It was striking to watch Obama v. Cheney this morning. A contrast in policies, and a contrast between men.
President Obama had switched to campaign gear—what the Washington Post called his “persuasion mode”—and talked a lot about morality and values. He outlined his difficult decisions, and why he made them. He talked about how good our Constitution had been to him personally. Starkly missing were descriptions of the people who fight our wars, the victims who die at the hands of our enemies, the nature of the challenge at hand—or anything else that underscored why he, or any president, was in the position of deciding where to sequester terrorists and ask them questions. He spent much too much time talking about how the terrorists feel about us—describing Gitmo as a “rallying cry for our enemies”—and rarely addressed how we should consider them. He reassured Americans that once he brings the Gitmo terrorists to “supermax” prisons here on U.S. territory, they will never escape. But he didn’t explain why the terrorist recruiters that use Gitmo as a rallying cry will like supermaxes in Colorado any better.
The president once again hearkened back to the “mess” that the last administration left him. (Did Ronald Reagan waste a lot of breath talking about the mess Jimmy Carter had left him? Someone remind me if he did.) In a speech that went on for close to an hour, the president never articulated his vision for defending America against a terrorist threat.
In contrast, Cheney, who is striking as one of those rare politicos who doesn’t spend time worrying about his image, gave a stirring reminder of the responsibilities and burdens of real leadership. He didn’t talk about the mess Bill Clinton left the country in 2000. Didn’t moan about the empty air strikes that could have killed Osama bin Laden. Rather, he outlined a vision for defending the country that 1) worked and 2) accepted the weighty decisions that leaders must make. And he took responsibility:
In top secret meetings about enhanced interrogations, I made my own beliefs clear. I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation program. The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts failed. They were legal, essential, justified, successful, and the right thing to do. The intelligence officers who questioned the terrorists can be proud of their work and proud of the results, because they prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people.