The real problem here, though, is not the president’s casual attitude toward the facts but his relentless partisan hostility. What does he hope to accomplish by asserting that he’s no Dick Cheney? The obvious political answer is that it is an appeal to people for whom Cheney is a demon figure–that is, the Democratic base. Lots of “raving liberals” are feeling betrayed by Obama’s seeming failure to live up to his rhetoric about civil liberties and such. Perhaps there is a psychological aspect to Obama’s pronouncement–that is, maybe he’s trying to reassure himself that he’s better than the leaders he demonized.
But Obama does a serious disservice to the country by casting what is in fact a bipartisan antiterror program in such partisan terms. His message, as an irreverent National Journal headline puts it, is: “Trust Us, Because . . . Trust Us.” We’d change the emphasis a bit: Trust Us, Because . . . Trust Us.
Obama’s message to Democratic partisans is that they were right to distrust the government when Cheney and George W. Bush were in the White House, but they should trust it now that he is. Great, but what about people who aren’t Democratic partisans? For many of them, Obama’s presence in the White House is a reason to be less trustful of government. And the basis for such distrust is not wholly partisan, given the abuses of power recently revealed at the State Department, Justice Department, Internal Revenue Service and elsewhere.