The big news story of last week was the contest of dueling speeches between President Obama and Vice President Cheney. Video and text highlights of Cheney's speech are found here.
I've already pointed out how Obama hastily announced his speech at the National Archives standing in front of a copy of the U.S. Constitution at the same time as Cheney's long planned address at the American Enterprise Institute. In the wake of Democrats in Congress refusing to grant Obama a blank check on the disposition of terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay, Obama was clearly in a weak position. Made even weaker by the comparison to Dick Cheney's steady, solid speech.
While the cheerleaders in the Obama "news" media were full of praise for Obama's speech, there was plenty of counterpoint. Some highlights are posted below. If you read only one, read Rich Lowry's:
By Rich Lowry
Real Clear PoliticsMay 22, 2009
Put Barack Obama in front of a teleprompter and one thing is certain - he'll make himself appear the most reasonable person in the room.
Rhetorically, he is in the middle of any debate, perpetually surrounded by finger-pointing extremists who can't get over their reflexive combativeness and ideological fixations to acknowledge his surpassing thoughtfulness and grace.
This is how Obama, whose position on abortion is indistinguishable from NARAL's, can speechify on abortion at Notre Dame and come away sounding like a pitch-perfect centrist. It's natural, then, that his speech at the National Archives on national security should superficially sound soothing, reasonable, and even a little put-upon (oh, what President Obama has to endure from all those finger-pointing extremists).
But beneath its surface, the speech - given heavy play in the press as an implicit debate with former Vice President Dick Cheney, who spoke on the same topic at a different venue immediately afterward - revealed something else: a president who has great difficulty admitting error, who can't discuss the position of his opponents without resorting to rank caricature, and who adopts an off-putting pose of above-it-all self-righteousness.Obama has reversed himself since becoming president on detaining terrorists indefinitely and on trying them before military commissions. Once upon a time, these policies were blots on our honor; now they are simple necessities. Between the primary and the general election, candidate Obama changed his mind and embraced Pres. George W. Bush's terrorist-surveillance program. In recent weeks, he countermanded his own Justice Department's decision not to contest a court decision that would have led to the release of photos of detainee abuse.
A less self-consciously grandiose figure might feel the need to reflect on the fact that his simplistic prior positions had not fully taken account of the difficulties inherent in fighting the War on Terror. Not Obama. On the commissions, he explicitly denied changing his view, instead trumpeting cosmetic changes he's proposed as major reforms that will bring them in line "with the rule of law."
For all his championing of nuance, Obama comes back to one source for every dilemma: Bush, as though without his predecessor every question about how a nation of laws protects itself from a lawless enemy would be easy. Under Bush, according to Obama, we set our "principles aside as luxuries we could no longer afford." Even now, there are those - are you listening, Mr. Former V.P.? - "who think that America's safety and success require us to walk away from the sacred principles enshrined in this building." What a shoddy smear.
Excoriating Bush is good politics for Obama, which is what makes his repeated exhortations to look ahead so disingenuous. In his speech, he rued that "we have a return of the politicization of these issues." In other words: Dick Cheney, please shut up. But when did the politicization of these issues end? Has the Left ever stopped braying about Bush's war crimes?
Obama bracingly politicized these very issues on the stump, staking out unsustainably purist positions because they suited his momentary political interest. Now that's he's president, he wants the debate to end. He's above the grubbily disputatious culture of partisans and journalists. And he's above contradiction because, as ever, he occupies the middle ground, one "obscured by two opposite and absolutist" sides: those who recognize no terrorist threat and those who recognize no limits to executive power.
And there Obama stands, bravely holding his flanks against straw men on all sides.
Charles Krauthammer also weighs in:
Obama's Deeds Vindicate Bush
By Charles Krauthammer
Real Clear Politics
May 22, 2009
Observers of all political stripes are stunned by how much of the Bush national security agenda is being adopted by this new Democratic government. Victor Davis Hanson (National Review) offers a partial list: "The Patriot Act, wiretaps, e-mail intercepts, military tribunals, Predator drone attacks, Iraq (i.e. slowing the withdrawal), Afghanistan (i.e. the surge) -- and now Guantanamo."
