Cheney’s “I ♥ Torture” speech was, if nothing else, a clarifying moment. Like a painting that captures the essence of a historical age in a single image, today’s split screen of Obama and Cheney reflected the very essence of the torture debate. And the contrast couldn’t have been clearer – the men, the values expressed, the appeals to our better and baser selves. It was all right there – in that single image – for all the future to see.
As for the speeches, they pretty much speak for themselves. It was refreshing to hear an American President deliver that speech. In fact, it made me proud to hear it. As for Cheney’s, there’s not much to say. We’ve heard that song many times. It’s not exactly news that today’s GOP has cast their lot (and legacy) with torture. They’ve enthusiastically and unapologetically embraced it for some time now. And that’s a stain that will stick.
But that we knew.
There was one part of Cheney’s speech that disturbed me though. From listening to Cheney (and others), you get the sense that they are now rooting for another terrorist attack.
In that respect, Cheney’s speech was more than a retroactive defense of past criminal acts. He was looking ahead. He was setting up the political chessboard to attack Obama and the Democrats in a particularly poisonous way if – God forbid – we are attacked again.
If there is another successful and terrible terror attack, either on U.S. soil or on a U.S. target abroad, the immediate moment will be too terrible to hear the words "I told you so." But if, God forbid, that day comes, we will know that indeed Dick Cheney did tell us so.
It’s a pretty neat trick. The Bush/Cheney administration radicalizes a new generation of terrorists through actions like torture and unnecessary wars. Then, when the blowback comes, they’ll try to blame it on someone else – specifically, on the people trying to clean up their mess. It's like dousing a house with gasoline, and then blaming the cleanup crew when someone comes along with a match trying the burn the thing down.
One of the many problems with the Cheney/Geraghty logic is that the Bush administration’s methods can’t be judged strictly on short term results – just like the effects of smoking cigarettes can’t be judged purely in the short term. The blowback from these actions takes years or even decades to fully materialize (see, e.g., USSR vs. Afghanistan in the 1980s). God only knows, for instance, how many battle-hardened terrorists we’ve created and trained in the “classroom” of Iraq. And who knows what they’ll do.
But anyway, a terrorist attack will happen one day. When it does, Cheney and his followers announced today that they will seek to divide the country based on fear and hate and paranoia – just like they did in 2002.
That's why you can't ignore the debate. Even if it goes away for a while, it will inevitably come back. Like the final showdown with Vader, it can’t be avoided. It must be faced – and politically defeated.
And that’s exactly what Obama tried to do today. To his credit, he got right up and forcefully articulated why his vision – our vision – is correct. He met the Cheney arguments head-on, and shied from none of them. It was not a defensive speech. In that sense, it was the polar opposite of what people like Tom Daschle said in 2002.
Obama’s going to disappoint me as President at times. But he sure didn’t today. He showed me that he’s not scared to fight hard on this most critical of political fronts. It’s a very promising sign.