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Control Freak in the White House

George Bush as President, debater, and ethicist.

by Barnabas
October 12, 2004

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At two points in the second debate George Bush revealed himself as a control freak.

1) Control freaks when not in charge are very twitchy persons. About midway through the debate, Candidate Bush violated a fundamental rule when he interrupted moderator Charles Gibson in midsentence. (He was challenging what he thought Gibson was going to say, not what Gibson intended to say.)  Gibson’s response was a model of courteous good humor as he tried to get the most powerful man in the world to listen to him.  

When control freaks define themselves as the President does - "I decide"- they are fish out of water when the power of decision is taken from them. Fish out of water are very twitchy indeed.

The President defined himself to Time by those two words a few weeks ago, and has referred to it with some pride more than once in the debates. So the episode with Charles Gibson does not stand alone, attributable to the unique circumstances of a presidential debate; it reveals how the President sees himself in his daily responsibilities.  When you are used to everyone deferring to your decision, who is a television newsman—even a senior one--to say otherwise?

2) Except in the perception of control freaks, decision-making is not, never has been, and never can be, the job description for any responsible position. 

Control freaks are convinced that decision is better than delay. In their minds, due consideration is measured in minutes.  The absence of decision is perceived as lack of control; due consideration feels like dithering. The anxiety of control freaks is unusually high. That’s why they are fond of "cutting to the chase," even  though  cutting to the chase often means jumping to  conclusions.

That brings us to the second revealing moment in the debate. Senator Kerry had just explained his vote against the ban on partial birth abortions (in his opinion, the ban as proposed did not give due consideration to exceptional cases), and concluded by saying, "It's never quite as simple as the president wants you to believe." Candidate Bush responded with a put-down: "Well, it's pretty simple when they say: Are you for a ban on partial birth abortion? Yes or no?" 

This is claptrap, and rather flimsy claptrap at that. ("Claptrap: A trick or device to gain applause; humbug" —The Brainy Dictionary, www.brainydictionary.com.)

Ethics is a discipline as well as a code. As a code, it is a statement of the distinctions between right and wrong.  Control freaks love codes. 

As a discipline, ethics  is the study of how to discern the rightness and wrongness of behavior, including exceptional cases. Codes have a tough time with exceptional cases, because each is unique; that is why it is an exception.  It's also why case law  fills countless volumes.    

Most people, even those who detest Kerry’s stand on this issue, acknowledge exceptional cases most of the time - especially in their own families -  because there they are. In a highly charged political debate, control freaks believe they cannot afford to deal with them. So they say, "Are you for it or against it, yes or no?" They will neither have resolved the exceptional cases nor provided for a way to deal with them. Instead, they resort to claptrap as a short-term escape from reality. Control freaks want the code without the discipline. Skip the study, ignore the debate, cut to the chase, jump to conclusions, produce claptrap and expect people to be morally guided by it.

It is a great gift to think through a complex issue and reduce it to its simplest terms, but Candidate Bush reduced a complex issue by ignoring  its complexity. That’s no gift. That’s a trick. Ethical decision stands on a stronger foundation than whether you agree with it, yes or no.

So the President decides. Who thinks?

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