Saturday, January 9, 2010

Cheney's Unspoken Words

I have a love-hate relationship with politics. I love what it can be. But at times, I hate what it is becoming.

I’m disturbed by our obsession with dissecting our opponents’ every utterance. We don’t stop at what they speak. We fault how they speak, when they speak, and why they speak. We even fault what wasn’t spoken at all.


Because politicos know the media beast puts conflict on page one, so we have to serve it up or get served in turn. Unfortunately, most political figures in divided government achieve little except managing the status quo, or the things they accomplish are supported by a majority of Americans, otherwise, they wouldn’t pass. That means all that’s left is to point to an opponent’s words (or lack thereof) in an effort to brand them as different from “us.”

Republicans have arguably pioneered “word dissection politics.” But even if you dispute this contention, as with most slash-and-burn tactics, they’re clearly employing it with more rigor than Democrats now, even if they often do so with intellectual dishonesty.

I’m thinking primarily of Vice President Dick Cheney’s criticism after the Christmas bomber episode (though for another example, see Republican Congressman Peter King's request that Obama say "terrorism" more, as if repeating the word three times will make national security fairies appear and transport us all back to a pre-2001 Kansas).

Cheney excoriated President Obama for allegedly trying to hide the fact we are “at war.” Here is Cheney’s salvo:

[President Obama] seems to think if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them lawyer up and reads them their Miranda rights, we won't be at war. He seems to think if we bring the mastermind of 9/11 to New York, give him a lawyer and trial in civilian court, we won't be at war. He seems to think if he closes Guantanamo and releases the hard-core al Qaeda-trained terrorists still there, we won't be at war.

We are at war, and when President Obama pretends we aren't, it makes us less safe. Why doesn't he want to admit we're at war? It doesn't fit with the view of the world he brought with him to the Oval Office. It doesn't fit with what seems to be the goal of his presidency—social transformation, the restructuring of American society. He seems to think if he has a low-key response to an attempt to blow up an airliner and kill hundreds of people, we won't be at war.

What an asinine line of attack for people who have…what’s the word I’m thinking of here? Oh, right. Logic.

Does Cheney fault Obama principally for policy change? Absolutely not. His emphasis is on rhetoric. Cheney thinks Americans are stupid enough to fault our President for being less bellicose than George W. Bush. Whatever happened to the great American axioms “speak softly and carry a big stick,” “you will know a man by his deeds,” “let your game speak for you,” and “all talk and no action?” They’re apparently out the window with the VP, for whom talk even exceeds deeds.

As peeved as I am that the VP goaded the White House into a "war on war words," I respect the White House’s political smarts in responding. The conservatorati and the GOP galvanize their base attacking Democrats’ alleged lack of patriotism and military cocksureness, and the White House’s response demolishes Cheney. Here it is:

For seven years after 9/11, while our national security was overwhelmingly focused on Iraq -- a country that had no al Qaeda presence before our invasion -- Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda's leadership was able to set up camp in the border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan, where they continued to plot attacks against the United States. Meanwhile, al Qaeda also regenerated in places like Yemen and Somalia, establishing new safe-havens that have grown over a period of years. It was President Obama who finally implemented a strategy of winding down the war in Iraq, and actually focusing our resources on the war against al Qaeda.

Seven years of bellicose rhetoric failed to reduce the threat from al Qaeda and succeeded in dividing this country. And it seems strangely off-key now, at a time when our country is under attack, for the architect of those policies to be attacking the president.

The White House added that the President knows we are at war, but "The difference is this: President Obama doesn't need to beat his chest to prove it, and -- unlike the last Administration -- we are not at war with a tactic ("terrorism"), we are at war with something that is tangible: al Qaeda and its violent, extremist allies.

I don’t know how any objective observer can read the two statements and not think the VP really shot himself in the foot politically on this one. Of course, that’s an improvement over him shooting......over never mind. All I can say is he's the Conservative of the Year? Who else was in the running? Alan Keyes?!?


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