In the past I have made quite clear my admiration for former Vice President Dick Cheney. So it will come as no surprise that I think his speech today at the American Enterprise Institute was pitch perfect. But I will say something stronger: I think that if somebody came to the subject fresh, with no preconceived notions, and watched (as so many of us did) President Barack Obama and Cheney back to back today, dueling across town, that open-minded person would believe that Cheney made a far stronger case. And oddly enough, Cheney’s very lack of “style points” served only to emphasize rather than detract from the simple, straightforward weight of his message.
Obama looked and sounded like a politician posing for cameras while self-consciously striving for the loftiest rhetoric and the most subtle but hurtful denigrations of those who disagreed with him. His “moral preening” factor, though, was patently obvious, and a bit offensive.
Cheney looked and sounded like a man who is all business, all seriousness — and wise. He did not pause to emphasize applause lines. He did not pose for the cameras. He did not raise or lower his voice for effect. He just gave us his message straight and unvarnished, and almost in a monotone. But the words were powerful enough to overcome all that, and the meaning of the words more powerful still.
Listen to Obama’s speech, and you come away empty, as if you just were given the intellectual equivalent of meringue. Listen to Cheney, and you come away thinking you have just had the intellectual equivalent of a full, stick-to-your-ribs, meat-and-potatoes meal.
It really was a remarkable thing to be there at AEI. There was palpable tension int eh room as Obama failed, and failed, and failed for 28 whole minutes after his scheduled time to start his comments — clearly trying to upstage Cheney by waiting to speak all the way until just beore Cheney himself was scheduled to start. There was a sense of something momentous, of a real challenge-and-response sort of situation. It was, if an AEI event can be so described, exciting. And it became even more of a mano-a-mano thing when Obama went on not for the pre-advertised 35 minutes, but for 50 whole minutes, as if deliberately trying to squeeze all life out of Cheney’s own address.
Obama’s gambit didn’t work. It merely served to ratchet up the anticipation for Cheney’s response. (Cheney was sort of funny when he opened by quipping that Obama never would have survived being in the House subject to its “five minute rule” for floor speeches.) And it became all the more remarkable when Cheney seemed to answer OBama point for point for point, often responding to the exact language Obama used — even though Cheney’s speech was handed out BEFORE Obama began talking, so it clearly was not a spur-of-the-moment tit for tat. In sum, the fact that Cheney so well anticipated Obama’s screed served to emphaszie how well Cheney had thought through what he wanted to say.
And what Cheney wanted to say, and did say, was utterly superb. Watch the whole speech for yourself, here. (Do NOT read the speech if you can watch it. The text on the page is as prepared, not as delivered. Cheney cut out one gag paragraph at the beginning about heading a search for a new trustee, but inserted an EXTREMLY important paragraph later. In fact, here is his insertion, about the CIA people who did the interrogations: They were ““especially prepared to apply techniques within the boundaries of their training and the limits of the law. Torture was never permitted, and the methods were given careful, legal review before they were approved. Interrogators had authoritative guidance on the line between toughness and torture, and they knew to stay on the right side of it.”
Finally, as an aside, I loved Cheney’s shot at the NY Times, here:
Our government prevented attacks and saved lives through the Terrorist Surveillance Program, which let us intercept calls and track contacts between al-Qaeda operatives and persons inside the United States. The program was top secret, and for good reason, until the editors of the New York Times got it and put it on the front page. After 9/11, the Times had spent months publishing the pictures and the stories of everyone killed by al-Qaeda on 9/11. Now here was that same newspaper publishing secrets in a way that could only help al-Qaeda. It impressed the Pulitzer committee, but it damn sure didn’t serve the interests of our country, or the safety of our people.
Okay, that’s enough for now. Hail to Richard Cheney, a great American.