John, you touch on the inherent contradiction in Obama’s agenda, and indeed his presidency. On the one hand, he spends valuable time whining about the Bush administration and excoriating it for obsessing about terrorism. A helpful Capitol Hill aide tallied up the slights and digs at Bush — nineteen of them — to illustrate how obsessed the president is with distancing himself from his predecessor. Yet he urges us not to look back and eschews the Truth Commission idea because it may not settle the score exactly as he would prefer.
Moreover, he has continued all those supposedly fear-based policies put in place by the Bush administration. He has continued the military tribunals, propounded the state secrets doctrine, and refused to release the detainee abuse photos. We have a robust domestic surveillance program, are completing the mission in Iraq, and seeking victory in Afghanistan. Why? I’d imagine because Obama would fear for Americans’ safety if he did otherwise. Indeed, that was the explicit justification for refusing to release the photos.
So if Bush got it all wrong and capitulated to fear, why are so many of his policies remaining in place — on advice of our military? Although George W. Bush is happily retired in Texas, Obama feels compelled to continue the fight rhetorically but not substantively against the former president in absentia and in the same news cycle as the former vice president. (Can one imagine Bill Clinton trying to bump Dan Quayle out of a news cycle or George W. Bush responding to Al Gore?) Obama hasn’t actually departed in any meaningful way from the “mess” of the Bush “fear-inspired” policies he inherited. To do that would be dangerous. Well, there are people out there who want to kill us, right? And so we come full circle.
The lack of seriousness was not lost on members of either party. Sen. Mitch McConnell blasted away, while even the hapless Harry Reid was forced to concede the speech wasn’t a “game changer.” Bottom line: it was an unserious speech delivered out of pique at the former vice president.
One final thought: Obama has placed his presidency in the hands of America’s enemies. Should they succeed in any significant operation, his words disparaging his predecessors’ efforts will come crashing down on him and his party. In politics, as in life, you never want to give over control of your destiny to others. But in a shocking way the Presdient of the United States did just that today.