I had a lengthy exchange with one Bush supporter on the eleven questions and here is a digest of the discussion:
Question 1: what’s the most important problem facing America?
The size of the Federal government is what most troubles my friend. I heartily agree with him on this point. However, the fact that Mr. Bush has greatly expanded both the size and the reach of the Federal government does not dissuade my friend from voting for him.
Question 2: does Guantanamo violate the Fifth Amendment?
My correspondent agreed that the Bush Administration policies violate the Fifth Amendment but finds this violation acceptable given the circumstances. I demur. See my comments on Question 7.
Question 3: separation of church and state
I am pleased to report that we agree that this is an important principle of American government.
Question 4: Do Bush’s mistaken justifications for the Iraq war mean that we shouldn’t vote for him?
My interlocutor believes that Mr. Bush had the best intelligence available to him, and made an honest mistake. I disagree. There is plenty of evidence that Mr. Bush did not just ignore, but actively rejected evidence contradicting his assertions regarding WMD. Moreover, somebody in the administration revealed the CIA identity of the wife of the ambassador who published contradictory information – an obvious and grossly illegal retaliation for revealing an undesired truth. Clearly, the White House played an active role in deliberately distorting the evidence and intimidating those who offered contrary evidence.
Moreover, I reject the argument that a chief executive is not responsible for bad advice from his underlings. The buck stops at the top: in business and politics, the chief executive is ultimately responsible for everything that happens. He is responsible for appointing reliable underlings and evaluating their advice carefully. If his decisions prove to be wrong, he must accept responsibility for those errors. In business and in most governments, a chief executive responsible for a disastrous policy resigns before he is fired. Mr. Bush has dodged the responsibility, blamed his advisors, and refused to acknowledge any error on his part.
I just read in today’s New York Times a very thorough report providing numerous examples of this kind of behavior in regard to science policy. Over and over, the administration has gone out of its way to prejudice the process that delivers information to the President. Candidates for scientific advisory committees are first asked if they support the President. Scientists whose reports clash with administration policy are denied admission to meetings. Scientific reports are rewritten by political appointees to reflect the policies of the administration. This kind of behavior shows up across the board, in all manner of different agencies. The article can be read at
(You’ll have to click on this as a single line; it’s so long that it may be necessary to copy and paste it into your browser)
Question 5: Do Bush’s lies regarding his health care bill justify impeachment?
Here we disagree on matters of fact. My friend believes that these were honest miscalculations on Mr. Bush’s part. He is unaware of the fact that the chief civil service accountant (Foster by name) charged with calculating the true cost of the proposal determined that the true cost would be more than a hundred billion dollars higher than the price claimed by the administration, and that this accountant was threatened with being fired by his administration boss if he revealed his calculations. A GAO investigation confirmed these facts, but the administration official in question resigned before disciplinary action could be taken. Subsequently the GAO determined that, under Federal regulations, the departed official should have been docked a substantial amount of pay, but the administration has refused to implement the GAO recommendation.
Question 6: Does Mr. Bush’s favoring the rich and powerful bother you?
Here again we have a disagreement over facts. My correspondent does not believe that Mr. Bush favors the rich and powerful.
Question 7: Do the 9/11 attacks justify a weakening of Constitutional protections?
This is where we disagree most strongly. My friend believes that Constitutional breaches (his word) are necessary. I believe that law is a system of rules that apply to all people at all times – otherwise they’re not laws. The Constitution is not a dumb document; the Founders understood that exceptions are occasionally called for and they specified the exceptions that were appropriate. Where they didn’t specify exceptions, none are permissible. The Fifth Amendment doesn’t say that only nice people deserve due process of law; it plainly says “No person” shall be denied due process of law. “No person” doesn’t mean “few persons” or “only foreigners” or “only terrorists”. It means what it plainly says: NO PERSON. As soon as we start making up exceptions on the fly, we are throwing away the entire concept of the rule of law. This I consider to be overwhelmingly important. The President took an oath in front of the entire nation to uphold and defend the Constitution. His actions violate that oath and justify impeachment and conviction, or at the very least, rejection at the polls.