Jack Goldsmith (The New Republic) adds: rendition -- turning over terrorists seized abroad to foreign countries; state secrets -- claiming them in court to quash legal proceedings on rendition and other erstwhile barbarisms; and the denial of habeas corpus -- to detainees in Afghanistan's Bagram prison, indistinguishable logically and morally from Guantanamo.
The genius of democracy is that the rotation of power forces the opposition to come to its senses when it takes over. When the new guys, brought to power by popular will, then adopt the policies of the old guys, a national consensus is forged and a new legitimacy established.
That's happening before our eyes. The Bush policies in the war on terror won't have to await vindication by historians. Obama is doing it day by day. His denials mean nothing. Look at his deeds.
Jay Cost writing at the Real Clear Politics HorseRace Blog goes line by line through the Obama speech pointing out how the man who campaigned as a post-partisan ideal filled the National Archives speech with the same polarizing rhetoric and attack politics he used to complain about. It was bad enough when Obama made a subtle reference to those who disagree with him on enhanced interrogations as un-American. It got much worse:
OBAMA: And we will be ill-served by some of the fear-mongering that emerges whenever we discuss this issue. Listening to the recent debate, I've heard words that are calculated to scare people rather than educate them; words that have more to do with politics than protecting our country.Accusing the opposition of engaging in scare tactics for political gain is a new low from a man who has done just that on numerous occasions.
Cost also points out how a large section of Obama's speech was devoted to Obama's favorite topic: talking about himself. Cost asks "How many more times in the next four years do we have to hear this kind of shopworn sermonizing?"
Fred Barnes goes back to Obama's blame Bush theme:
Obama Blames Bush
And gets into a scrap with Cheney.
by Fred Barnes
The Weekly Standard
While insisting "we need to focus on the future," President Obama devoted much of his speech on terrorist detainees today to denouncing the policies of President Bush's administration. He faulted everyone in Washington for "pointing fingers at one another," yet pointed his own finger frequently, and critically, at the Bush administration. Obama said America's problems won't be solved "unless we solve them together"--in a divisive and partisan speech certain to alienate Republicans and conservatives.
If any president has gone to such lengths to attack his White House predecessor as Obama did today, I don't recall it. True, presidents have blamed the prior administration for problems they inherit, but I can't think of a president who did so as aggressively and with such moral preening as Obama.
There was a reason for this. His speech was a dodge because when it came to the issue at hand--what to do with the 240 remaining terrorists imprisoned at Guantanamo--he had no answer at all. Instead, the best he could do was elaborate on the five categories in which his administration has pigeonholed the detainees.
Obama attacked the Bush administration for having set up the prison at Guantanamo in the first place to house terrorists seized after 9/11. But he didn't present an alternative. He didn't say what he would have done with those prisoners had he been president at the time.
Why give the speech then? Obama wanted to counter criticism for having decided to shutter the prison before figuring out what to do with the prisoners. And his tack was simple: blame everything on the Bush administration and dwell on the tough interrogation tactics the administration used on captured terrorists, tactics Obama said amounted to torture. He described his role as "clean[ing] up the mess" left by Bush.
Not only that, Obama blamed the Bush administration for violating the Constitution, for setting American "principles" aside as "luxuries we couldn't afford," and for failing "to use our values as a compass." And that was only for starters.
The Bush war on terrorism "likely created more terrorists around the world that it ever detained," he said. He cited no authority for that claim.
And this from Michael Goodwin:
Obama gets schooled on terror: Cheney bests him in speech duel — by sticking to the facts
By Michael Goodwin
New York Daily News
Sunday, May 24th 2009
It was a tale of two speeches. One was clear, direct and powerful. Barack Obama gave the other speech.
It would have been heresy to write those words any other time, so commanding has President Obama been with the spoken word. But the real Mission Impossible was to imagine that wheezy old Dick Cheney would be the speaker to best Obama.
