Category Archives: Bush

Nods head

Two comments on torture.  First, President Bush:

BUSH: First of all, whatever we have done, was legal. And whatever decision I will make, will be reviewed by the Justice Department to determine whether or not the legality is is there. And the reason why…there’s a difference between what happened in the past and today is there’s new law. And um, and so to answer your question, whatever we will do will be legal. The American people have got to know that what we did in the past gained information that prevented an attack and for those who criticize what we did in the past, I ask them which attack would they rather have not permitted…stopped? Which attack on America would they have said, you know, well, maybe that wasn’t all that important? That we stopped those attacks. I’ll do what’s necessary to protect America within the law. That’s what you gotta understand. And um, [nods head]

Not surprisingly, that doesn't make any sense.  What we did was legal, but the major difference between then and now is that there is a law, making what we will do legal–unlike before, when it was legal.  That's why there is a law.

Now from someone who has been waterboarded:

Waterboarding has, unfortunately, become a household word. Back then, we didn't call it waterboarding we called it "water torture." We recognized it as something the United States would never do, whatever the provocation. As a nation, we must ask our leaders, elected and appointed, to be aware of such horrors; we must ask them to stop the narrow and superficial thinking that hinges upon "legal" definitions and to use common sense. Waterboarding is torture, and torture is clearly a crime against humanity.

I guess they used to call it "torture."  Glad we don't call it torture anymore.

Non-existent principles

This from Brooks’ column yesterday. Inspired by this.

>[H]is self-confidence survives because it flows from two sources. The first is his unconquerable faith in the rightness of his Big Idea. Bush is convinced that history is moving in the direction of democracy, or as he said Friday: “It’s more of a theological perspective. I do believe there is an Almighty, and I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom. And I will tell you that is a principle that no one can convince me that doesn’t exist.”

I missed the part in the Bible about history moving in the direction of democracy. That idea–democracy–was someone else’s. I’m also uncertain whether the dispute about Bush’s belligerent and counterproductive policies primarily concerns whether or not certain principles “exist.” Whatever the source of such foundational principles of value (divine beneficence, common agreement, or whatever), there will always remain the question of how to apply them. Claiming that they’re divine, in other words, tells us nothing about how to apply them.

The Philosopher President

H/t to Leiter and others for this:

>At the nadir of his presidency, George W. Bush is looking for answers. One at a time or in small groups, he summons leading authors, historians, philosophers and theologians to the White House to join him in the search.

>Over sodas and sparkling water, he asks his questions: What is the nature of good and evil in the post-Sept. 11 world? What lessons does history have for a president facing the turmoil I’m facing? How will history judge what we’ve done? Why does the rest of the world seem to hate America? Or is it just me they hate?

>These are the questions of a president who has endured the most drastic political collapse in a generation. Not generally known for intellectual curiosity, Bush is seeking out those who are, engaging in a philosophical exploration of the currents of history that have swept up his administration. For all the setbacks, he remains unflinching, rarely expressing doubt in his direction, yet trying to understand how he got off course.

>These sessions, usually held in the Oval Office or the elegant living areas of the executive mansion, are never listed on the president’s public schedule and remain largely unknown even to many on his staff. To some of those invited to talk, Bush seems alone, isolated by events beyond his control, with trusted advisers taking their leave and erstwhile friends turning on him.

Two questions: (1) which philosopher would you send to converse with Bush (don’t recommend yourself please)? (2) how does he or she answer Bush’s questions?

El presidente

No explanation necessary:

>_”Politics comes and goes, but your principles don’t. And everybody wants to be loved _ not everybody. … You never heard anybody say, `I want to be despised, I’m running for office.'”

>_”The best thing about my family is my wife. She is a great first lady. I know that sounds not very objective, but that’s how I feel. And she’s also patient. Putting up with me requires a lot of patience.”

>_”There are jobs Americans aren’t doing. … If you’ve got a chicken factory, a chicken-plucking factory, or whatever you call them, you know what I’m talking about.”

>_”There are some similarities, of course” between Iraq and Vietnam. “Death is terrible.”

>_”I’ve been in politics long enough to know that polls just go poof at times.”

>As he has before, Bush told the story about how his first presidential decision was to pick a rug for the Oval Office, a task he quickly cast to his wife. He told her to make sure the rug reflected optimism “because you can’t make decisions unless you’re optimistic that the decisions you make will lead to a better tomorrow.”

