Obama vs Cheney: Dueling in Different Universes

By Jim Selman | Bio

I listened to both President Obama and Ex-Vice President Cheney deliver their remarks on National Security. The President’s speech gave me goosebumps and Mr. Cheney’s gave me pause to consider the other view. It seems to me there were three basic issues and points of disagreement. The first has to do with what philosophy/approach is appropriate to maintain ‘National Security’. The second is whether ‘enhanced interrogation’ is torture and was it or should it ever be justified. The third is whether ‘American Values’ are a source of power and strength or are they potentially a source of real or perceived weakness.

I believe these two men were both eloquent and sincere in their positions. They were both ‘taking a stand’ for what they believe in and, in this case, those beliefs are radically different. Whichever view one embraces, there is a lot at stake in terms of who we consider ourselves to be, who we are for others and, of course, our day-to-day security. This is an example where two people and their constituents are on opposite sides of an issue. In many regards, this could be viewed as another grand example of conflict and divisiveness—as polarized as Northern and Southern Ireland, Islam and Judaism, ‘Rightists’ and ‘Leftists’, Uppers and Downers. The issue is that when people become polarized, there is no common ground from which to build a common future—no amount of information and analysis can dictate a decision. Both cases are compelling. And if you accept their underlying assumptions, you will come to more or less the same conclusions.

The problem with absolute divides is that people are seeing and relating to different worlds. CNN characterized the two perspectives presented by President Obama and Vice President Cheney in these speeches as being from ‘different universes’. One of the things I’ve come to appreciate is that when conflict exists at the level of core beliefs or ‘paradigms’, the question is no longer which one is right or wrong. The question is which worldview can include the other.

In the case of this week’s debate, President Obama said that ends do not justify the means if the means go against the core principles and values that define who we are. Vice President Cheney’s position suggested that unless we do whatever we need to do to prevail in the face of an enemy committed to our absolute destruction, we may not have a nation to defend (in other words, the ends do justify the means). Leaving short-term political games aside, how can we make this choice?  

In my view, the point goes to Obama for the simple reason that if we remain true to who we are, then even in defeat we have the capacity to create a vision of freedom and prosperity and rebuild what has been destroyed. If we lose the core of who we are in the interest of survival, we will at best be hollow mannequins of who we used to be. As our father’s taught us in WWII, there are some things worth dying for.

© 2009 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.

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