Respect for one’s audience

RESPECT FOR ONE’S AUDIENCE…. Most of Joe Klein’s take on this morning’s speeches struck me as persuasive.

“From the very first — the notion that those who oppose his policies saw 9/11 as a “one-off” — Cheney proceeded to mischaracterize, oversimplify and distort the views of those who saw his policies as extreme and unconstitutional, to say nothing of the views of the current Administration. This is the habit of demagogues. Cheney’s snarling performance was revelatory and valuable: it showed exactly the sort of man Cheney is, and the sort of advice he gave, when his location was disclosed. I hope he continues to speak out. We need his voice to remind us what we’ve happily escaped.

“Contrast that with the President. He spoke with reason and dignity. He treated his audience — the American people — as adults, capable of assimilating a difficult argument. He presented the views of his opponents, on both sides, fairly. His speech acknowledged the difficulty in balancing our democratic values against our very real national security needs.”

Now, when it comes to Klein’s take on the appropriate “balance” between security and values, I’d put the fulcrum in a different place.

But his larger point sounds right to me. Watching Cheney’s speech, the one phrase that kept coming to mind was, “He must think we’re idiots.”

It’d take too long to fact check the entire address, but the deliberate deceptions were constant and unavoidable. While the president went out of his way to be principled and candid, Cheney argued that to disagree with him is to fail to take 9/11 seriously. To come to different conclusions on these controversial questions is to think we’re permanently free of a terrorist threat.

He even rolled out the old canard: the very debate over torture gives terrorists “just what they were hoping for.”

Cheney hoped to link Saddam to terrorists, hoping the audience wouldn’t look too close. Cheney insisted that torture saved lives, expecting those who heard him not to know the difference. He said Obama had backed off his opposition to torture, hoping we wouldn’t pick up on the deception.

It’s too late, but if the media insists on characterizing this as some kind of face-off between competitors of equal stature, the least news outlets could do is to point out that Cheney was simply outclassed today. As tempting as it may be to compare the substance of the president’s speech with the former vice president’s, that’s just not possible. Obama treated the nation like adults; Cheney treated us like the target of a con.

For an even more spirited response, I’d encourage folks to check out Larry O’Donnell’s reaction to Cheney on MSNBC.