Must-read: Rich Lowry on “President Above-It-All”


For all his championing of nuance, Obama comes back to one source for every dilemma: Bush, as though without his predecessor every question about how a nation of laws protects itself from a lawless enemy would be easy. Under Bush, according to Obama, we set our “principles aside as luxuries we could no longer afford.” Even now, there are those — are you listening, Mr. Former V.P.? — “who think that America’s safety and success require us to walk away from the sacred principles enshrined in this building.” What a shoddy smear.

Consider Obama’s breaks with Bush: We have stopped using enhanced interrogation techniques for now, but Obama reserves the right to use them again; we will have military commissions but with four procedural changes; we’re going to close Gitmo but find some equivalent detention facility for that category of detainees who, Obama says, are dangerous but can’t be tried or released. These are matters of degree and therefore questions of prudence, not principle. If Bush violated our fundamental beliefs, then Obama is violating them, too, only a little less so.

Excoriating Bush is good politics for Obama, which is what makes his repeated exhortations to look ahead so disingenuous. In his speech, he rued that “we have a return of the politicization of these issues.” In other words: Dick Cheney, please shut up. But when did the politicization of these issues end? Has the Left ever stopped braying about Bush’s war crimes?

Obama bracingly politicized these very issues on the stump, staking out unsustainably purist positions because they suited his momentary political interest. Now that’s he’s president, he wants the debate to end. He’s above the grubbily disputatious culture of partisans and journalists. And he’s above contradiction because, as ever, he occupies the middle ground, one “obscured by two opposite and absolutist” sides: those who recognize no terrorist threat and those who recognize no limits to executive power.

And there Obama stands, bravely holding his flanks against straw men on all sides.

Is that not the truth? Make sure to read the whole thing.

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