Saturday, November 05, 2005

Way Too Little, Much Too Late

It seems that the Bush White House is requiring its staff only now to attend classes on ethics, developed by Harriet Miers. It is entirely reasonable at this point to ask why, at the beginning of his second year in his second term, is George Bush only now requiring a class on ethics.

However, I think it's fair to raise an even deeper question: if character is developed through years of habits and education on virtue, isn't it much too late to save those who are of low moral caliber in the West Wing? Classically understood, virtue is inculcated by means of generational habituation and the passage of time. Proponents of character development must judge this as either a cynical attempt to stanch the president's disapproval ratings or a naive attempt to convince some court (judicial or that of popular opinion) that the White House is attempting to fly right without having to fire any blindly loyal staffers. If the Bush administration is serious about having an ethical staff, then one class is not the answer; firing those who lack virtue is the answer.

According to last week's CBS poll, the president's approval rating reached an all time low for him of 35%, which is only 10 points above Nixon's all-time-record disapproval rating; and the criminal behavior in Bush's case does not even extend to the president himself. Heaven knows how low it would go if he were the target of the Special Prosecutor. But the problem with offering an ethics class now is that it is much too late to offer so little when criminal charges against his staff are bringing into question the very claims that Bush ran on in 2000, contrasting himself to Bill Clinton: that he would bring integrity back to the White House, and that he surrounds himself with good people.

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