The Nossiter Net
The net that shall enmesh them all
Edited, Written, and Published by Josh Nossiter
Cheap Philosophy
Thursday, July 13th, 2006
The Nossiter Net is cast  to snare some of  the riper rascalities of the day.  Comments?  editor@nossiter.net
According to The National Journal,* the White House staff includes two Ethics Advisors, Deborah Misir and Erica Dornburg.  Their salaries are over $100,000 each;  add benefits, and the annual cost to taxpayers is well over a quarter of a million dollars.  A high price to pay for ethical advice?  Since the chief executive and head of state of the world’s most powerful nation can no more distinguish right from wrong than he can perform brain surgery, the White House ethics advisors are a false economy.

Because bargain basement ethical advice has cost us untold billions of dollars and thousands of lives during the six years of President Bush’s reign.  Through no fault of their own, cut rate ethicists like Dornburg and Misir are nothing short of catastrophic for the nation and the world.  These dime store moral philosophers never studied Aristotle, Plato, Augustine, Boethius, and all the other great analysts of right and wrong. Only expensive ethicists do that, those costing several hundreds of thousands or more each.  Cheapies like Misir and Dornburg acquire their philosophical training watching daytime television and reading remaindered self-help books.  Dornburg, for example, is an adherent of Judge Judy and Deepak Chopra.  Misir is a disciple of Oprah Winfrey and Chicken Soup for the Soul.  Neither has anything like the philosophical horse power to guide the decision making of the world’s most powerful leader.

Consider what happened when President Bush first contemplated slashing taxes for the rich and cutting services for everybody else.  High-priced ethicists would have pointed out the inequity of such a policy, the arbitrary cruelty and short-sighted maleficence of it.  They would have dissuaded the president from making such a morally unacceptable decision.  Instead, Misir and Dornburg simply told Mr. Bush to look into his heart and decide based on what he found there.  The president’s heart being pickled in booze and privilege, naturally he made the wrong choice.

Is it right, the president wondered, to ignore all those warnings about Bin Laden planning airplane attacks on the United States so as not to spoil my vacation?  Should I really pay no attention to the destruction of four fifths of New Orleans?  Is it good to appoint incompetents and cronies to high office?  A student of Montaigne would certainly have told him “No, no, and no.”  Instead, Misir and Dornburg suggested he go with his gut.  Since like all swaggering bullies Mr. Bush is entirely gutless, his advisors’ suggestion proved disastrous in each case.

I hate Saddam Hussein, Mr. Bush told his ethics advisors.  He wanted to kill my daddy, ran roughshod over my Kuwaiti pals, and besides, I covet his oil.  Would it be prudent, wise, or even productive to wage an unprovoked war against him, followed by a U.S. occupation in order to give contractors like Halliburton the opportunity to make billions of dollars?  Even a mid-priced Utilitarian philosopher would have proposed a cost benefit analysis, laying out in clear terms the possible gains from such a plan against the likely costs in lives and treasure.  Even a half-wit would have been discouraged from doing anything so foolish and destructive.  Instead, Misir and Dornburg told the president that he’s the decider, so he should do the deciding.  The consequences are hundreds of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives wasted.

How about those terrorists, Mr. Bush wanted to know.  They’re pretty bad folks.  Isn’t it okay to throw them in jail without benefit of charges or trial, humiliate and torture them, even though we’d be violating U.S. laws and international treaties?  Any Hobbesian, even an inexpensive one, would have instructed the president in the critical necessity of maintaining the rule of law, of living under a system of moral rules.  The alternative is an ugly and perpetual war of all against all.  Given time, and the right choice of short and simple words, Mr. Bush would have been persuaded to do the right thing.

Unfortunately the bargain priced moral philosophers employed by the White House told him nothing of the kind.  Instead they reminded him that if you spare the rod, you spoil the child.  As a spoiled child himself, Mr. Bush knew exactly what they meant, and so we have Guantanamo, Abu Grahib, and all those shadowy Eastern European torture centers run by the CIA.

Stuart Baker,
The National Review also tells us, is the White House Director of Lessons Learned, salary $106,641.  Since we’re paying you, Mr. Baker, add this to your list of learned lessons, and pass it on to your boss:  You get what you pay for, moral philosophy doesn’t come cheap, and when the president pays no heed to ethics, everybody else just pays.

*
http://nationaljournal.com/about/njweekly/stories/2006/0711nj1.htm.



©Joshua C. Nossiter, 2006
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