President Bush has never been big on compromise. Whenever he spoke of bipartisanship, it always seemed to mean that Democrats should give him exactly what he demanded. But this week he described what I’d consider to be a very big compromise he made, and it seems he didn’t even realize it.

In his farewell address a few nights ago, he made the following statements to explain the idea (or at least what he currently claims to be the idea) behind his invasion of Iraq:

Bush smilingAs we address these challenges — and others we cannot foresee tonight — America must maintain our moral clarity. I’ve often spoken to you about good and evil, and this has made some uncomfortable. But good and evil are present in this world, and between the two of them there can be no compromise. Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time, everywhere. Freeing people from oppression and despair is eternally right. This nation must continue to speak out for justice and truth. We must always be willing to act in their defense — and to advance the cause of peace.

In her column in today’s New York Times, Maureen Dowd commented on that statement:

It’s astonishing that, as banks continue to fail and Americans continue to lose jobs and homes, W. was obtuse enough to go on TV and give a canned ode to can-do-ism. “Good and evil are present in this world,” he reiterated, “and between the two of them there can be no compromise.”

He gives the good-and-evil view of things a bad name. Good and evil are not like the Redskins and the Cowboys. Good and evil intermingle in the same breath, let alone the same society. A moral analysis cannot be a simplistic analysis.

But I think she missed the most obvious irony in what Bush said. Look at the three sentences in the middle of Bush’s paragraph:

But good and evil are present in this world, and between the two of them there can be no compromise.

Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time, everywhere.

Freeing people from oppression and despair is eternally right.

All three sentences involve absolutes: no compromise, wrong every time, everywhere, eternally right. There’s no wiggle room in any of those sentences.

The concept that freeing people from oppression and despair is eternally right is an ideology. Bush tends to use the word “ideology” in a pejorative sense, but it really just means a system of beliefs. Bush believes in spreading freedom. That’s part of his ideology.

He sought to advance that ideology by invading Iraq. And of course when you go to war, people get killed, including civilians. That’s certainly the case with the war in Iraq. Innocents were killed in Bush’s effort to advance his ideology of spreading freedom.

So in doing something that he views as “eternally right,” (that is, good) he had to do something he views as “wrong every time, everywhere” (evil).

It seems to me that that’s a compromise between good and evil — something he claims can’t exist.

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