December 14, 2012


George W Bush





George Walker Bush (1946)

43rd President of the United States (2001-2009).

  • The President of Good and Evil: The Ethics of George W Bush, Text, Melbourne, 2004.
    ISBN 0-525-94813-9.
    Peter Singer: Ira W DeCamp Professor of Bioethics, University Center for Human Values, Princeton University; Laureate Professor, University of Melbourne, Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics.

    A Single Nation Of Justice And Opportunity

    Bush's moral case for a tax cut

    Bush's language seems to echo the libertarian view that all taxation is theft …
    [If] 'it's your money', then isn't it theft for the government to demand your money from you, under pain of fines or imprisonment if you refuse to hand it over? …
    (p 15)

    [Yet, Bush rejects the minimalist state.]
    [In] his inaugural address, after referring to the duty to relieve suffering, [he] said:
    Americans in need are not strangers, they are citizens, not problems, but priorities.
    [Federal] spending on education [and] helping Americans in need [appeared] to be among his priorities.
    The proportion of the taxes you pay that go towards meeting these priorities, then, is presumably not 'your money' but the government's money.
    So the government should give the taxpayers back only the money that is left over after the government has met 'priorities' or 'needs'. …

    In arguing for his initial tax cut [in 2000], Bush pointed out that the government was running a surplus.
    [But this surplus] was not a surplus after all needs and priorities [had been met.]
    [He referred to] the unmet needs of, for example, disadvantaged children.
    If the government had spent more on ways of giving these children a greater opportunity to achieve the American dream and on other programs to overcome deep, persistent poverty, there would have been no surplus.
    There may have been a deficit, requiring a substantial tax rise to cover it.
    (p 16)

    Is it really your money?

    The best justification of a right to private property is that we will all be better off if we recognise such a right.
    But if it is the common good that justifies the recognition of a right to private property, then the common good can also set limits to that right. …

    [Say] I work for a large corporation that makes automobiles …
    For my labour, the corporation pays me a wage, on which I pay taxes.
    [An] opponent of [taxation might object saying, 'but it's] your money!'

    (p 19)

    [Without a] system of regulation … the corporation would not be able to pay me …
    [And] if, somehow, I did get paid, the money would be of little value because I could not be secure in my ownership of anything I bought with it.
    (p 20)

    Fairness in taxation?

    {Bush apparently [believed] that a fair tax cut is one that cuts marginal income tax rates by roughly the same number of percentage points at the top and at the bottom of the income scales. …
    [However, this widens] income inequalities, both in absolute dollars and in percentage terms.
    (p 23)}

    [Cutting] the lowest marginal tax rate [further benefit] the wealthy, because they pay that rate on a part of their income. …

    [In 2001,] four out of five income tax payers [were] earning less than $73,000 a year in 2001 …
    [Out of Bush's initial tax cuts] they got, on average … $350, and over the next ten years, their yearly savings …. generally [stayed] below $500.
    On the other hand … the richest 1% [got] to keep, on average, another $45,000 [by 2010. …]
    By [2010, 52%] of the total tax cuts [would go] to the richest 1%.
    (p 22)

    [The] richest 1.4 million taxpayers [enjoyed,] on average, over 100 times the tax saving [than] the rest …

    The 2003 tax cut [gave a] couple, earning more than twelve times as much as the couple on a lower income, [savings of] nearly forty times as much in taxes. …

    This [was] not an even-handed reduction of the tax burden for all taxpayers.
    (p 22)

    The 'death tax' and equality of opportunity

    George W Bush [Inaugural Address, 2001]:
    The ambitions of some Americans are limited by failing schools and hidden prejudice and the circumstances of their birth …
    [Sometimes] our differences run so deep, it seems we share a continent, but not a country.
    We do not accept this, and we will not allow it.
    [I pledge to] build a single nation of justice and opportunity.
    He was right to say that the differences between [the prosperous and the poor in America] 'run deep'.
    They run much deeper than they do in other developed nations, and they have become deeper over the past twenty years.

