I have the greatest respect and admiration for Liz Cheney who has been a forceful advocate for causes like democracy in the Middle East even while raising five kids. She is a also a fierce and admirable defender of her dad, the former vice president. A few weeks ago I saw her in action at the Intelligence Squared debate in New York arguing that diplomacy with Iran isn’t going anywhere, and I not only agreed with all of her arguments but thought she made them very capably and persuasively. So it is with no joy that I have to note that she has
stepped over the line in the course of a spirited debate. Today’s New York Times quotes her as follows:
Liz Cheney, a Republican strategist and Mr. Cheney’s daughter, said, “This isn’t complicated.”
“Conservatism is conservatism,” Ms. Cheney said. “Republicans have led the nation to greatness when they’ve been true to fundamental principles, such as a strong national defense, limited government and low taxes. None of those are things President Obama believes in.”
It is debatable where the line governing civility in public discourse lies. I would argue that Dick Cheney’s comment claiming that President Obama has made the nation less safe is close to the line but not over it. Although I disagree with Cheney (I don’t see much evidence that the nation is any less safe today than it was on January 19), I believe this is a tough but fair criticism to make.
So too I believe that Liz has a perfect right to argue that Obama doesn’t believe in “limited government” and “low taxes” (assertions that I believe are borne out by Obama’s budget). But it’s not fair to claim the president doesn’t believe in a “strong national defense.” That’s questioning his motives and suggesting that he will not carry out his oath of office to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Agree with him or not, you need to grant that Obama believes the policies he is pursuing are designed to enhance, not weaken, our national security. Otherwise civilized democratic discourse becomes impossible. Republicans rightly abhorred such invective against President Bush (“Bush lied, they died,” etc.). They should not make the mistake of mirroring moveon.org-style rhetorical excesses now that a president of the other party is in power.
Liz Cheney is a tough but principled debater, so I am sure that this was a one-time slip for her, but unfortunately some on the right are prone to such over-the-top criticism on a routine basis, which risks alienating the centrist voters who (rightly) hold the office of the president in great respect.