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Dec. 30 2009 - 10:50 pm | 134 views | 1 recommendation | 2 comments

Maureen Dowd and Dick Cheney agree: Obama isn’t scaring us enough

Maureen Dowd at Democratic Debate in Philadelp...

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Dick Cheney, Vice President of the United States.

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So diametrically opposed, yet substance-free, are the views and perspectives of Maureen Dowd and Dick Cheney – whether in ideology, politics, gender or diction - that when they agree on something, almost by definition a new standard for inanity is set.

And so it is now, with President Obama and the terror-underpants attack. In Politico, Cheney attacks Obama for being insufficiently martial in his approach to terrorism, both this week and in general:

As I’ve watched the events of the last few days it is clear once again that President Obama is trying to pretend we are not at war. He seems to think if he has a low-key response to an attempt to blow up an airliner and kill hundreds of people, we won’t be at war.

But we are at war and when President Obama pretends we aren’t, it makes us less safe. Why doesn’t he want to admit we’re at war? It doesn’t fit with the view of the world he brought with him to the Oval Office. It doesn’t fit with what seems to be the goal of his presidency — social transformation — the restructuring of American society.

And Dowd, while getting some zingers in at Bush and Cheney, comes to surprisingly similar conclusions: Obama is dithering while the terrorists devise new and ever-more lethal undergarment-based attacks; he has pretenses to being a socially transformative figure but this plot has exposed their hollowness:

President Obama’s favorite word is “unprecedented,” as Carol Lee of Politico pointed out. Yet he often seems mired in the past as well, letting his hallmark legislation get loaded up with old-school bribes and pork; surrounding himself with Clintonites; continuing the Bushies’ penchant for secrecy and expansive executive privilege; doubling down in Afghanistan while acting as though he’s getting out; and failing to capitalize on snazzy new technology while agencies thumb through printouts and continue their old turf battles.

In his usual inspiring/listless cycle, he once more appeared chilly in his response to the chilling episode on Flight 253, issuing bulletins through his press secretary and hitting the links. At least you have to seem concerned.

Given that every utterance of the president is usually televised, [Obama's statement] was a throwback to radio days — just at the moment we sought reassurance that our security has finally caught up to “Total Recall.”

All that TV viewers heard, broadcast from a Marine base in Kaneohe Bay, was the president’s disembodied voice, talking about “deficiencies.”

I realize that reading Dick Cheney and Maureen Dowd for logic and consistency is a mug’s game. But what the heck. Here’s my problem with their arguments: they are entirely about rhetoric and image, and they’re off-base even there.

Presidents should project an image of confidence during a crisis. If they don’t, it can be a big problem (think George W. Bush during the entire week of Katrina, topped off by “heckuva job”). And a narrowly-thwarted terror attack is obviously disturbing and requires a vigorous government response. But it is not a world-historical event. It has happened before. It will, sadly, probably happen again. Cheney and Dowd seem to expect that when something bad happens, Obama must act like a president in a movie – barking orders, taking command, steeling the American public for the long, difficult road ahead. And that, ideally, it should be televised. You know, like in 24.

To both of them (for very different reasons) the president is or should be a kind of magical, all-powerful figure. When Obama appears less than magical and all-powerful – in this case, deliberately so – he’s attacked. It’s ridiculous. As Rick Ungar notes, Obama’s low-key approach assumes Americans are capable of keeping this incident in perspective and evaluating the response on the substance rather than gestures. Perhaps that’s naive. (Especially because the jury’s still out on the substance.) But if Obama can bring Dick Cheney and Maureen Dowd together, anything is possible.


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  1. collapse expand

    David Brooks in today’s Times has pretty much echoed your ideas here. It’s time we all grew up and stop looking for the impossible dream leader who will protect us from all harm.

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    About Me

    I'm a journalist and author who writes about science, environment, various forms of government dysfunction, and, against my better judgment, American politics. Also: the media and the future of journalism. My work has appeared in Smithsonian magazine, Wired, The Washington Post, Mother Jones, the Guardian and the Huffington Post. In a previous life I was an investigative/explanatory reporter for The Times-Picayune of New Orleans. The edge of chaos, BTW, is that narrow zone between stasis and chaos where complexity emerges and interesting things happen.

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