Hit Obama for the Right Reasons

The Cheney family’s attacks on Obama are a nasty distraction and damaging the GOP. Instead, Republicans should offer new ideas to challenge the president’s.

Former Soviet leader and KGB Chairman Yuri Andropov would be proud of Liz Cheney's charge that President Obama's initial willingness to release pictures of U.S. military prisoner abuses amounted to "siding with terrorists." After all, Andropov and his prosecutors always argued that Soviet dissidents who exposed human rights violations were guilty of treason. But Ms. Cheney goes even further than Andropov and his associates, who at least pretended that the dissidents were distorting the facts. Liz Cheney makes no such claim, nor any allegation that the pictures were fabricated. Yet despite this she asserts that exposing actual wrongdoing is sufficient to accuse someone of not simply providing comfort to America's enemies or aiding their propaganda efforts but siding with the mass murderers.  Of course, Ms. Cheney's father, former Vice President Richard Cheney, sets a clear example for his daughter in the Department of Offensive Nonsense. His idea that because Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama for President and often took positions at variance with the conservative base should be reason to exclude him from the Republican Party defies common sense, especially in what appears to be a rapidly shrinking GOP.

Let me be clear: I voted for Senator John McCain, and the more President Obama's leadership unfolds, the more comfortable I am with the choice that I made. Moreover, I am glad that Mr. Obama ultimately decided to follow the strong advice of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and military commanders in resisting, in court, the pictures' release. While there is a clear public interest in fully exposing the alleged abuses under normal circumstances, these are not normal circumstances. We are at war with Al Qaeda, the Taliban and, more broadly, radical Islam. The job in Iraq, and particularly Afghanistan, is far from finished, and there is sufficient evidence that earlier-released pictures, including those from Abu Ghraib, were used to incite violence against the United States to warrant being most careful about releasing new pictures.  This is especially true since the information already available to the public makes the necessary big point.

But Richard and Liz Cheney's offensive and nonsensical statements damage the Republican Party by reminding the American people of the narrow-minded viciousness that was far too often associated with the George W. Bush Administration. A smart course for the Republicans is to run away from this legacy rather than advertising it on every television talk show as something that may represent not only Republican leaders' troubling past, but also their future.

Worse, this silly nastiness is a diversion from the Republicans' desperate need to offer a new alternative vision to play a role as a meaningful and constructive opposition party. That vision does not have to be a wishy-washy version of George H. W. Bush's kinder and gentler America to be appealing. Here, many conservative pundits are correct: When Republicans get wobbly, they are likely to lose. To give Barack Obama credit where credit is due, he has so far acted as a bold and transformational president.  However, his plans are so ambitious with such profound consequences for America today and future generations, that the loyal opposition has a right and, indeed, a responsibility to challenge his goals head-on. You can call his objectives socialist-obviously in the Western European sense of social democracy rather than anything similar to Soviet Communism, or you can call it progressive or radical liberal, but they are clearly designed to increase the power of the federal government vastly, to redistribute income , to support  unions against businesses and even state governments, to relax already inadequate immigration enforcement policies, and to appoint judges who would not simply uphold the law but also demonstrate their "empathy," as if one man's empathy is not another man's bias.

President Obama is frequently praised for his analytical and pragmatic approach and, in foreign policy, as a newcomer to the field without too many strong original convictions, the President has indeed so far acted, or to be more precise, spoken, as a realist putting a new focus on diplomacy and emphasizing results over rhetoric. With real hard choices still to be made, from Afghanistan/Pakistan to dealing with a resurgent Russia to coping with the rise of China, Mr. Obama should be congratulated for a good beginning. But on domestic issues, notwithstanding the President's thoughtful style, he remains true to his origins as a community organizer, a leftist member of the Illinois State Senate and, more recently, the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate. Mr. Obama is using the economic crisis as a cover for introducing a wide variety of new initiatives that have little to do with the need to stimulate the economy, and that reflect the wish-list of liberal Democrats for reshaping America.

Polls have shown that Americans like Mr. Obama himself considerably more than his policies, before he has even had a chance to deliver on some of his far-reaching schemes like imposing new devastating taxes on the upper middle class. More to the point, the gap between the president's personal popularity and approval of his policies exists well before any real political debate has begun, notwithstanding the phony debate that the Cheneys are trying to start. Polls make clear that voters are concerned with budget deficits, nervous about more taxes, and despise illegal immigration. But the Republicans have so far failed to articulate the severe impact that President Obama's promiscuous spending is going to have on America's ability to put its budget under control, to protect Social Security, and to avoid inflation, which might trigger a flight from the dollar by foreign holders of U.S. Treasury debt, starting with the Chinese.