    … America is one of the world's richest nations, [yet] the proportion of the adult population living in relative poverty is more than twice as high in the United States as it is in France, Germany or Italy — 19% as against about 8%.
    [Australia] is around 12%.
    [One] quarter of [American children] live in poverty, compared with about a tenth or less in the major nations of continental Western Europe.
    [In absolute terms] the poorest 10% of the American population are worse off [than] the poorest tenth of the populations of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.
    A Swedish family … that is at the threshold of that poorest 10% … will also have the security of a safety net of income support and free health care services that far surpasses anything available to the poor in America.
    (p 27)

    [American] life expectancy at birth [falls] somewhere between that of Greece and Portugal. …

    [The] richest 1% of Americans hold more than 38% of the nation's wealth, a concentration unmatched in any other developed nation. …
    [Between] 1979 and 1997, the after-tax income of the top 1% of Americans rose 157%, while the income of those in the middle-income range rose by only 5%, and that of the poorest fifth of the population actually fell. …
    In 1970 … the average annual compensation of the top 100 chief executives was thirty-nine times the pay of an ordinary worker.
    By 1999, it had risen to more than one thousand times …

    Would you like to know more?

    Such deep differences in income and wealth raise, as Bush correctly noted, a serious doubt about whether America is a just society. …
    But [then] equality of wealth has never been prominent among American values.
    (p 28)

    [The] distinctively American form of equality has [always] been equality of opportunity. …
    George W Bush:
    [Every] child must have an equal place at the starting line.
    [In a nation with a] high percentage of its children living in relative poverty [some children will] have plenty of nutritious food, a warm place to sleep in winter, and air-conditioning in summer.
    From their early years of schooling, they have their own room, desk and [networked] computer.
    Others [will] have none of these advantages.
    How can children living in such different circumstances have an equal start in life?
    (p 29)

    In 1994, the last year for which figures are available, a student … from a family with earnings in the top quarter of the population, was ten times more likely to gain a degree by the age of twenty-four than a student from a family with earnings in the bottom quarter.
    [In 1979 the ratio was 4:1.]
    (p 30)

    [An inheritance tax] taxes people who are receiving a benefit [that] they have done nothing to deserve.
    [It] is just as likely to come to the idle as to the hard-working.
    [Those] who worry about the disincentive effects of welfare on the poor should have no difficulty in accepting that a similar effect can [apply to the rich.]
    Several studies suggest that people who grow up knowing that they will never need to earn their own living consume more and work less …
    [Even if this were not true,] as long as people can pass great wealth on to their children, there can never be real equality of opportunity.
    (p 31)
    William Gates Snr:
    While we may not be able to ensure that all children start their lives on a level playing field, that is something we should strive for and the estate tax keeps us closer to that ideal.

    Bush's choice

    Bush's conception of 'a single nation of justice and opportunity' cannot be reconciled
    • with his opposition to taxes on a small number of especially high value estates and on dividends, nor
    • with his support for giving most of the budget surplus that existed when he was elected … back to taxpayers who are not in need, nor
    • with his continued support for tax cuts favourable to the rich after that surplus disappeared.
    (p 32)

    Studies of national tax and spending policies have shown that societies in which [tax more have] lower income inequality.
    [Among] the richer nations … the more equal ones have … a higher income per capita [and lower rates of absolute and relative poverty.]
    (p 33)

    One might think … that the highest priority of [a compassionate conservative] administration … would be to provide very substantial additional funds for faith-based and other non-profit charities.
    Since the budget was in surplus when Bush took office, these funds were available even without tax increases.
    Instead, the tax cut was a higher priority.
    Now, having got the tax cut, the Bush administration says that it has to cut back spending.
    (p 35)
    John J Dilulio Jnr [Director, White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives]:
    Repeal [of the estate tax] could undercut another administration priority: encouraging private contributions to charities, religious and nonreligious alike, that help the poor. …
    The number of Americans living in poverty rose in 2001 and increased again in 2002. …
    In 2003, when it was clear that the budget surplus had turned into a substantial deficit, and that more spending was needed for the war with Iraq, Bush [passed] another huge tax cut [which] he promoted … as a means of helping to speed up economic recovery.
    (p 36)

    George Akerlof, professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley and the 2001 Nobel laureate in economics, has described the current deficit as as 'a form of looting' and warned that in future, if America is to avoid the threat of bankruptcy, Medicare and Social Security will have to be cut back heavily. …

    [The] Financial Times speculated [that] the real agenda was deliberately to bring about what Akerlof has warned is likely to happen: a fiscal crisis that would provide a justification for slashing federal spending on popular social programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.
    [If] true, 'compassionate conservatism' will have turned into its very opposite: a conservatism that increases the power and affluence of the rich, and is prepared to be utterly heartless to the poor and elderly.
    (p 38)

