Third Party & Independents Archives

What Are You Certain About?

About a year ago, I listened to a speech by a professor at Amherst College about “Bush and Moral Certainty.” Basically, the premise of the speech was that one of Bush’s major flaws was his “moral certainty” about his decision and beliefs. While I took this with a grain of sand at the time, this charge that Bush being so sure that he knows that is right has become a larger and larger part of the left’s critique of Bush, and I think it bears addressing.

I have to say, the certainty with which the charge that moral certainty is a “bad” thing rather amuses me. Take for example, Joe Klein’s recent article about Abu Ghraib . In this article, Klein charges that the president's handling of the recent prison scandal was undermined by this certainty. Another quintessential “moral certainty” moment for George W. Bush that critics point to is “axis of evil” reference in Bush’s State of the Union speech a couple of years ago, in which he accurately labeled the governing regimes of Iraq, Iran and North Korea. For myself, I don’t want my president to be one that does not acknowledge that leaders who control their people by death and fear are indeed evil, and that our ultimate goal should be their removal (we can disagree about the best way to do this of course).

Intelligent people like Klein should know better. Klein’s article talks about democracy needing “law, transparency and minority rights”- is Klein so sure that minority rights are a good thing? How does he know he is right that minorities deserve rights? The Amherst professor talked about how bad Bush’s tax cuts were because they benefited the rich instead of the poor. Is he so certain that tax cuts that supposedly benefit the rich are bad? What makes him so sure? John Kerry and the rest of the left talk with total certainty about how Bush’s policies are bad in every area possible. I have rarely heard a people more sure of something.

Our country was built upon moral certainty. There is no more greater statement of Klein’s so-called moral arrogance than “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Self-evident truths that all men are equal and should be treated equally; that countries who live by law and votes and respect for minority rights are preferable to ones that live by force, death and subjugation of women and other minorities; that the guilty should be punished and the innocent should not. These are the touchstones of political moral judgment-forget the religious overtones, even us non-religious types realize the previous three statements I just made are true, even Mr. Klein or the Amherst professor realize this. If you truly disagree- you believe that we cannot know right from wrong- then don’t get angry about what Bush says or does- after all, if nothing is certain, what does it matter if Bush starts a war or cuts some taxes?

(Disclaimer: There is a different criticism of Bush’s certainty. That once he has chosen a particular course or policy, he is unable or unwilling to deviate even when its obvious failing to achieve the morally just objectives. This criticism is valid to the extent its true about Bush. Certainty about what is right and wrong is a good thing- while certainty over particular policies out of stubbornness is obviously not).

Posted by Misha Tseytlin at May 27, 2004 9:34 PM