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The Bush Ethic of Responsibility
Heather Wokusch

It would appear that George W. Bush is rapidly gaining intellectual and moral ground. He gives talks on the "new ethic of responsibility," delivers radio addresses on morality in business, and according to dutiful press reports, Bush has taken to discussing Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics in his free time.

But just what would Aristotle make of Bush? And how would the Nicomachean Ethics, the classic roadmap to a more just society, stack up with Bush's proposed FY 2003 budget?

On the surface, there are connections. Aristotle's passion was education, and Bush has called it his "top priority." Aristotle advocated equitable distribution of wealth, and Bush has repeatedly stated that America's poor "deserve better from this country."

But that's where the similarities end - in words. The following are quotes from Aristotle, followed by the Bush budgetary response.

Aristotle: Early childhood education is "all-important."

Bush's FY 2003 budget either freezes or cuts funding to crucial programs benefiting the nation's 12 million impoverished children. Slated to be axed, cut back or frozen are programs designed to help local communities improve access to early learning opportunities, programs providing child/after-school care to needy families, and programs for early literacy. Even Head Start, which Bush has referred to as "the nation's premier early childhood education program," is given an increase so deficient as to prevent any new children from joining.

Aristotle: "Unjust is unequal."

The Bush budget posts a $106 billion deficit, the first since 1997, and predicts exploding debts in the future - due primarily to spending increases on programs for the administration's lucrative corporate donors. For example, the $1 billion per day currently spent on the US military will balloon over the next five years with weapons purchases alone rising by 30%. Meanwhile, slashed or frozen will be numerous low-income family support programs such as Home Energy Assistance and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The budget leaves impoverished families behind, as it coddles defense contractors and creates bulging debts for future generations to bear.

Aristotle: "This is why we don't allow a man to rule, but rational principle, because a man behaves in his own interests."

Major environmental agencies are dealt a $1 billion blow in the Bush FY 2003 budget, but conservation programs, rather than corporate and industrial interests, take the biggest hit. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for example, loses $300 million, and funding for clean water protection is similarly slashed. In contrast, billions in tax breaks and subsidies will suddenly become available for fossil fuel and nuclear power companies, and further millions will be used to open up public lands for drilling and mining. Simultaneously, the amount of timber to be sold from public lands will be increased by 50%, further decimating wildlife habitat, and contributing to global warming.

Aristotle: "Men have been undone by reasons of their wealth."

In this era of accounting shenanigans and corporate financial meltdowns, it becomes easier to question the values upon which our society operates. And as the FY 2003 budget is debated in the next months, it will become increasingly important to follow the money trail, and question the kind of world our budget is creating for the next generation.

Because an equitable, sustainable world - not words - is the ultimate ethical responsibility for all of us.

Heather Wokusch is a free-lance writer. She can be contacted via her web site at www.heatherwokusch.com