    The Culture Of Life

    On his first day in office [Bush] reinstated President Reagan's order barring health care organisations all over the world from receiving American funding if they perform abortions — even when these services are separately financed — or if they even offer women advice about abortion.
    Subsequently … he froze millions of dollars of American assistance for the World Health Organization and United Nations Population Fund programs to advance reproductive health.
    (p 48)

    Capital punishment

    [Few] countries use the death penalty.
    Only China and Iran execute more people than the US. …
    Under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, it is regarded as a human rights violation …
    (p 53)

    When Bush was elected president, the federal government had not used the death penalty for thirty-eight years.
    Bush reinstated it.
    When he was Governor of Texas [he] signed 152 death warrants — more than any previous Governor of Texas, or any other American governor in modern times.
    Typically, he made his life-and-death decision after a half-hour briefing with his legal counsel.
    Only once, as governor, did he stop an execution.
    (p 54)

    The Death Penalty Information Center has a list of 102 people wrongly sentenced to death in the United States between 1973 and 2000.
    An investigation by the Chicago Tribune of all 682 executions in the United States between 1976 and 2000 found that at least 120 people were put to death while still proclaiming their innocence, and in four of these cases there was evidence supporting the claim of innocence.
    (p 55)

    In 1999 Governor George Ryan of Illinois [set up a commission that] conducted the most thorough study of the death penalty ever carried out in a single state.
    It concluded that thirteen condemned prisoners were innocent. …
    George Ryan:
    Our capital system is haunted by the demon of error, error in determining guilt and error in determining who among the guilty deserves to die.
    The commission proposed changes to the criminal justice system that were repeatedly rejected by the Illinois legislature.
    [Just] before he left office, Ryan felt he could no longer live with the risk of executing the innocent [so he] commuted all death sentences … to terms of imprisonment. …
    George W Bush:
    I don't think you should support the death penalty to seek revenge. …
    I think the reason to support the death penalty is because it saves other people's lives.
    (p 56)

    [After] the 1976 US Supreme Court ruling that the death penalty is constitutional, a dozen states chose not to enact laws allowing it.
    These states have not had higher homicide rates than the states that did enact such laws — in fact ten of them have had homicide rates lower than the national average.
    South Dakota has it, and North Dakota does not.
    The homicide rate is higher in South Dakota than in North Dakota.
    Connecticut has it, and Massachusetts does not.
    Again, the homicide rate is higher in the state with the death penalty.
    [These states] are roughly comparable, in terms of their economic and ethnic mix.
    Moreover, homicide rates have risen and fallen in roughly symmetrical patterns in states with and without the death penalty, suggesting that the existence or absence of the death penalty has little effect on the incidence of homicide.

    In 1992 California carried out its first execution in twenty-five years.
    Homicide rates in Los Angeles rose.
    [After] Oklahoma restored the death penalty [a study] comparing 293 [matched] pairs of neighbouring counties… found no deterrent effect from capital punishment, executions, or whether a county has a population on death row.
    (p 57)

    [There were] higher violent crime rates in death penalty counties. …

    [A] study of the effect of executions in Texas from 1982 until 1997 … concluded that the number of executions was unrelated to murder rates.

    [There] are some studies that suggest that the death penalty does have a deterrent effect.
    [However,] they usually turn out to have serious flaws. …

    Bush, as Governor of Texas [opposed a bill to prohibit] the use of the death penalty [on those] with IQs of less than 65 [saying:]
    I like the law the way it is right now
    (p 58)

    In May 1997 [he executed] Terry Washington, a 33-year-old mentally retarded man with the communication skills of a seven-year-old. …

    In June 2002, the US Supreme Court ruled that [executing the intellectually disabled violates] the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution [prohibiting 'cruel and unusual punishment'.]
    (p 59)

    Killing in war

    [During the 2003 Iraq War] the approval of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld [was required] for air attacks considered likely to kill more than thirty civilians.
    More than fifty such attacks were proposed, and Rumsfeld approved all of them …
    (p 61)

    "Just War" Doctrine

    The Immunity of Non-combatants

    Only … combatants are legitimate targets.
    Civilians are not to be directly attacked …
    [The] greatest possible care must be taken to avoid harming them indirectly, and when that cannot be done, to minimise the harm done.


