Tuesday, April 20, 2004

A Small Point, Perhaps: In a fine review of Peter Singer's President of Good and Evil (a highbrow anti-Bush screed), Michael Lind makes this opening remark about George W. Bush:
As US president, George W Bush has proved to be doctrinaire, rather than a pragmatist, so the idea of subjecting his world-view to a philosophic critique is a promising one.
I hear this quite a bit, though I confess I don't know what it means. Firstly, let's put aside the fact that doctrinaire is a loaded word. It means "principled," which is the word Lind would use when speaking of a steadfast liberal. No, using the word doctrinaire instead means adhering to principles that the speaker or writer finds distasteful. Once you change the wording, repose the premise: "Is Bush principled or pragmatic?"

With that out of the way, this becomes more like the ridiculous old charge tha Bush is ultra-conservative, or some such formulation (right-winger, hyper-partisan, etc.). I think I could make a decent case that Bush is very pragmatic. I won't go too deep into it, but I'll give a couple of examples.

- On tax cuts, Bush said he thought a guiding principle should be capping personal income tax rates at 33%. He settled for 36%.

- On CFR, Bush insisted during the campaign that McCain-Feingold violated the first amendment. I don't recall him vetoing, though.

- On foreign affairs, Bush ran against interventionism and "nation-building," only to undertake the biggest exercises in both in a generation.

- Bush ran as a free-trader, but bowed to protectionism to the benefit of regions that, conveniently, looked important maintaining incumbency.

- More recently, Bush opposed the 9/11 commission, and opposed, on principle, sworn testimony by his NSA. But he cut a deal, and Condi Rice went before the panel, left hand on the bible, right hand in the air.

I know quite a few conservatives who would call Bush neither "principled" nor "conservative."

As for the substance of the review, it's worth a read. Lind's critique of Singer is correct, and more powerful coming from the left. As for Singer himself, I find him provocative and interesting, and I don't dismiss him as "that guy with the sheep-f*cking hangup." He's a sharp fellow (whose brain doesn't seem to comprehend politics or policy) who holds some fairly libertarian-friendly positions, though he's clearly not a libertarian. (He is, I gather, a utilitarian, so he takes freedom as a means, not an end. Perhaps Lind might call him a "non-doctrinaire" libertarian.)

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