The contrast between the incumbent President of the United States and the immediate past Vice President was not just in their near simultaneous speeches on Thursday, but in their reasons for giving them. The President had to react to the former Vice President’s; the Vice President merely wanted to set the record straight.
Whereas Obama is “uncomfortable with dissenting voices being heard without a rebuttal,” Cheney has no interest in winning a popularity contest. He could care less about the media warming to him. Yet, even pundits and journalists from outlets not normally sympathetic to conservatives consider the Wyoming Republican got the better of the Chicago Democrat in their recent exchange.
In an “Analysis” piece for AP, Walter Mears offers:
In political debate, the side that keeps its arguments simple and repeats them again and again is likely to gain the advantage. It is an easier sale, especially when the topic is as scary as terrorism.
That’s how Republicans got the edge in the dispute over President Barack Obama’s planned closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison. And it put former Vice President Dick Cheney on a separate but almost equal platform with the president of the United States, which is a plus any time the party out of power can manage it.
Pointing out that even CBS News’s Bob Schieffer thought that the Republican won this “on points,” Jennifer Rubin found that picking a fight with an unpopular figure doesn’t necessarily redound to the benefit of someone with better poll numbers:
sneering at Dick Cheney’s ability to rebut the president ranks up there as some of the most misguided punditry in recent memory. This episode serves to remind us that politics is still about facts and how effectively the facts are marshaled. It is not purely a contest of personalities (although that counts for more than pundits on both sides would like to admit).
Perhaps, if Obama had not been so thin-skinned, he wouldn’t have gotten himself into this “mess.” This president seems to have a pattern of projecting his own insecurities onto unpopular critics. (Remember, his advisors’ attempts to smear Rush Limbaugh?) But, just as Rubin noted people respond to more than just personalities. Facts matter, ideas matter.
As the President should have learned this week, popularity contests can take you only so far in politics. They may help you win elections, in the battle of ideas, they won’t suffice, especially when your adversary comes prepared.
(I want to acknowledge my blogging nephew Mitchell whose timely e-mail today on this very topic helped me frame my argument.)