    Gaining an objective should not involve inflicting harms that are disproportional to the value of the objective itself.
    [Causing] disproportionate harm to civilians cannot be justified, even when the harm is not directly intended.

    Right Intention

    The intention with which each act is carried out must be just …
    [Indiscriminate] violence is wrong, even in the course of a war. …

    (The Challenge of Peace, United States Bishops Conference, 1983)
    (p 62)
    Donald Rumsfeld:
    [No] nation in human history has done more to avoid civilian casualties than the United States has in this conflict. …

    General Tommy R Franks [Commander, US Forces, Afghanistan]:
    I can't imagine there's been a conflict in history where there has been less collateral damage, less unintended consequences.
    [In] Kosovo the NATO forces dropped more bombs than the US dropped in Afghanistan, yet the Afghanistan bombing killed twice as many civilians.
    (p 63)

    [In] responding to [an attack] that killed twelve villagers, a Pentagon spokesman said that … trucks and equipment belonging to the Taliban were … 'authorised military targets'.
    (p 64)

    On the only occasion reported in Woodward's book [Bush at War] when there was a discussion of the 'collateral damage' issue, Bush was more concerned with the public relations aspect of such damage than with probing whether more could be done to avoid it.
    George W Bush:
    Well, we also need to highlight the fact that the Taliban are killing people and conducting their own terror operations, so get a little bit more balance here about what the situation is.
    In Iraq, too, [it appears] Bush was more concerned with image than with reality. …
    George W Bush:
    … I was worried that the first pictures coming out of Iraq would be a wounded grandchild of Saddam Hussein …
    [That] the first images of the American attack would be death to young children.
    The concern Bush expresses here is not about the risk that American bombs might kill or wound children [but about the public relations impact of] images of the dead or wounded children …
    (p 68)

    A selective culture of life

    Bush's support for the death penalty, in the face of evidence that it is not an effective deterrent [and] that the American system of justice allows some innocent people to be executed, is not consistent with his professed ethic of respect for innocent human life.
    [His] concern for the lives of innocent people on death row, and for innocent men, women and children in Afghanistan and Iraq falls far short of his concern with protecting embryos that might be used for stem cell research. …
    The frozen embryos that scientists wish to use will be destroyed anyway, if they are not used.
    They have no future.
    [None] of them have, or have had, any conscious awareness, any hopes or desires of their own.
    (p 68)

    … Bush is [not] an evil person in the way that Osama bin Laden is evil. …
    But it is important to notice that Osama bin Laden has appealed to exactly the same distinction between what we intend, and what we foresee will happen as a result of our actions, in order to deny that the attacks of September 11, 2001 were contrary to Islamic law. …
    Osama bin Laden:
    [I agree that the] prophet Mohammed forbade the killing of babies and women …
    [However, the hijackers] did not intend to kill babies …
    [They] intended to destroy the strongest military power in the world, to attack the Pentagon that houses more than 64,000 employees, a military centre that houses the strength and the military intelligence …

    The [twin] towers are an economic power and not a children's school.
    Those that were there are men that supported the biggest economic power in the world. …
    (Television interview, Al Jazeera, October 2001)
    (p 73, emphasis added)

    If we allow Bush to justify acts that he knew would kill innocents by saying that killing innocents was not his intention, then we should be aware that others, too, can use the same distinction between intention and unwanted consequences to reconcile their deadly deeds with a religious ethic that would otherwise rule them out. …

    It might be possible to justify the loss of innocent life … by making a utilitarian calculation that [military action] would save more lives in the end.
    [However, we would need to be] quite certain that the facts are really as they are claimed to be.
    Is the goal worth pursuing?
    Will our actions really help us to achieve it?
    Is it important enough to justify the loss of civilian lives? …
    [Such] an argument leads, not to black and white distinctions between evil terrorism and good military bombings of residential districts, but to shades of grey.
    (p 74)

    The Freest Nation In The World?

