Wednesday, September 14, 2005

President Bush's Responsibility for Katrina

Morality is about values. It is about choices. The choice to put friends in charge of departments that exist to save lives, rather than people skilled in those responsibilities, tells us a lot about President Bush's values.

President Bush has accepted responsibility for the federal government's poor response to Hurricane Katrina.

In a sense, this is as significant as Bush publicly stating that the sun is hot. Of course Bush is responsible for the federal response to this natural disaster. He is the President of the United States. It is his job to be responsible for such things.

Bush also admitted that mistakes were made. However, he has not yet said what those mistakes were. He has promised an investigation into uncovering what went wrong However, he has not yet announced support for an investigation that has any chance of reaching the conclusion, "The President failed to live up to his obligations." In fact, today, Senate Republicans blocked a measure to set up an independent investigation into what happened with respect Hurricane Katrina.

I would like to take a look at the question of where Bush ultimately failed to execute his duties as President of the United states.

Friends over Americans

Bush appointed individuals to manage disaster relief who had no experience managing disaster relief. In fact, they had had no experience in any task relevant to successfully executing a rapid response to a disaster such as Hurricane Katrina.

What do these appointments say about Bush's moral character? He had jobs to fill. He knew some friends and loyal supporters who could use the work, so he assigned those friends to these jobs. It means that, when Bush was thinking about these appointments, he cared more about how he could help his friends and supporters than how he could best take care of Americans caught in a significant national emergency.

Every choice a person makes tells us something about that person's character -- their values. A person who chooses a veggie sandwich (without cheese or mayonnaise) rather than a thick steak with sautéed mushrooms and a baked potato with butter and sour cream is telling us something about what that person values.

A person who chooses a head of Homeland Security or the Federal Emergency Management Association who has been a loyal supporter, but who has no background in security or emergency management, tells us what that the person making those appointments values as well.

Morality is about values. Morality consists in caring for the things that one should care about. People should care about their friends. However, the President's primary obligation is not to his friends, but to the people of the United States. A person of good moral character looks at the task of finding somebody to fill the lead roles in agencies concerned with national security and disaster relief should be primarily concerned with whether the American people are safe and can obtain prompt and efficient help in case of an emergency.

We see evidence of this as well in the comments that Bush made as he toured the devastated areas. Of all of the things he saw, the one that sat closest to the surface of his conscience as he spoke was the damage to friend Trent Lott's house. The President said, ""Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house -- he's lost his entire house," cracked Bush, "there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch."

Bush's values are clearly not what they should be for a man in his position.

Intellectual Recklessness

President Bush has shown a consistent tendency for believing what he wants to believe, independent of the evidence.

Recklessness occurs when a person, going about his normal business, is not careful about how his actions may affect others. The reckless person is not malicious; he does not intend to harm others. However, he does not exercise proper caution, so his actions end up harming others unintentionally.

The drunk driver illustrate the moral quality of reckless behavior. The drunk driver does not intend to kill anybody as he drives home; he just wants to get home. However, drunk drivers do care people. Their recklessness puts others at risk, and sometimes those risks become real.

The intellectually reckless person is somebody who goes about his normal business without considering the effect that his beliefs might have on others. He is not malicious; he does not intend to harm others. However, he does not exercise proper caution when it comes to properly securing his beliefs. He believes things that are unfounded. Due to these unfounded beliefs, he ends up harming others unintentionally.

President Bush has shown a strong tendency for intellectual recklessness throughout his administration.

There is mountains of scientific evidence supporting the claim that humans are increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, which in turn will contributes to global warming. However, Bush does not want to believe it, so he denies the evidence. He even has staff members edit the scientific reports to claim more uncertainty than the scientists actually reported.

At the same time, UN weapons inspectors in Iraq were reporting no evidence of weapons of mass destruction. In spite of this, Bush insisted that the weapons must exist, and subconsciously if not consciously encouraged intelligence staff to interpret findings in such a way that supported this belief.

Bush simply did not believe that this hurricane would be substantially different from any other hurricane that struck during his Presidency. He knew that there would be destruction, and took steps appropriate to any other hurricane that struck. However, it took days to get through to him that this hurricane was different.

Those who allow the evidence to determine their beliefs, rather than allowing their beliefs to determine the evidence he will listen to, knew that this hurricane would be different days before it hit land. President Bush did not realize the full scope of the problem until four days after the hurricane struck New Orleans.

Bush did not hesitate to respond to the effects of the hurricane because he was malicious. He simply forms his beliefs recklessly -- without due consideration of the evidence of the facts. As a result of this intellectual recklessness, people get hurt.

Some of them die.

This is what comes from the actions of an intellectual "drunk driver."

I have written more about the concept of intellectual recklessness at my web site.


Morality is about values.

President Bush shows his values in the choices that he makes. When he chose to put friends and supporters into positions of authority in FEMA, he showed that he valued those friends and supporters more than he values the American people he was supposed to serve. His friends get important jobs. The American people get a Government bureaucracy that cannot do its job.

President Bush also showed his values in his disregard for evidence. He holds onto his beliefs with a stubborn certainty, apparently unconcerned with the risks that recklessly formed beliefs have for the lives and safety of others. As President of the United States, intellectual recklessness can have the most severe consequences.

America has a right to a President with strong moral values. Morality is not about sex. Morality is about choices. Hurricane Katrina showed us some of President Bush's choices. Hurricane Katrina showed us a lot about President Bush's moral character.

Side Note

A student of history can easily see how rare it is to live in a land where a common citizen can write something like this about the leader of his country without fear for his life or, at least, his freedom.

Americans have done some things extraordinarily well. This is one of them. I wish to express my appreciation to those who have made this happen, and hope that we all can keep up the good work.


Boelf said...

I think you give Bush more benefit of the doubt that I feel is justified by the evidence.

If he was genuinely concerned about wmd's in Iraq before the invasion he would have let the inspectors finish their work. They were about 20% done when pulled. Since there was no imperative to go in when they did (that I'm aware of) its reasonable to infer that he had other reasons.

This implies of course not a passive recklessness but a fundamental dishonesty.

Alègçándur said...

Beautiful post. But also deeply saddening and disturbing to think about the state of affairs we now find ourselves in.

We have a long and difficult journey ahead of us. At least what we can do now is to start campaigning and to prepare for the time when President Bush will finally reliquish the reins of the country. Even so, the inertia of all the misjudgments and poor choices made in the last five years will continue to carry the country into a rocky and uncertain future.