, which revolves around questions of character, is a tradition that stretches back to Plato and Aristotle. It's called "virtue ethics." The latter often evaluates actions by their results. The utilitarians — for example, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill — assessed acts morally by whether they tended to increase or decrease the sum of human happiness.

I suggest that in the current presidential race, these two moral frameworks are in direct conflict. George W. Bush is the better man. John F. Kerry is the less disastrous maker of policy. [...]

Bush's policies have been disastrous. The Patriot Act and other legislation, as well as court cases brought by his evangelical Justice Department, constitute a serious attack on the U.S. Constitution, that is, on our basic form of government.

His tax cuts have plunged us into massive deficit spending.

His choices about where to intervene internationally have been morally indefensible: invading a quiescent Iraq while placating North Korea and watching genocide in Sudan.

On the other hand, he has pursued these aims — as well as many others that are much more morally defensible — with clarity, steadfastness and at least some degree of political courage. He is, we might say, intrepid.


So, if you think some constitutional order still remains, that a growing economy is worth a little bump in the debt, that Iraq is better off as a democracy than under Saddam, and that we're right to be intervening in Sudan then there's really no reason to so much as consider Mr. Kerry. After all, it is a fact, as the author concedes, that Mr. Bush is the better man morally, while the results are just a matter of opinion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 4, 2004 9:22 AM
Comments

Kerry is the "less disastrous maker of policy"? Maybe if your time frame is a year or two, but his will be another Carter admin that will take decades to clean up after. And that clean up will probably involve the death of millions in some part of the globe.

And his examples of Bush's "disasters" are at best opinions, and in the case of the Patriot Act, ("evangelical Justice Department" indeed) just wrong.

My first job after dropping out of college was with an ABD Ph.D candidate from the University of Chicago, and he commented that in about three thousand years of trying, philosophers hadn't really figured out what questions to ask, let alone the answers to any. I think you can see why he quit (besides no longer needing that deferment.)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at September 4, 2004 10:47 AM

"at least some degree of political courage"? I would shorten that to: and great political courage ... and to me that would have been an understatement. However I doubt if it will ever get into a sequel to "Profiles in Courage" unless Victor D. Hanson authors it.

Posted by: genecis at September 4, 2004 11:19 AM

"The utilitarians for example, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill assessed acts morally by whether they tended to increase or decrease the sum of human happiness."

"His choices about where to intervene internationally have been morally indefensible: invading a quiescent Iraq while placating North Korea and watching genocide in Sudan."

First, it would seem to me that the President's constitutional duty extends to increasing the happiness of Americans not the human race.

That being taken as given, it seems that his choices about where to act on the international scene are in accordance with the best interests of the American people and thus utilitarian in principle. I believe an argument can be defended that the moral leader is far more likely to put the interest of his constituents above his own since doing what is "right" can often conflict with what is in the leader's own interest.

When will some people realize that virtue is not a fault.

Posted by: Pilgrim at September 4, 2004 11:31 AM

As it turns out Crispen was my philosophy instructor some years ago. I believe that I only got a B in the class. My arguments on Plato's Republic and such were not always persuasive.

Posted by: Pilgrim at September 4, 2004 11:33 AM

"His tax cuts have plunged us into massive deficit spending"

Actually, deficit spending has plunged us into massive deficit spending.

Posted by: carter at September 4, 2004 1:24 PM

Can someone explain to me how the Patriot act is an assault on the Constitution? Just wondering...

Posted by: Murf at September 4, 2004 3:03 PM

The only real 'assault' that can be attributed to the Patriot Act is it's name.

Folks who do not like the name imagine what mutst be in the act and then rail against that.

Can you say 'straw man'? That's right, I knew you could.

Posted by: Uncle Bill at September 4, 2004 3:47 PM

I remember the word _decisiveness_ being drilled in our little heads many years ago at OCS. If you're in charge, make a decision, one way or the other. If you screw up, you (and your superiors) can at least learn from the mistake. If you freeze up, nothing is gained.

Right or wrong, GWB makes decisions from which he can be evaluated.

Posted by: JP at September 4, 2004 4:30 PM

carter:

Actually it's not massive.

Posted by: oj at September 4, 2004 5:53 PM
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