It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.
After opening with a statement about the steps being taken to keep America safe from the set of enemies who presented themselves on 9/11/2001, President Obama said the following:
But I believe with every fiber of my being that in the long run we also cannot keep this country safe unless we enlist the power of our most fundamental values. The documents that we hold in this very hall — the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights — these are not simply words written into aging parchment. They are the foundation of liberty and justice in this country, and a light that shines for all who seek freedom, fairness, equality, and dignity around the world.
The President went on to give his thoughts on how we lost sight of these values. He did so in a way that put responsibility for that loss on all of us, while lending understanding to all of us for this failure:
And during this season of fear, too many of us — Democrats and Republicans, politicians, journalists, and citizens — fell silent.
In other words, we went off course. And this is not my assessment alone. It was an assessment that was shared by the American people who nominated candidates for President from both major parties who, despite our many differences, called for a new approach — one that rejected torture and one that recognized the imperative of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
The President was not all conciliatory, he placed blame for the choices made squarely on the shoulders of the people at the helm in the previous administration but he did not demonize them. He spoke with firmness and conviction, took responsibility for the safety of the country, laid out his plans for unwinding Gitmo including some issues that aren’t going to make anyone happy and then took responsibility for those decisions, too.
In response to this, former Vice President Cheney began by joking about the overly-long 19-minute speech by the President then launched into a 34-minute accusation of idiocy, cowardice and treason on anyone who does not agree with him: including the sitting President, your humble author and hundreds of millions of American citizens. The thesis of Mr. Cheney’s speech is summed up well in this paragraph:
So we’re left to draw one of two conclusions, and here is the great dividing line in our current debate over national security. You can look at the facts and conclude that the comprehensive strategy has worked, and therefore needs to be continued as vigilantly as ever. Or you can look at the same set of facts and conclude that 9/11 was a one-off event … and not sufficient to justify a sustained wartime effort.
No, Mr. Cheney, this very much is not the debate. In fact, to cast the debater as a “Those Who Love
America vs. Those Who Hate America cage-match” is incredibly insulting and not worthy of any person who has ever held your former office. You are not insulting the President of the United States, you are insulting at least one hundred million American citizens who strongly believe that torture is not necessary or permissible in our efforts to defend our country (and who believe that what you did was in fact torture). You dishonor at least another hundred million Americans who are deeply conflicted about how far is too far to go in efforts to defend their country. You even condescend to those Americans who agree with your methods by assuming that they will be incapable of discerning that the debate was not as simple as whether or not their friends and family hate their country. I voted for you once, Mr. Cheney. You continue to make me feel dirty for doing so.