Ethics for Dummies

“President Bush has ordered White House staff to attend mandatory briefings beginning next week on ethical behavior and the handling of classified material after the indictment last week of a senior administration official in the CIA leak probe. … A senior aide said Bush decided to mandate the ethics course during private meetings last weekend with Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and counsel Harriet Miers. Miers’s office will conduct the ethics briefings.”
– “Bush Orders Staff to Attend Ethics Briefings: White House Counsel to Give ‘Refresher’ Course,” Washington Post, Nov. 5, 2005

“And if the blind guide the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
– Jesus

Compared to the shenanigans going on in the Bush House, the whole Monica Lewinsky scandal is starting to look like a very minor affair indeed, a quaint remnant of the days when presidents might cheat on their wives, but they wouldn’t dare cheat on the American people.

Yes, there was a time when presidents knew better than to lie to the nation’s armed forces, particularly those pivotal military families, telling laughably tall tales (WMD, yellowcake uranium, mushroom clouds, huge fleets of killer drones, biological weapons, chemical weapons factories) to trick young troops into “making the ultimate sacrifice.”

In fact, many presidents and their staff knew that this kind of naughtiness on an epic scale is called “unethical behavior.” Some might even call it “criminal.”

In a public-relations ploy that’s sure to embarrass even the most loyal Bush supporters and cause them to angrily tear off their “Bush/Cheney ’04” bumper stickers (the once-popular “I Support President Bush and Our Troops” stickers have already disappeared), the most famous Christian in the world is sending his staff to a remedial ethics class taught by his own advisers.

The blind leading the blind, as someone very wise once said.

But this is the Bush administration, which means that nothing needs to make sense – the White House considers its base too clueless and “wacko” to see through even its most obvious PR maneuvers, or the Christian clothes that conceal naked corruption.

As most of us know by now, the cardinal rule for the Bush clan is never admit or apologize for any wrongdoing – but if you get caught, start a lengthy, impressive-sounding internal investigation or big showy program (conducted by your own pals, of course) so the public will forget about whatever you need to distract them from.

Bush Cuts Class

Yet I wonder if Bush’s base will fall for it in quite the same “wacko” way this time. From the aforementioned Washington Post article:

“Bush also refused to address a question about whether he owes the American people an apology for his administration’s assertions that Rove and Libby were not involved in leaking Plame’s name, when it later became clear that they were. The case has apparently helped erode public confidence in Bush’s integrity. Among those responding to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, 40 percent said they viewed the president as honest and trustworthy – a drop of 13 percentage points in the past 18 months. Half of those surveyed said they believed Rove did something wrong in the case, and about 6 in 10 said Rove should resign.”

Apologizing when you’ve lied to someone, particularly when it has cost them dearly? Sounds like ethical behavior to me – but how can we expect ethical behavior from important men who have goals to set and problems to deal with?

“‘It’s a serious investigation, and it’s an important investigation. But it’s not over yet,’ Bush said. ‘I think it’s important for the American people to know that I understand my job is to set clear goals and deal with the problems we face.'”

By the way, it really isn’t fair to the other kids that their captain and commander, the one who got them into this mess in the first place, gets to cut class.

“‘I understand that there is a preoccupation by polls by some,’ the president said. ‘The way you earn credibility with the American people is to declare an agenda that everybody can understand, an agenda that relates to their lives, and get the job done.’ Rove is among those aides who must attend. ‘There will be no exceptions,’ the memo states.”

“No exceptions,” that is, except for George himself, who imagines that a person can “earn” credibility by declaring agendas – whether reality-based or wickedly deceptive – so simplistic “that everybody can understand.” Newsflash: credibility is not something you can earn, it’s something that others grant you when you consistently tell the truth. And they take it away when they find out you’ve lied to them.

Bush’s credibility obsession is quite revealing – most of us never even think about “earning” credibility with others because we’re not constantly deceiving them. Credibility is a marketing tool for politicians, but it isn’t the same thing as ethical behavior. If you lie but don’t get caught, you’ll still appear credible.

But if you get caught tricking people into costly or tragic “missions,” you’ll lose a lot more than your precious “credibility”: If you’re the president, you could be impeached. And whether you’re the president or his corrupted pals, you could be sent to prison.

If anybody needs to learn ethics, it’s the man who pulled the wool over his trusting supporters’ eyes, persuading them to support a costly, tragic, and unethical mission that has caused, as this goes to press, 2,045 American and untold Iraqi deaths. Shouldn’t George get a front-row seat in Ms. Miers’ and Mr. Card’s Ethics 101 class? Shouldn’t he be given after-school tutoring as well, so that he can learn how to behave ethically as president of the United States of America and model truth-telling for his impaired staff?

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