The Decider: Bioethics Edition

What makes George Bush think he can do whatever he wants?

When he was elected for the first time, in 2004, to his second term, many people polled suggested that they voted for him based on his “values.” Does this mean that the President can act as the moral compass for the country?

I say no, and here’s why:

First of all, that’s conjecture based on polling. And true, that probably is why he sees it in his mandate, but as a matter of job description, that’s not part of it. He is meant to enforce the laws and uphold the constitution. “Moral compass” is not in the oath of office.

Second of all, it’s bad leadership to only lead those who elected him. In fact, I voted for him despite his morality and “values.” Where is my President? And he’s also President to the half of the country that didn’t vote for him. Do their feelings on the “morality” in question get disregarded?

Finally, nevermind for a minute that he isn’t upholding the laws (signing statements? if at all legal, which is questionable, shady as hell) or defending the constitution (wiretapping?) we’re also talking about a mandate from 2.5 years ago. If he believes he is doing the will of the people, then why doesn’t he do the current will of the people? He’s not. Polling shows that a majority of the country thinks the government should fund stem cell research, congress voted to authorize it (probably because they were doing the will of their constituents) and the President vetoed it. He’s doing what he, personally, thinks is right. That’s not leadership, and it’s not part of his job description. President is not a religious position. If any of the President’s “morality” is born of his religious conviction (for instance, “life begins at conception” is distinctly religious idea) then it should be discounted.

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15 responses to “The Decider: Bioethics Edition

  1. In fact, I voted for him despite his morality and “values.”

    But that’s democracy. In our system we only get two choices, and the flaw of the primary system is that we often get party extremes. So the guy who was pro-life was democratically elected, he gets to make pro-life policy. It’s the will of the people, even if the primary system makes it imprecise (which I will grant you it does).

    we’re also talking about a mandate from 2.5 years ago.

    The constitution gives the president the power to preside for 4 years. The framers decided that a national election every 4 years was sufficient to grant the president a mandate to lead as he wants. if they wanted him to change the way he leads after 2.5 years, elections would be held every 2.5 years.

    that’s conjecture based on polling.

    I think it’s based on the official platform of the Republican Party. True, I think Bush won because of his stance on security matters. But the candidate comes as a package of stances.

  2. For the first part of my comment, I meant to highlight this portion of Noyam’s post:

    he’s also President to the half of the country that didn’t vote for him. Do their feelings on the “morality” in question get disregarded?

  3. You’re missing the point:

    He is supposed to govern based on the will of the people. Nothing (not the constitution, or the “framers”) says that the will of the people is a static idea based on one day in November every 4 years.

    Certainly, that’s the length of his term, and nobody is advocating replacing him (well, nto for this anyway) before the end of his term. But the fact is, he is supposed to do what the people of this country want (unless it’s unconstitutional, which isn’t relevant here). His job is not to substitute his own morality for the country’s. It’s to do the country’s wish. And if the majority of Americans think stem cell research is good for America, then Bush shouldn’t veto it and pander to a minority of religious thinkers.

    Saying “It’s the will of the people” misconstrues the term. Having Bush as President was the will of the people in 2004. What the people want now has changed. Saying “his term is four years, he doesn’t have to adapt” is terrible policy and not really supported by any rational constitutional thought.

    As for party platform, again, the people don’t elect a platform, they elect a person. If people could line item the President, who knows what would be elected. So, yes, like you said, it’s imprecise. But that doesn’t give the President license to act as he pleases when the majority of the country wants it otherwise.

  4. People do calculate into their vote how a president will appoint judges and/or run executive agencies when it comes to the issue of pro-life/pro-choice. I don’t think it was the main reason this term, but, as those on the left love to point out when it suits them, it was the evangelicals that got Bush over the top. My personal feeling is that Bush made the wrong decision with the veto, but I don’t see how he is possibly on legal or constitutionally shaky ground.

  5. His job is not to substitute his own morality for the country’s. It’s to do the country’s wish. And if the majority of Americans think stem cell research is good for America, then Bush shouldn’t veto it and pander to a minority of religious thinkers.

    I’m not sure I agree with that. I think that he can do what he wishes, and the American people can replace him with someone with different views when he comes up for reelection. BTW, we all knew his views on stem cell research, and it even was a campaign issue, in 2004. Certainly we shouldn’t run the country based on polls (as you somewhat suggest by saying Polling shows that a majority of the country thinks the government should fund stem cell research, congress voted to authorize it (probably because they were doing the will of their constituents) and the President vetoed it), but on what candidates (and their platforms) are elected. If a candidate runs on a platform and sticks to that platform throughout his term in elected office, isn’t the exactly how it’s supposed to work?

  6. If a candidate runs on a platform and sticks to that platform throughout his term in elected office, isn’t the exactly how it’s supposed to work?

    No. There’s no reason to suggest that the Presidency has to be monolithic. He works for us. If the will of the people changes (and no doubt, it has changed) the President should change as well.

    This also reflects the reality that nobody gets elected on only one issue. Some radical pro-lifers voted for Bush because of his “morality,” some religious people because he loves Jesus, some Republicans because his name was on the first line and some hawks because they thought he would be better for national security.

    The relative merits of each reason aside, the point is that platforms are electioneering. There is no consensus on each and every issue. So when the tide so clearly shifts on an issue, sticking to campaign issues, 30 months later, isn’t good leadership.

    Shouldn’t the President’s first and utmost priority be to do the will of the people?

  7. and the American people can replace him with someone with different views when he comes up for reelection.

    This is a red herring. Bush will never come up for reelection. Does your view change when discussing a lame duck? Or can lame ducks do what they want with complete disregard to national opinion because they can’t be voted out of office?

