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The President of Good & Evil: Questioning the Ethics of George W. Bush [Paperback]

Peter Singer

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Product details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Plume Books; First Printing edition (31 Aug 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452286220
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452286221
  • Product Dimensions: 20.5 x 13.5 x 2 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,469,518 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Examines the moral failure of George W. Bush, revealing a pattern of ethical confusion and self-contradiction when speaking out on such controversial issues as stem cell research, the war in Iraq, and the United States as a global power. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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George W. Bush is not only America's president, but also its most prominent moralist. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  37 reviews
35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fair and damning review of our current Head of State 28 April 2004
By Matt Sigl - Published on Amazon.com
If you belive that this country and the world would be a much better place if people took the time to think through their opinions and try to maintain consistent ethical beliefs then this book is for you. Singer is a revolutionary philosopher not because he espouses any new ethical theories but rather for the thorough manner he extrapolates innteresting moral conclusions from basic ethical principles. In this book he cuts through any and all political mudslinging and spin, leaving only the facts and reason as a guide. Not only is Singer systematicaly logical in his condemnation of the President he is also not without humility. When Bush deserves credit, he gets it (like his action towards AIDS treatment in Africa.) Singer seeems to have no agenda toward the President when the book begins. No axe to grind. Because of his persistent fairness Singer has written the Presidents most damning and justified condemnation. Critics might call Singer simplistic, deconstructing complex moral questions into simple black and white principals. This criticism is not in itself substancial unless someone could cite a specific example of incorrect ethical reasoning on the part of Mr. Singer. They would be hard pressed to do so. Critics be warned, Singer is no simpleton. His simple writing style is a deliberate choice on his part to make the arguments as clear and consise as possible. He understands that tax policy is a complicated and thorny issue but he avoids the numerous tangents that could arise from this issue and sticks to his subject, the ethical consistency of GW. Because of his logical and forceful arguments Singer has shown more conclusively,and with much less bile, that our President is very, very, ethically troubled.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still relevant...even after the election 5 Dec 2004
By A. Hufnal - Published on Amazon.com
This is the first Peter Singer book I have read, and I now plan to read more. Unlike a lot of anti-Bush books that appeared before the election, I believe this one is still worth reading. It retains its value because it focuses on ethics, morals, and philosophical thought (or the lack thereof), not simply politics. Singer doesn't come out and shout, "Bush is lying!" or "Bush is wrong!...". He instead uses several methods to point out inconsistencies between the president's words and deeds. I believe that the result will more than stand up to any objective review, and may serve to change the opinions of an open-minded reader on any number of the subjects addressed. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in philosophy, ethics, political science, or current events.
74 of 93 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quietly Devastating 22 April 2004
By Tom Moran - Published on Amazon.com
As a sort of corrective to such recent books on the current occupant of the White House as David Frum's "The Right Man" and John Podhoretz's "Bush Country," noted ethicist Peter Singer's book "The President of Good & Evil" takes a dispassionate but quietly devastating look at George W. Bush's ethical failings in office. It should be required reading for all Americans who are planning on voting this November.

Singer doesn't get angry and heated over the way that Bush has handled the events of the past few years. His is a very subdued, rational approach, and as such it is more effective (and, incidentally, more devastating) than fire breathing rhetoric would have been. He simply subjects Bush's statements to intense ethical scrutiny, and it will surprise no one who doesn't get their opinions from Fox News that, time after time, even when Singer goes out of his way to give him the benefit of the doubt, Bush comes up short.

My favorite example of this is when Bush is pre-taping a radio address the day before he's scheduled to go to California. The text of the broadcast read: "Today I am in California," but Bush kept petulantly saying, "But I'm not in California." Singer's comment on this inane behavior is priceless: "Taking the obligation to be truthful so literally suggests an arrested moral development." And the analysis that flows from this insight, inspired by the work of Harvard psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg, is not only plausible, it's pretty terrifying to consider the very real possibility that we have been led into war and hundreds of Americans have lost their lives because the man running the country is morally retarded. But I wouldn't bet against it.

