In the Arena

Moderation v. Extremism

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I think the Obama and Cheney speeches this morning pretty much speak for themselves. From the very first–the notion that those who oppose hisĀ  policies saw 9/11 as a “one-off”–Cheney proceeded to mischaracterize, oversimplify and distort the views of those who saw his policies as extreme and unconstitutional, to say nothing of the views of the current Administration. This is the habit of demagogues. Cheney’s snarling performance was revelatory and valuable: it showed exactly the sort of man Cheney is, and the sort of advice he gave, when his location was disclosed. I hope he continues to speak out. We need his voice to remind us what we’ve happily escaped.

Contrast that with the President. He spoke with reason and dignity. He treated his audience–the American people–as adults, capable of assimilating a difficult argument. He presented the views of his opponents, on both sides, fairly. His speech acknowledged the difficulty in balancing our democratic values against our very real national security needs. And then he added this:

We see that, above all, in how the recent debate has been obscured by two opposite and absolutist ends. On one side of the spectrum, there are those who make little allowance for the unique challenges posed by terrorism, and who would almost never put national security over transparency. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who embrace a view that can be summarized in two words: “anything goes.” Their arguments suggest that the ends of fighting terrorism can be used to justify any means, and that the President should have blanket authority to do whatever he wants – provided that it is a President with whom they agree.

Both sides may be sincere in their views, but neither side is right. The American people are not absolutist, and they don’t elect us to impose a rigid ideology on our problems. They know that we need not sacrifice our security for our values, nor sacrifice our values for our security, so long as we approach difficult questions with honesty, and care, and a dose of common sense.

The issue is among the most critical we face. It involves the safety and security of the American people–and cherished rights and values. It is nice to have a President who understands the need for carefully balancing the two.