  8. This is a red herring. Bush will never come up for reelection.

    No, because the next set of candidates will choose to use the same/different platform, and will be elected/not elected based on that. Personally I think that Bush’s view on stem cell research will play into the hands of pro-choicers comes 2008.

  9. You said (I): He is supposed to govern based on the will of the people.

    And (II): If he believes he is doing the will of the people, then why doesn’t he do the current will of the people? He’s not. Polling shows that a majority of the country thinks the government should fund stem cell research, congress voted to authorize it (probably because they were doing the will of their constituents) and the President vetoed it.

    If we are to assume that (I) and (II) are correct, why was the President empowered with the use of veto? Shouldn’t we always say that whatever passes through Congress is the will of the people, since they were “doing the will of their constituents”?

  10. There are many things that Congress can do that they shouldn’t. There are many situations when the will of the majority is trumped, particularly when the will of the majority is unconstitutional. For that, the President has a veto as a check on Congress (and in case Congress overrides the veto, the Supreme Court has judicial review).

    Substituting his own religious morality for the nation’s scientific, secular desire isn’t such a situation.

    Again, let me make this very clear: I am not making a constitutional argument. I am not saying the President acted illegally. I am saying he acted wrongly. There is a tremendous difference.

  11. Should Abraham Lincoln or Lyndon Johnson have acted based on the will of the people? If they had we still would have slavery and or segregation. There are probably dozens (if not more) of examples of this. A President can’t run the country simply on polls alone. He has to do what he feels is best for the country. I’m not sure how I come down on this specific issue but to argue that the President must make every decision based on a polling of the country would be untenable and unwise. At times there are important decisions w/in a country (or a local town) that morally justify a referendum (and maybe down the road govt. funding of stem cell research will be such a decision) but to categorically argue that it is the President’s responsibility to do whatever the polls indicate is the will of the people is wrong in my opinion. I have quoted Dr. Maron (from YU) many times in the past “The Masses are Asses.”

  12. Should Abraham Lincoln or Lyndon Johnson have acted based on the will of the people? If they had we still would have slavery and or segregation.

    Why is it so hard for people to read what I wrote? Why are you using salvery and civil rights as an example of majority will when I very specifically pointed out that they don’t apply?

    Let me do it again.

    I said this: (unless it’s unconstitutional, which isn’t relevant here) and then I made it even clearer: There are many things that Congress can do that they shouldn’t. There are many situations when the will of the majority is trumped, particularly when the will of the majority is unconstitutional. For that, the President has a veto as a check on Congress (and in case Congress overrides the veto, the Supreme Court has judicial review).

    So stop using that as an example. The president should not do the will of the people when it is unconstitutional. This is not that case.

  13. Noam,
    I knew you would say that but many aspects of segregation were not necessarily deemed unconstitutional in the 50’s and 60’s (and were not illegal until after the Civil Right Act) and I can assure you the Southerners (and most of the Northerners) of the early to mid 1800’s did not believe that Constitutional Rights extended to black slaves from Africa. So b-4 you freak out arguing that these two presidents were merely enforcing the Constitution, you should realize that this was not the case when they acted against the will of the people. In 2006, we now acknowledge that seperate but equal is unconstitutional but this was less clear-cut in the 50’s and 60’s.

    So, I read what you wrote but your counterargument is not historically correct. Abraham Lincoln did not enforce the Constitution, he amended it to protect an additional class of people.

    I am in no way comparing Bush’s veto in this case to these two heroic acts by earlier the Presidents but you argued that other than enforcing the Constitution, the President should categorically act on the will of the people and I disagree b/c neither Lincoln or LBJ was simply enforcing the Constitution.

    Rob

  14. If you want to get historical, you’ll have to prove that the majority of people in the country were in favor of slavery, then, if you want to use Lincoln as an argument. I don’t know that you’re right about him going against the tide. After all, he wasn’t vetoing a slavery law, he took the country into civil war. And shortly thereafter, the country amneded the constitution, which requires 3/4 of the states. So to say that Lincoln was acting against popular will is probably wrong.

    And LBJ was enforcing the constitution, because by the time he was around, there was Equal Protection and Due Process, and discrimination was unconstitutional. Sure, maybe it was LBJ’s feelings as to what was consitutional, but he wasn’t acting on his own morality, but rather his understanding of the law.

    So your arguments fail for several reasons.

  15. Firstly, LBJ was 100% acting on his own morality and not only his interpretation of the Constitution (which he may have used to support his argument – not even sure about that). It is documented in many of his public and private conversations. He had personal experiences as a child w/ black domestic workers that worked in his house and understood their plight. If it were not for Vietnam (Big If), he would be heralded as one of our greatest Presidents (my opinion). His decisions certainly were wildly unpopular in his own South. He is known to have remarked after the signing of the Civil Rights Act “We have lost the South for a generation” referring to his Democratic party.

    It is clear that a majority of the nation did not support a civil war to abolish slavery. Perhaps the country was divided evenly on the issue of slavery but not on a war to abolish it. Lincoln fought the bloodiest and most costly (in terms of human life) war in US history essentialy on moral grounds. The passing of the Thirteenth Amendment was not a referendum on the moral issue of slavery but an acknowledgement by the South that they had lost the war and did not want to continue fighting to maintain slavery.

    I’m not saying these example are 100% analagous to the Bush veto but to say a President shouldn’t use his own moral compass in his decision making process and that he should simply follow the will of the people would be a mistake.
    If both Lincoln and LBJ had followed the will of the people and not taken a moral leap our country would have been worse off.

    Rob

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