Regardless of whether you support George W. Bush or not (and I should think it's pretty clear by now that I do not), you owe it to yourself to read "The President of Good & Evil" and consider what it says very carefully before you go into the polling place next November. There's a lot at stake, and this book might make a difference. I hope it will.
78 of 100 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Resource - Poor Concluding Chapter 15 Mar 2004
By David C N Swanson - Published on Amazon.com
Because this book bends over backwards to be fair to Bush, it may make a good present of persuasion. Giving a copy to a Republican friend might create a good deal of cognitive dissonance. Bush comes off as a serious threat to the planet, and not the slightest exaggeration is used to make this case.
Ultimately, however, the book holds Bush to standards he would find alien, and charges him with inconsistency where he would no doubt insist there is none. Not everyone will be converted, not withstanding Singer's references early and late in the book to rational argument and universal standards.
The first 200 of the 225 pages take us on a tour of Bush's ethical pronouncements and behavior, in search of consistency or meaning. This is extremely well done, and each section constitutes a perfect primer on what is wrong with this president and why we need to vote him out.
Predictably, the contradictions are legion and the findings of hypocrisy plentiful. At times, I wish Singer had focused less on Bush's hypocrisy than on the damage done by his behavior.
The one instance in which Singer goes beyond commonly accepted standards to critique an ethical problem in Bush's behavior that most Americans would let pass comes when he suggests that Bush's religious habits of thought constitute a handicap for someone in a position requiring a questioning and discerning mind. Singer suggests that someone who bases his beliefs on faith may not be ideally qualified for a position of power.
Of course every other American president ever elected has been a theist, or at least a deist, or at least has professed to be. But Bush is especially clear about connecting his religion to his decision-making process. I find it credible that Bush's habits of faith deserve the credit Greg Thielmann, a proliferation expert who worked for the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, gives them when he says, "This administration has had a faith-based intelligence attitude: 'We know the answers, give us the intelligence to support those answers.'"
I thoroughly enjoyed the first 200 pages of Singer's book, although I longed for some development of what Singer thinks Bush's intentions actually are and whether he thinks Bush is a habitual liar as well as a failed utilitarian. The last 25 pages provided a disappointing analysis.
Singer shows in this final chapter that Bush is not consistently basing his decisions on concern for individual rights or on utilitarian calculations or on Christianity. He then suggests, in what seems to me a major cop-out, that Bush uses an "intuitive ethic" and "follows his instincts." But this tells us nothing about where those "instincts" came from or what they look like or which are stronger than others. It gives us no indication of when Bush is telling us his honest motivations and when he is hiding them. Nor does it explain patterns in Bush's behavior, such as his almost consistent favoritism toward the extremely wealthy and those who have given him money.
But Singer isn't through. He goes on to argue that Bush strikes people who meet him as honest and good, and that Bush must either be a tremendous actor when he lies or (what Singer finds more probable) he must be the ignorant puppet of right-wing conspirators. Singer argues that when Bush, for example, claims that Saddam Hussein wouldn't let inspectors into Iraq it demonstrates that Bush "can hardly have had a firm grasp on the situation that he was supposedly directing." Singer (mustering all the nuance of Bush's "You're either with us or you're with the terrorists.") writes on the final page of the book: "When Bush speaks about ethics, he is either sincere or he is insincere."
But it's just not that simple. When Bush invents a fiction about Hussein not letting inspectors in, he knows that he and a servile corporate media have the power to rewrite history. At the same time, to some limited extent, he undoubtedly believes what he is saying. He is coached by his intellectual superiors, and he takes his statements seriously, but at the same time he knows which topics to avoid, when to change the conversation, and how to hedge on the hard points. He does occasional interviews, after all. He doesn't just read speeches. People (including Bush) are far, far more complex than Singer gives them credit for.
The simple-minded conclusion to this book is especially surprising given Singer's critique of religion in the same book. Singer understands that Bush is a sincere Christian, and even faults him for it. Singer also understands that Bush is not consistently a Christian. Yet, Singer does not piece together the fact that Bush's beliefs carry varying DEGREES of sincerity.
When people struggle with trying to "have faith," they are choosing, as Blaise Pascal did openly, to believe something. And this phenomenon is not unique to religion. We choose to believe what we want to believe quite often and often fairly consciously. Some are able to persuade themselves of their belief in paradise to the extent that they will fly airplanes into buildings. Others are able, with a degree of honesty, to say they believe in Heaven, while still beign terrified of death. There is no black and white here. We cannot say that Bush is either sincere or insincere, either a brilliantly handled moron or an acting genius.
Bush is a liar who to various degrees has convinced himself of his various lies. This means that he is a human being who can be held responsible for his actions and who could conceivably be persuaded to change his ways. He is not purely a puppet whose imperialistic oil baron handlers could be seamlessly replaced by environmentally sensitive socialist handlers. Nor does he quite realize the implications of everything he says ? including the ethical incoherence of his positions, something that Singer's book would reveal to him ? whether or not he'd need to get someone to read it to him aloud.
29 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Devastating dissection of the Bush's ethical contradictions 2 Sep 2004
By Chris Sandvig - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In contrast to Michael Moore's emotionally charged Hollywood-style rant against George Bush, Peter Singer takes a methodical and largely-detached academic approach to deconstructing George Bush. I find Peter Singer's approach much more convincing. Each chapter analyzes Bush's ethics on a different issue: justice and opportunity in America, civil liberties, religion, America as a good world citizen, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, America as the world's policeman, and finally a critique of George Bush's personal ethics. On every issue, Singer meticulously contrasts George Bush's lofty public pronouncements against the actual deeds of his administration. His arguments are logical, persuasive and fully supported with 41 pages of references. The discrepancies are so glaring that one often asks, "How does he get away with this?"

Peter Singer is clearly one of the greatest minds of our times and in many respects it is beneath him to deal with a topic as transitory as the Bush administration when he could be writing on more enduring topics such as euthanasia or animal rights. However, he has done a great service to American politics by exposing the ethical contractions of George Bush and the right-wing conservative movement.
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