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Obama agenda: Obama v. Cheney

"In back-to-back speeches, President Obama and former vice president Dick Cheney faced off yesterday, both forcefully presenting their sharply different views on how to keep America safe from terrorism, the effectiveness of harsh interrogations, and whether the 240 Guantanamo Bay detainees pose an imminent danger if brought to American soil," the Boston Globe writes.

Video: President Obama delivers his address on national security, terrorism and the closing of Guantanamo Bay prison.

The Wall Street Journal says, "Mr. Obama, speaking forcefully from the rotunda of the National Archives before the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence, sought to regain the high ground in the debate, arguing that his changes were needed to restore 'the power of our most fundamental values.' He conceded that some key Bush-era policies would remain, from extralegal military commissions to indefinite detentions. But he said he had hoped that by banning interrogation techniques that others have called torture, and by vowing to close Guantanamo Bay in his first week as president, he would move beyond the divisive debates of the past few years, and pivot to his ambitious domestic agenda."

Video: Former Vice President Dick Cheney delivers his speech on national security.

The Washington Post: "Presidential scholars could not recall another moment when consecutive administrations intersected so early and in such a public way."

Politico adds, "The most popular politician in the country found himself pushed up against a wall by one of the least popular in Cheney – the leading voice in a budding Republican attack on Obama over national defense, one of the GOP's oldest (and most successful) cudgels against Democrats."

The New York Times' analysis notes that Obama finds himself stuck in the middle. "Rather than an easily labeled program, Mr. Obama is picking seemingly disparate elements from across the policy continuum — banning torture and other harsh interrogation techniques but embracing the endless detention of certain terror suspects without trial, closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, but retaining the military commissions held there. 'A surgical approach,' the president called it in his address on Thursday at the National Archives."

"But surgical approaches are rarely satisfying to those on either end of the political spectrum who tend to dominate political dialogue in Washington, particularly when it comes to an issue as fraught with emotional resonance and moral implications as the struggle against terrorists."

As for the reaction to the two speeches, Obama received mostly praise from the mainstream media's editorial boards. The Washington Post's: "Mr. Obama's wisdom lies in accepting the reality of war but insisting that it can be fought in fidelity to U.S. values. Yesterday, he spelled out the crucial difference. 'I want to be very clear that our goal is to construct a legitimate legal framework for the remaining Guantanamo detainees that cannot be transferred,' he said. 'Our goal is not to avoid a legitimate legal framework.'"

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank observes: "Dick Cheney came out swinging… Cheney used the word 'attack' 19 times, 'danger' and 'threat' six times apiece, and 9/11 an impressive 27 times. It was as if all the angry thoughts edited out of his speeches by Bush aides over eight years were finally free to tumble forth."

More: "On paper, Obama should be an easy victor in his duel with Cheney; Obama is viewed favorably by about 60 percent of the public, Cheney by about 25 percent." But: "For the moment, at least, Obama's intellectual arguments can't match Cheney's visceral rage. Even if Cheney can't reverse the new administration's policies, he's building a case for Obama to be blamed if there is a terrorist attack on his watch."

The New York Times' Alessandra Stanley: Obama vs. Cheney "should not have been a fair fight, but cable is the great equalizer. The proximity of the speeches — and the way that they were given equal time and weight on news shows — blurred the distinction between the president and the former vice president. And that was not helpful to Mr. Obama." 

The Wall Street Journal's editorial: "As rhetoric, [Obama's] remarks were at pains to declare a bold new moral direction. On substance, however, the speech and other events this week look more like a vindication of the past seven years."

The Times' David Brooks has this take: "When Cheney lambastes the change in security policy, he's not really attacking the Obama administration. He's attacking the Bush administration. In his speech on Thursday, he repeated in public a lot of the same arguments he had been making within the Bush White House as the policy decisions went more and more the other way."

Brooks concludes, "[T]he bottom line is that Obama has taken a series of moderate and time-tested policy compromises. He has preserved and reformed them intelligently. He has fit them into a persuasive framework. By doing that, he has not made us less safe. He has made us more secure."