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The Ethics of George W. Bush

By Peter Singer

Pub Date: March 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-525-94813-9
Publisher: Dutton

If George W. Bush fell down in a forest, would he know it?

Singer (Pushing Time Away, 2003, etc.) is an ethicist, not an epistemologist, and such a question is of less interest to him than, say, What is the best Occam’s-razor explanation for Bush’s apparent inability to tell the truth? Dubya is certainly no philosopher, writes Singer. He is, however, “not only America’s president, but also its most prominent moralist,” fond of viewing the world in dualistic terms such as good vs. evil. In fact, between the time Bush took office and June 2003, by Singer’s count, he made public reference to evil in no fewer than 319 speeches, and as a substantive rather than adjective (“914 noun uses as against 182 adjectival uses”). But does Bush really understand evil except as a fundamentalist trope? Does he understand the implications of much of anything? The unreflective Bush has, after all, talked himself into many a corner. Singer closely examines several such instances, such as Bush’s averring that our money is our money (a rationale for cutting taxes) while rejecting the Nozickian minimalist-state view, yielding a deception that Singer states thus: “It’s your money, but the government can and should take your money to meet needs or priorities.” (Unless you’re rich, in which case it’s your money, period.) Blurring the distinction between morals and ethics, Singer occasionally writes his way into corners of his own: Is Bush’s failure to create jobs really an ethical matter? Is it his obligation to do so at all? Still, readers will delight in pondering a few textbook-like chestnuts (does war equal murder?) while basking in Singer’s breezy disdain for the president, whose “religious beliefs are no more based on critically examined evidence than are the religious beliefs of Osama bin Laden.” Assuming, that is, that bin Laden has any truly felt religious beliefs, and that religion has ever required the examination of evidence.

High-concept ammunition for the anti-Bush crowd as the 2004 race heats up.