>Later, when he talked about his hope for succeeding in Iraq, Bush said, “Remember the rug?”

Here’s the video. I think this man has broken new ground.

The future

Here’s a good one from the President:

>Bush consulted with Gates and Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who will head U.S. forces in Iraq, at an early-morning meeting at the White House. Speaking with reporters afterward, the president complained that lawmakers “are condemning a plan before it’s even had a chance to work. And they have an obligation and a serious responsibility, therefore, to put up their own plan as to what would work.”

Aside from the fact that it’s false to claim that alternative plans have not been offered, criticizing the plan before “it’s had a chance to work” betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of planning for future contingencies. In the first place, the claim, as I understand it, is that the plan has already been tried a few times over, and so hasn’t worked. In the absence of any significant change, the plan is unlikely to work this time. Even if that were false, it still doesn’t make any sense to criticize criticism of future plans because they haven’t had a chance. The point of the criticism is that the plan won’t work in the future, so don’t do it. Jeez.

Cut a few

Courtesy of Thinkprogress, Bush has diagnosed the problem:

>In other words, we just didn’t talk about philosophy — there’s too many philosophers in Washington — we acted. We got the job done. We cut the taxes on everybody who pays income taxes. We doubled the child tax credit. We reduced the marriage penalty. We cut taxes on small businesses. We cut taxes on capital gains and dividends to promote investment and jobs. And to reward family businesses and farmers for a lifetime of hard work and savings, we put the death tax on the road to extinction. (Applause.)

If he thinks it’s bad now, he should just wait for the December meeting of the American Philosophical Association.

Do you feel lucky?

Courtesy of Scott Horton, we have the following gem from our Dear Leader:

>I’ve met too many wives and husbands who’ve lost their partner in life, too many children who’ll never see their mom or dad again. I owe it to them and to the families who still have loved ones in harm’s way, to ensure that their sacrifices are not in vain

See the video here. Scott calls this the “Sunk Costs Fallacy” and he refers to the Skeptics Dictionary’s explanation:

>When one makes a hopeless investment, one sometimes reasons: I can’t stop now, otherwise what I’ve invested so far will be lost. This is true, of course, but irrelevant to whether one should continue to invest in the project. Everything one has invested is lost regardless. If there is no hope for success in the future from the investment, then the fact that one has already lost a bundle should lead one to the conclusion that the rational thing to do is to withdraw from the project.

>To continue to invest in a hopeless project is irrational. Such behavior may be a pathetic attempt to delay having to face the consequences of one’s poor judgment. The irrationality is a way to save face, to appear to be knowledgeable, when in fact one is acting like an idiot.”

This is really an interesting variety of non-sequitur in that it seems very much like the gambler’s fallacy–If I only keep rolling I’ll come out even! But, unlike the gambler’s fallacy, it doesn’t allege a specious causal connection between past and future gambling events. As a result, we will add this oft-heard non-sequitur to our categories list. The only question is where to put it.

Do it yourself

Let’s see if anyone can identify this one from our Dear Leader:

>The stakes in this election couldn’t be more clear. If you don’t think we should be listening in on the terrorist, then you ought to vote for the Democrats. If you want your government to continue listening in when al Qaeda planners are making phone calls into the United States, then you vote Republican. (Applause.)

If you find any in the rest of the speech, let us know as well.


The idea that Bush fights battles with imaginary foes–straw men or red herring–does not strike us as so novel. We’ve documented this tendency among the argumentative press for a while now. Only now is it getting any traction. It’s certainly reassuring that some in the media give a rats about such things. But it’s not so reassuring when they completely bungle in it the name of balance.

An example of the first (reassuring) thing is Dan Froomkin (go read the entire White House Briefing–it’s worth it):

>Rather than acknowledge and attempt to rebut the many concerns about his policies, Bush makes up inane arguments and then ridicules them.

And Froomkin gives abundant examples.

Over at the New York Times, Jim Rutenberg approaches the same topic, but finds something bad to say about Democrats:

>The White House is hardly alone in its pointed use of language against political opponents.

The Bush variety (again–look at the examples) of straw man or red herring amounts to much more than the pointed use of language. It’s the wholesale invention of an opponent. Do they Democrats do that? If they do, Rutenberg doesn’t say so.