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Dick Cheney Interview a Reminder of Leadership with Conviction
I like Dick Cheney, but more importantly I respect him. I know such a confession will earn me immediate, impassioned condemnation from our friends on the left, and probably even from some on the right. But that just goes with the territory of being a columnist who speaks his mind.
To add insult to injury, I'll even mention that there aren't a whole lot of politicians who I both like and respect, so my statement on Cheney is particularly complimentary.
Now, before slamming your fist down somewhere in the proximity of the "page down" key on your keyboard so you can quickly reply to this column with an angry, blistering tirade on Iraq, Halliburton, and neoconservatism, let me explain why I admire the man.
I admire him because he's one of the last representatives of a dying breed of political leadership that speaks boldly and with conviction, tells you exactly what they think, demonstrates a vast amount of knowledge and clarity when explaining their support for (or opposition to) controversial policies, and couldn't care less whether or not any of it makes them popular.
Until I watched Fox News Sunday this week, and listened to Chris Wallace's fascinating interview with the former vice president, I'd nearly forgotten what it was like to have someone from that mold in Washington.
Some would say it's a good thing that people like him are now scarce in D.C. They're wrong.
Conservatives like me often gripe about the damaging policy decisions the current administration has burdened the American people with. We watch the expansion of government and bureaucracies eroding away the fundamentals that made this country great. We see our kids' futures crumbling under the weight of an insurmountable national debt and our country's rapid decline on the world stage. We recognize the dire need to stand up and defend our side of the ideological divide.
But even when an administration does so many things that we're adamantly opposed to, we still expect the people in it to demonstrate a certain degree of knowledge and credibility when it comes to protecting our homeland from foreign threats in a post-9/11 world.
When Dick Cheney talks about the extensive measures the Bush administration took to protect our country, he's unquestionably knowledgeable (extremely knowledgeable, in fact) of the programs that were used. He explains those programs and policies with clarity, describes exactly why they are important in keeping Americans safe, and most importantly, he offers a bold defense of his implementation of them.
That's the kind of thing a leader does... even if you disagree with him.
In contrast, when President Obama or one of his high-ranking surrogates opens their mouth about national security, they often appear to have absolutely no idea what they're talking about.
That's not a partisan cheap-shot. My observation doesn't stem merely from the disagreements I have with them. It comes from that deer-in-the-headlights gaze of incomprehension that I often read in the eyes of our government's top security officials.
I'm talking about people like Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, who inexplicably hadn't even heard of the major terrorist arrests that had taken place in London in late 2010, until Diane Sawyer asked him a question about them several hours after the story had been widely reported in the media. There's nothing that instills confidence like watching one of our nation's top leaders squirm like an eight year-old child who's being quizzed by a teacher on a book he failed to read.
Clapper's been in the news again recently, after being exposed for apparently lying to Senator Ron Wyden about the scope of the NSA's data collection programs back in March. I feel compelled to offer an alternative explanation for his false statement. Maybe he honestly believed what he was saying. Maybe he's just a willfully uninformed, totally incompetent director, and his current attempts to spin his previous statement are more about covering up his own ineptitude than covering up a lie.
Another example is Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, whose confirmation hearing had to rank up there with Sarah Palin's famous interview with Katie Couric, as one of the most embarrassing performances ever put on display by an aspiring cabinet member. There's something terribly wrong when Meghan McCain seems more informed about national security issues than the guy vying to become our nation's defense secretary.
And how can we forget Vice President, Joe Biden? Just a heartbeat away from the presidency is a man who speaks out on the big issues with more confidence than just about anyone, while routinely sending fact-checkers into overtime-hours as they painstakingly try to connect his improvised remarks with some semblance of reality. We're talking about the vice president of the United States... Not a cast-member from "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"
The biggest violator, of course, is President Obama himself. As the Wall Street Journal astutely pointed out earlier this week, the president refuses to defend the very war powers he robustly uses. He distances himself from debate on the national security methods he emphatically vilified during the Bush era, yet continues to preside over today.
At a time when the public is demanding answers on the scope of the NSA programs, he shrugs his shoulders, dashes off to political fundraisers, and completely avoids questioning on the topic.
FNC's Brit Hume recently compared the president's leadership style to his notable history of voting 'present' in the Illinois legislature. Silence is "not a way to lead," Hume remarked. And he's absolutely right.
Offering up grandiose, emotionally-charged speeches may win you elections. Shameless demagoguery and the demonization of opposing viewpoints might scare people into voting for you. But none of that matters once it's time to govern. None of that matters when it's time to lead.
This president routinely demonstrates that he just hasn't the capacity to lead. He's a brilliant orator and politician, but neither him nor his administration have conviction. The fact that Dick Cheney, and even George W. Bush this week, offered a more impassioned, compelling defense of Obama's NSA policies than anyone in the actual Obama administration is just more evidence of that.