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William C. Altreuter
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Monday, February 16, 2004

Speaking of questions, Legal Fiction asks, Are Bush and Cheney evil people? He concludes not, on the grounds that, "It's not that they are consciously making bad decisions, it's that they are incapable of knowing what's good." I sometimes find myself defending the legal process when people say "What difference does it make-- they all lie" by saying that very few people consciously lie when they are on the stand. When people take the oath and testify, I think that, for the most part, they are convinced that they are telling the truth, notwithstanding the disconnect between what they are saying and what others see. We live our lives as the stars of our own movies, and if the lighting and the storyline favor us, well, it is our movie after all. We account for ourselves in the way that makes us look like the people we believe ourselves to be, and if we really believe it, it isn't really lying, is it?

This is, incidentally, why cross-examination works. It is pretty to think that our cross is so powerful that a witness will crumple and confess when subjected to the withering power of our Perry Mason questioning, but really what good cross amounts to is holding the witness testimony up against reality, showing it to the jury for what it really is. The difference between this and what Bush does is a marked one, I think-- he doesn't really seem to care that what he says is contradicted by the facts, or that he contradicts himself. What is important to Bush is what he believes. He lives in a supernatural world where beliefs trump everything else, which makes him blithely incapable of seeing, or caring about anything that exists in contradiction to those beliefs. You can't argue with that mindset-- people who see the world that way are incapable of seeing any other point of view. But does that matter? Does it matter that Bush believes that he is doing the right thing, that he seems incapable of existential doubt? I'd say not-- his intentions, however honorable, result in wrong, and that should be the measure of how we judge him.

As for Cheney, I am incapable of giving him even that much benefit of the doubt. He has cynically manipulated everything that he has ever had power over to work to his best advantage. Perhaps he thinks he is doing the right thing, but he seldom justifies it that way. The most telling quotation from the O'Neill book, it seems to me, is when Cheney tells him, "It's our due." Even if he doesn't know what is good, justifying his behavior on the grounds of "because I can" is not excusable. This is the justification of the bully and the tyrant, both of whom always know full well that what they are doing is inexcuasable.

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