Yet that happened last week, and I predict it won't be a fluke. From here on out, results will increasingly trump the sensation of Obama's high-toned lectures every time.
Especially if they are as dreary as last Thursday's, which was so disingenuous and self-reverential as to be one of the low moments of his presidency. Besides not being able to clearly lay out his plan for Guantanamo detainees, Obama never mentioned what will happen to others we capture in Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps we will take no more prisoners?
Meanwhile, the occasion showed that Cheney, the darkest of dark horses, is emerging as a fact checker in exile. With Democrats holding all Washington power, the ex-veep's willingness to challenge Obama's narrative of the war on terror is a poor substitute for an institutional check-and-balance, but it's all we have.
In that sense, Cheney's ability to outduel Obama could mark a turning point in the debate on this and other critical issues. His TKO over the President recalls the three most important things in real estate: Location, location, location.
The key to Cheney's powerful performance: Facts, facts, facts.
After conceding terrorism presents unique challenges, Obama argued "the decisions that were made over the last eight years established an ad hoc legal approach for fighting terrorism that was neither effective nor sustainable - a framework that failed to rely on our legal traditions and time-tested institutions; that failed to use our values as a compass."
Whoa Nellie - are the terrorists going to hit us again or not? That's what people want to know, not whether a bunch of lawyers think we're being too tough on them.
Unfortunately, Obama was less than reassuring, saying: "Neither I nor anyone else standing here today can say that there will not be another terrorist attack that takes American lives."
That's a fact, of course, but it's also a fact that he's been warned his policies will make it more likely we will be hit again.
It's a warning he dismisses at America's peril.
Finally, Toby Harnden, the U.S. editor of the British newspaper, The Telegraph, attended the Cheney speech and counted "10 punches Dick Cheney landed on Barack Obama's jaw." Of the ten, #3 strikes at the heart of the matter:
3. "By presidential decision last month, we saw the selective release of documents relating to enhanced interrogations. This is held up as a bold exercise in open government, honoring the public's right to know. We're informed as well that there was much agonizing over this decision. Yet somehow, when the soul searching was done and the veil was lifted on the policies of the Bush administration, the public was given less than half the truth."The Obama Administration continues to block release of the memos which Vice President Cheney asserts show how enhanced interrogations saved lives. If Cheney is wrong, why not release the memos and prove it?
The release of the documents was a nakedly political move by Obama and Cheney called him on it. This passage from Obama's speech today came across as completely disingenuous: "I did not do this because I disagreed with the enhanced interrogation techniques that those memos authorized, and I didn't release the documents because I rejected their legal rationales -- although I do on both counts. I released the memos because the existence of that approach to interrogation was already widely known, the Bush Administration had acknowledged its existence, and I had already banned those methods."
Meanwhile, Obama gave another speech on Friday!
Obama Repeats the Big Lie at Naval Academy Graduation
Upholding values will shield US from terror: ObamaObama has often suggested, without offering a shred of evidence, that places like the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay was a recruiting tool for terrorists. Close Gitmo he says and we will be safer.
Obama used the backdrop of the US Naval Academy graduation ceremony to argue that founding US ideals must guide the future battle against terrorism, a day after trying to quell raging debate over Guantanamo Bay in a major speech.
"We uphold our fundamental principles and values not just because we choose to, but because we swear to -- not because they feel good, but because they help keep us safe," Obama told 30,000 graduating navy cadets and family members.
"When America strays from our values, it not only undermines the rule of law, it alienates us from our allies, it energizes our adversaries and it endangers our national security and the lives of our troops."
Has anyone bothered to point out to him that ALL of the major terrorist attacks against this country occurred BEFORE Guantanamo Bay was open and all but the September 11th attacks occurred before the Bush Administration took office?
Once again, Obama's speech at Annapolis is yet another example of how the big lie gets told over and over and is accepted as fact by those who clearly don't dig too deeply for the truth!