Friday, May 22, 2009

Obama vs Cheney--Back to Basics

Bear with me just a bit while I mentally journey all the way back to the mid-70s. Forget the wide bell-bottom jeans and fitted polyester double-knit shirts and harness boots.

I’m trying to recall lessons learned from lectures and readings—as well as all the introspection over the intervening years. But it starts here with Dr. Poochigian’s classes on political thought. With his emphasis on “linguistic analysis”. Yep, my Master’s degree is in Political Science emphasizing political philosophy and constitutional law. And, as I’ve maintained ever since, my MA in political philosophy and $2.50 will buy me a cup of coffee at any Denny’s. I used to be able to do that for half a buck but that’s the wages of inflation for you.

So, if you’re still reading, what I’m trying to do is to make some sense of the Cheney/Obama “debate” that is see-sawing back and forth in the media concerning Guantanamo Bay and “detainees”. The way I have typically done this in my life is to try to break things down to the most basic concept that I can.

Cheney has always bothered me and scared me. Because of that I have tried not to think too much about him. However, he seems to want to be the face and voice of conservatism within the Republican party during the Obama administration when Republicans are regathering themselves. Unfortunately, back in my own Republican days there seemed to be a strong “moderate branch” with which I identified which all but disappeared starting with the Gingrich years in the 90’s—which is when I abandoned the Republicans for good.

Cheney takes the classic approach that the ultimate aim of government is order—that everything flows from there. No rights can be assured; no benefits can accrue to the public until and unless order is assured. Rights are articulated and then whittled away all in the quest for maintaining order. This is the more cynical view of people as purely self-interested and ready and willing to resort to anarchy at any time.

Obama on the other hand believes in the aim of government as one which assumes the basic goodness and worthiness of people. This is the more optimistic view which passionately protects and expands upon the rights of individuals and works to assure the common good. More importantly, government protects the weakest of its citizens in order to assure protection for all of its citizens.

The Cheney view is one which could come up with a hollow rationale which claimed that because detainees were in Guantanamo Bay that they were outside the U.S. and consequently not subject to the protections of the Constitution. This was one of the flimsiest fabrications I’ve ever encountered. Everyone else at that installation is subject to the Constitution. The Cheney view justified torture of “detainees” because they weren’t really POWs, merely “enemy combatants”.

The Obama view is that the “Gitmo” environment, torture, etc. are just not right. If someone is in our custody, that person is the beneficiary of at least minimum assurances to treatment and due process. Now this sounds simplistic and it is. It’s either fundamentally right or it’s fundamentally wrong. Make that determination and go from there.

This is all such a hydra-headed monster that efforts to reduce it to what in elementary school arithmetic is known as the “least common denominator” is an essential exercise. It is this exercise that allows for issues to be exposed on a bare-bones level. It seeks the foundation of who we are and what we are.

Quite frankly the Cheney view is little different from a fascist view. It is a view that has justified totalitarianism in its various forms over the centuries. Obama’s view can be seen in a more egalitarian fashion—perhaps somewhat naïve. But give me naiveté anytime over the cynicism which led us through the debacle of the first 8 years of the 21st century and which Mr. Cheney would like to perpetuate.

1 comment:

  1. Obama wraps himself in the Constitution, but his sheep don't see that he tramples on it like Bill Ayers stomps on the flag.