By the way, the same Supreme Court that installed him as President also rejected his position on this question. The President argued that he was above the law – that as commander in chief of the armed forces his military decisions are beyond the reach of the law. He claimed that by holding these people at a military base, he was acting in a military capacity and that the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction over his actions. I am not exaggerating his legal arguments; you can look it up and see for yourself. How can ANY reasonable voter support a President who officially declares himself above the law?
Question 8: Does Mr. Bush’s budget deficit bother you?
We agree that the deficit is a serious problem, but my friend does not see the deficit as sufficient cause to vote against Mr. Bush.
Question 9: Is Mr. Bush’s alienation of the world community a problem?
Again we disagree on matters of fact. My commentator feels that only a small portion of the world community has been alienated and that this problem is acceptably small. I disagree. Plenty of opinion polls show that we have alienated the majority of Western Europeans and a large minority of Eastern Europeans. The Arabs, who previously had mixed feelings, are now almost totally opposed to us. The Chinese are totally opposed to our invasion of Iraq. The consequences of our folly are now becoming clear; we cannot marshal any diplomatic support against the genuine nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea.
Question 10: Are you bothered by the polarization of the American community by Mr. Bush’s radical policies?
My friend chalks this up as normal politics, nothing to get worked up about. I disagree. I have never seen our country as fiercely divided as it is now. Even in the depths of the Vietnam War, the divisions did not cut as wide a swath through society as they do now. Even Watergate wasn’t as bad as this; as the facts emerged, it became apparent to most people of both parties that Mr. Nixon had to go. I did not like Mr. Reagan’s policies, but they did not alarm me as Mr. Bush’s policies do. Mr. Bush and the Republican Party have pursued power ruthlessly, trampling on all the fine pragmatic traditions of American politics. Locking Democratic Senators out of Senate committee meetings may be legal, but it’s wrong. Using the FAA to hinder Democratic activities in state-level controversies is wrong. Declaring in writing in court that the President is beyond the reach of the law is wrong. Using public funds for political rallies that only Republicans are allowed to attend is wrong. Rejecting the best advice of responsible scientific bodies on such questions as global warming, forestry science, and stem cell research is wrong. Opposing and impeding bipartisan investigations into the 9/11 tragedies is wrong. Throwing people in jail on trumped-up and false evidence is wrong.
What’s going on in my friend’s mind is clearly the same sort of sifting and prioritizing process that we all go through in making complex decisions. Some factors, such as Constitutional breaches, are given low priority, where I give them high priority. This is strictly a matter of personal values and we cannot argue with another person’s values. However, we can draw some conclusions about what those values are. Reviewing the discussion and the points that are most important to me, I realize that the central underlying theme of my complaints is that we must play by the rules. My problem with George W. Bush is not so much with his policies as with the means that he uses to obtain his desired results. Whether it’s international treaties, the United Nations, the Constitution, basic rules of prudent management, or informal principles of fair play, Mr. Bush has trampled on the rules. If the rules get in his way, he ignores them.
My friend is more concerned with results than rules. He is willing to ignore, minimize, or deny infractions. The underlying belief that seems to animate his opinions is "The ends justify the means".
A response from my interlocutor
After I finished writing my conclusions I realized that there was a gaping hole in my discussion: I never got down to Question #11, the positive factors that induce him to support Bush in spite of the negative factors. So I invited him to provide these factors and, if he so wished, a response to my conclusions. He offered this short list of the positive factors that he places higher priority on than the negative factors:
1) Bush has aggressively pursued the war on terrorism. He is responsible for the recent democratic elections in Afghanistan and the fact that Iraqis will vote for their government in January.
2) He lowered taxes, and it is this, I believe, that raised us out of the recession that we were in when Bush took office.
3) Kerry wants to nationalize healthcare and Bush does not.