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Obama and Cheney Face Off

4 years ago
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Normally when a president gives a major morning speech, the worst thing he has to worry about are snarky comments from the TV commentators.
But Barack Obama, who delivered his long-awaited speech on closing the prison camp at Guantanamo while standing in front of the Constitution (a bit of heavy-handed symbolism), was immediately followed on television by none other than Dick Cheney, delivering an angry response. The dizzying and unprecedented back-and-forth between the current president and man who was the most powerful vice president in history provided enough drama to eliminate the need for either soaps or steel-cage wrestling matches.
In discussing the continuing debate over the Bush administration's tolerance for torture, Obama declared, "I have no interest in spending our time relitigating the policies of the last eight years." Cheney, in contrast, is a former vice president with little ahead of him politically other than trying to salvage his reputation (his approval rating has dipped below 20 percent in some recent polls). So Cheney's address was a full-throated defense of what he likes to call "enhanced interrogation techniques," a euphemism akin to a medieval official calling the rack an "enhanced stretching technique."
The former vice president, to be sure, scored some points, especially when he again called on Obama to release CIA memos that purportedly show that torturing terrorists saved lives, though that claim has been challenged. If Cheney seemed, at times, barely able to contain his sarcasm about the new administration, Obama often reveled in complexity, repeatedly using phrases like "there are no neat or easy answers" to describe the dilemmas that accompany closing Guantanamo as a prison.
Fifteen years ago, at Richard Nixon's funeral, five presidents and five first ladies stood together in the front row to honor a man who left the White House in abject disgrace. There was a bland civility among current and former presidents and vice presidents in those days that now seems quaint. Cheney versus Obama might not win any awards for high-minded discourse, but it unquestionably made for great post-game commentary.

MORE:
Melinda Henneberger - Cheney Says Those Who Oppose His View See 9/11 as a "One Off"
Walter Shapiro - Barack Obama Argues for Closing Gitmo

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