Obama Giving Oxygen to Cheney's Fire

If you didn't watch both speeches yesterday from President Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney, you will want to take the time to watch or read them in full. The dramatic day underscored just how much Obama struggles with balance as a former presidential candidate and new commander in chief.

Indeed, Cheney's whole presentation was at times rather unseemly. He waited for the president to finish before starting his speech so that he could have his own nationally televised moment. He criticized the president for taking too long, mocked him, chided him and all but called him a wimp.

But there were compelling words in Cheney's intentionally frightening speech — about how there is no middle ground in security, no place for the kind of triangulating that works in politics, no compromising with terrorists and that any missed clues can lead to catastrophe.

Yes, recent polling shows Obama has managed to erode much of the doubt Americans had about his ability to keep us safe. But persuadable, changeable minds still reside in the middle, and Cheney's words likely resonated with them. The right will always think the left weak-kneed wimps whose policies will be our undoing, and the left will forever consider the right to be bellicose torturers. No middle ground there. But for those swing voters who opposed much of Bush's first-term record but voted for him again in 2004 anyway because they were scared, Cheney's strong words yesterday pack quite a punch.

Obama will be hearing from Cheney again and again because he has invited a protracted fight on the closing of the Guantánamo Bay prison. As I wrote in my column this week, this is a problem of Obama's making. He never should have imposed a deadline for shutting Gitmo down. Easy things can't get resolved in Washington in one year, let alone quandaries without answers.

Obama rushed to announce his deadline without consulting with Congress, and for that he is paying the price. A top Senate Democratic leadership aide said senators asked for cover for weeks on the issue but got no response from the administration. “The Republicans have been very unified and very disciplined on this. It's not as if the administration didn't see this coming. They could have worked to help message this, but they didn't because they have no clue about what to do,” said the aide.


Suddenly Guantánamo Bay is taking up all the oxygen in the national debate, and it only gives Cheney a longer shelf life.



DID OBAMA'S SPEECH HELP HIM WITH THE LEFT, RIGHT OR CENTER? Ask A.B. returns Wednesday, May 27. Please join my weekly video Q&A by sending your questions and comments to askab@thehill.com. Thank you.

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