    A philosophy that trusts individuals

    George W Bush:
    My philosophy trusts individuals to make the right decisions for their, families and communities, and that is far more compassionate than a philosophy that seeks solutions from distant bureaucracies. …
    I believe government closest to the people governs best.
    (p 76)
    George W Bush:
    … I don't trust the federal government.
    I don't want the federal government making decisions on behalf of everybody. …
    (p 77)

    Choosing how to die

    In 1994 a majority of voters in the state of Oregon approved a proposal to allow physicians to prescribe, but not to administer, a lethal dose of drugs to patients who are terminally ill.
    Two doctors must confirm that the patient is likely to die within six months …
    [The] patient must be informed and mentally competent, and must make three requests, two oral and one written, for assistance in dying.
    The requests must be at least fifteen days apart. …

    Opponents of the new law [delayed] the law's implementation [in the courts.]
    Three years later, [they] succeeded in getting the issue placed on the ballot again.
    [Despite] a well-funded campaign … by pro-life organisations … Roman Catholics and other conservative Christians, Oregon voters reaffirmed their support for physician-assisted suicide, by a considerably larger majority than in 1994. Further attempts to stop the law through the courts failed …
    [Since the] law went into effect [there] is no evidence of abuse or a 'slippery slope' to less justified uses of physician-assisted suicide.
    (p 79)

    Between 1997 [and 2001] 129 patients used their prescriptions to end their lives.
    The overwhelming majority of them had cancer and their median age was sixty-nine. …

    President Clinton's attorney-general, Janet Reno [declared that there was] nothing in the federal laws governing prescription drugs that forbade their use for this purpose …
    (p 80)

    [On] 9 November 2001 … Bush's attorney-general, John Ashcroft, reversed Reno's decision and asserted that federally controlled substances could not be used in physician-assisted suicide.
    (p 81)

    It is difficult to see why a president with a philosophy of trusting individuals to make the right decisions would not allow terminally ill, mentally competent individuals to decide when they have had enough and wish to die. …

    [He] can hardly claim to be a supporter of [states rights] if he only allows them to pass laws that he personally supports.
    [In 2006 the Supreme Court] ruled that the United States Attorney General could not enforce the federal Controlled Substances Act against physicians who prescribed drugs … for the assisted suicide of the terminally ill.
    (p 83)

    Choosing what drugs to take, and who to marry

    During the 1999 election campaign … Bush said that he would allow the states to decide on the medical use of marijuana, and [on the] question on gay marriage …
    (p 84)

    [After taking office there were] raids involving dozens of federal government agents on co-operatives that distribute marijuana to people who are ill.
    (p 85)
    George W Bush:
    [I believe] marriage is between a man and a woman …
    [We] ought to codify that one way or the other …
    [This was] understood to express support for a constitutional amendment to rule out same-sex marriages …
    No genuine advocate of small government would seek to take from the states the right to decide whether people of the same sex can marry.

    The environment

    One area in which Bush has lived up to the pledge to cut back the role of the federal government is the environment.
    (p 86)

    Freedom and the Bush philosophy

    [Bush's] record as president suggests that neither the promotion of individual rights and freedoms, nor the curtailment of the powers of the federal government, is a high priority for him.
    (p 103)

    When individuals make decisions he thinks wrong — whether it is terminally ill patients who wish to end their own lives, or people who find smoking marijuana helps them deal with illness — he will try to prevent them from acting on their decisions.
    When states pass laws that allow their citizens freedoms that Bush thinks they ought not to have, he will try to use the power of the federal government to overturn or thwart those laws.
    The chief area in which he has been ready to support states' rights and local decision-making is the environment …

    To the extent that Bush is successful in forcing Americans to do what he thinks to be right, America will fall behind other nations in terms of freedom.
    Residents of the Netherlands and Belgium … have more freedom than Americans to choose how they die.
    In those countries, patients who are terminally or incurably ill, and suffering in ways that cannot be relieved, may ask a doctor to assist them in committing suicide, or to give them a lethal injection.
    About 2% of all deaths in the Netherlands occur as a result of such a request.
    (p 104)

    A rather larger number obtain the assurance of their doctor that if their suffering becomes unbearable, the doctor will end their lives, but, having received this assurance, they do not find it necessary to make use of it. …
    The Dutch are also freer than Americans with regard to the use of marijuana. …
    Admittedly … Dutch residents are less free than most Americans [when it comes to buying a gun. …]

    It used to be possible to say that the rights and liberties of Americans are more secure than those of the citizens of other countries because they are protected by a written constitution that is upheld by an independent judiciary.
    Under Bush, it is no longer possible to say this.
    Basic rights to liberty and due process have been denied, and the Bush administration has resorted to secret assassinations of those it suspects of terrorism.

    [When] examining the killing of civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq [and of prisoners in America, it is clear that] Bush's support for the right to life is less absolute than his statements about abortion and the rights of embryos would lead one to expect.
    (p 105)

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