Look who's rehabilitating!

Andrew Malcolm notices an interesting result from the latest CNN poll, one which CNN itself hesitates to note.  Since going on the offensive against a popular new president, former VP Dick Cheney has improved his favorability rating, and perhaps that of his former boss as well:

The more former Vice President Dick Cheney criticizes the Obama administration for drastically changing the national security policies of the Bush administration, the more popular Cheney seems to become among some Americans. …

[A] little-noticed new CNN/Opinion Research poll released the other day shows Cheney’s favorable ratings have jumped by more than a quarter since last winter.

And this May poll of 1,010 adults was taken before his widely viewed speech to the American Enterprise Institute that further assaulted President Obama’s policies for threatening U.S. national security.

Cheney has rapidly improved his standing, from a low point of 29% to 37%, a gain in terms of ratio of more than 27% in just four months.  Bush improved from 35% to 41%.   Of course, as Andrew points out, he’s still seen unfavorably by a majority of Americans (55%), and so is Bush (57%).  It seems that the undecideds have begun to break back in favor of both, perhaps garnering some better support from previously disaffected Republicans and a few independents.

When Cheney first began pushing back against Barack Obama’s repeated and scornful assessments of the Bush administration, most analysts figured that Cheney was tilting at windmills — and that the GOP needed to distance themselves from Cheney.  The rapid re-evaluation appears to have made hash of that advice.  If Cheney — a politician as unpopular as Richard Nixon — could strengthen his standing by demanding an honest debate from the President, then perhaps other Republicans should be following suit.  Obama may have a large font of personal popularity among the electorate, but Cheney’s taking his national-security policy stands apart, mostly because he seems to be the only Republican willing to do it.

I’d prefer that fresh Republican leadership take that role, as I wrote earlier this year, but in the absence of any such leadership, Cheney appears to be doing an effective job.  How effective?  E.J. Dionne reported this weekend that Obama now has to hold dual briefings to convince the center-right that he’s just as tough as Cheney on Guantanamo:

Last Thursday afternoon, for example, the White House invited in journalists, mostly opinion writers, to sell them on the substance of the president’s big speech on Guantanamo and the treatment of detainees.

Unbeknown to the writers until afterward, they had been divided into two groups, one more centrist with a sprinkling of moderate conservatives, the other more liberal. (I was in the liberal group.) The president made an unscheduled appearance at each briefing. As is his way, he charmed both groups.

The idea, as far as I can determine, was to sell the liberal group on those aspects of Obama’s plan that are a break from George W. Bush’s policies, and to sell the centrist group on the toughness of the president’s approach and the fact that it squares with Bush’s more moderate moves later in his second term.

Dionne believes that Cheney “helped” Obama with his speech at AEI that day criticizing Obama on his national-security policies, but the very existence of the dual briefings shows that Cheney is drawing blood in this debate.  It also calls into question the honesty of Obama.  Why make two different cases simultaneously, telling one group that he’s abandoning Bush’ policies and the other that he is not?  Does Dionne believe that builds Obama’s credibility, or undermine it?

Cheney isn’t making two different and nearly mutually exclusive cases.  Right or wrong, Cheney’s only talking out of one side of his mouth.  The fact that Obama has to talk out of both sides, rather than simply make a cogent and consistent argument to all Americans, shows that Cheney has pushed him out of his comfort zone, and Obama’s flailing in response.