Freedom from Blog

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Basic Decency

This piece in the WSJ makes the point that I see as coming to define the end of the Bush years. Sure, he was an awful president, sure, he made some major mistakes, but, but, but! He's personally decent. Towey: "Count me among those who will miss him and his bedrock decency."

Gerson: But that humanity is precisely what I will remember. I have seen President Bush show more loyalty than he has been given, more generosity than he has received. I have seen his buoyancy under the weight of malice and his forgiveness of faithless friends. Again and again, I have seen the natural tug of his pride swiftly overcome by a deeper decency -- a decency that is privately engaging and publicly consequential.


I guess it helps to have friends, or political minions, who are speechwriters and can try to buck up your public image by stories of how "decent" a person you are. And I guess there is value in being nice to the people who work for you, remembering their kids' names and shit like that. But in a major world leader, that's small potatoes. Not even a virtue, as leader qua leader. Regardless of how good a man (or woman) one might be, one can still be a bad, or evil, leader.

How many have died as a direct result of the acts of this decent man?

I would think that the newspaper editors of the world would have the basic, nay, bedrock decency to protect us from this kind of nonsense.


At 7:35 PM, Blogger Wilson said...

Did you see "Downfall"? Great movie. I was always amused by how people found the relatively human portrayal of Hitler to be so upsetting. How could a man who was nice to his secretary and loved his dog be the man who started the Holocaust??? People want clear brightlines on these things. If you're the kind of person who kills innocent people as a matter of policy, they expect you to look and act like it. I find this interesting, and a widely held sentiment. I absolutely expect the public image of Bush to pick up after his 'retirement', as he will be portrayed as a well meaning fellow who just didn't do so well.

At 12:16 AM, Blogger tenaciousmcd said...

I guess if you can't sell Bush as Give 'Em Hell Harry Truman, you can at least hope he'll get some Jimmy Carter-style sympathy. No such luck.

What, exactly, are the public (as opposed to private) implications of his so-called "decency"? The mind wanders. I'll suggest two: 1) he usually avoided demonizing immigrants and racial minorities, and 2) he pumped some good money into helping Africa. That's a pretty thin last for an eight year stint.

At 9:15 AM, Blogger Wilson said...

Jimmy Carter? "History's Greatest Monster"?

At 7:05 PM, Blogger Number Three said...

Well, I (personally) wouldn't go to the "Hitler was nice to his dog" analogy for Bush, because it violates the "DO NOT compare anyone to Hitler" rule (neo-cons violate this rule regularly, but not me). But there is a weird sense that personal traits and leadership/policy are integrally connected. And that is wrong.

My favorite example of this was, years ago, now, when someone asked leading communitarian thinkers whether they ever used public transportation. Almost none of them did, and at least a couple asked whether the airport shuttle counted. On one level, this is delicious and cutting, because it makes the communitarians look like utter hypocrites. (Yeehah, I say.)

But also, one must ask, so? Whether any particular individual does something is irrelevant to the question of what the common practice should be. Not only on the "is/ought" dimension, but on the one/many dimension.

Still, I think it's offensive to lavish praise on the decency of a man who, for no good reason, launched a war that has resulted in the deaths of, at least, tens of thousands.

Even if he rubs Barney's belly and remembers people's birthdays.

At 7:08 PM, Blogger Number Three said...

Let me add one thing. Now that I'm a father, I can say that NO ONE should get credit for "loving his [her] children." Loving your child[ren] is the easiest, most natural thing in the world. It's basically hard-wired. If you're Thrasymachus, maybe you don't love them. But if you're not a psychopath, then there should be no credit for this.

It would be like giving points for breathing.

At 12:50 PM, Blogger Paul said...


Are you, Frances and Bee still coming to Cleveland for Thanksgiving? If yes, shoot me an email to let me know the dates.

At 10:57 AM, Blogger Wilson said...

I wasn't really comparing Bush to Hitler, I was comparing people's reaction to Bush to their reaction to the portrayal of Hitler in the movie "Downfall"


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