Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Decency of "Writing A Check"....

With somebody else's money?

In advancing the notion of George W. Bush's "decency", Michael Gerson first goes off on a tangent, arguing that our nation's judgment of George W. Bush is unfair because "Iraq is on the verge of a miraculous peace". This, he argues, is because George Bush showed "Truman-like stubbornness" and "pushed to escalate a war that most Americans" had abandoned. Some of Gerson's observations about Bush make sense - Bush is by all appearances pathologically stubborn, and the same stubbornness that got us into Iraq (with no exit plan) has kept us there through the worst of his incompetence and into the present.

It's possible that the roses Bush promised us by the end of 2007 (or at least a couple of them) actually will start to bloom in 2009. Gerson states only that "the decision to pursue the surge in Iraq will be studied as a model of presidential leadership"; well, perhaps as a study of what can happen when failed leadership leaves a President, too vain and stubborn to admit to a mistake, with no other options. But what does any of that have to do with "decency"? Maybe nothing.

Gerson changes the subject:
Because of the passage of Medicare Part D, nearly 10 million low-income seniors are receiving prescription drugs at little or no cost. No Child Left Behind education reform has helped raise the average reading scores of fourth-graders to their highest level in 15 years, and narrowed the achievement gap between white and African American children.
So Bush, the man who ballyhooed the Texas "patient bill of rights" during his 1999 campaign, and then did his best to kill it and anything like it when he became President, is "decent" because he ushered in a new prescription drug benefit? And because standardized tests show a narrowing of an achievement gap between nine-year-olds of various races? You know, as much as I favor helping sick, elderly people, and helping kids succeed in school, I'm not yet feeling overwhelmed by this argument.
The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has helped provide treatment for more than 1.7 million people and compassionate care for at least 2.7 million orphans and vulnerable children.
Yet all that "decency" didn't stop Bush from mandating that 1/3 of this AIDS prevention funding be directed toward absolutely useless "abstinence only education", or barring its use for needle exchanges. But Gerson tells us, the true mark of Bush's decency was in funding an initiative to fight malaria:
Before the Group of Eight summit in 2005, the White House senior staff overwhelmingly opposed a new initiative to fight malaria in Africa for reasons of cost and ideology - a measure designed to save hundreds of thousands of lives, mainly of children under 5. In the crucial policy meeting, one person supported it: the president of the United States, shutting off debate with a moral certitude that others have criticized.
And this brings me back to my initial observation. Gerson's greatest illustrations of Bush's decency, his efforts to fight AIDS and Malaria in Africa, involve his writing checks. With other people's money. Gerson tells us,
I saw how [Bush's] moral framework led him to an immediate identification with the dying African child, the Chinese dissident, the Sudanese former slave, the Burmese women's advocate.
Or maybe Gerson saw an heir who, hit with a sad story, was happy to support a charitable cause by writing a big check... from daddy's bankbook. Because what has Bush ever done for any African child, Chinese dissident, Sudanese former slave, or Burmese woman's advocate other than shake his head sadly and cut a check that somebody else pays for?

If Gerson lets me write checks to charities from his bankbook, I'll be happy to show him how decent I am, right down to his last penny. Like Bush, I'll pick causes that truly touch my heart, I'll be very sincere as I cut those checks, and I'll revel in Gerson's assurance that I have demonstrated my decency. But by my measure it would mean more if I used my own money, and perhaps even committed some time and effort.


  1. So George W. "loves children, puppies and kittens"? When he says his prayers at night he always remembers "the sick little children in Africa who don't have enough to eat"?

    If Gerson's problem is that Bush's best known policies have convinced people that he lacks this basic decency, whose fault is that? Probably Bush's, although arguably his speech writers share the blame. ;-)

  2. The man could pop a vein and bleed out a cure for AIDS, cancer, the common cold, and illiteracy, and you'd still hate him. You're not worth reading.

  3. I have a brain, and thus I don't confuse G.W. with Jesus. And I don't hate the man - I just see him for what he is. But thanks for sharing.

  4. Here's another perspective on GW's record from Dan Larison at Eunomia (American Conservative Magazine):

    [Bush's] critics by and large don’t give him much credit because he has not been very successful on his own terms, and many of his preferred policies have been simply calamitous. War opponents don’t give him credit that his war is now not nearly as destructive and horrifying as it once was–he started the war! Critics of his NATO expansion policies don’t give him credit for that because it was a terrible idea that contributed to the outbreak of the war in the Caucasus. Critics of recognizing Kosovo independence don’t give him credit for that, either, because once again it was a terrible idea that also contributed to the outbreak of the war in the Caucasus. He does not get credit for the loose monetary policy that helped to create the present crisis, because that is not something to be praised. His deliberate efforts to increase homeownership in reckless ways are not praised because they were misguided and have come back to bite us. Which policies, exactly, merit appreciation and respect for Mr. Bush?