Dick Cheney is giving the Republican Party a demonstration of how to fight a popular president. Stake out defensible high ground, do not surrender an inch, then go onto the attack.
The ground on which Cheney has chosen to stand is the most defensible the Republicans have: homeland security. In seven-and-a-half years after 9-11, not one terrorist attack struck our country.
And, unlike Obama's position, Cheney's is 100 percent reality based. He was there. He lived through this. He made the decisions to use the harsher techniques on the worst of the enemy who could yield the greatest intelligence to save American lives.
"The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts failed. They were legal, essential, justified, successful and the right thing to do." And they "prevented the violent deaths of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of innocent people."
Having defended every decision he took, Cheney then counterattacked. He charged The New York Times with virtual treason in exposing the program to intercept calls from al-Qaida and mocked its Pulitzer Prize. He accused liberals and Speaker Pelosi of "feigned outrage" and "phony moralizing," asserting they were fully briefed on "the program and the methods." He charged Obama with endangering national security by "triangulating," adopting a policy designed less to secure America than to unite and appease his political coalition.
"There is never a good time to compromise when the lives and safety of the American people are in the balance."
Cheney comes to this quarrel armed with credibility, certitude, consistency and conviction born of eight years of success. Listening to Obama's disquisition, one gets the sense his homeland security policy is the collective view of the editorial board of the Harvard Law Review, with a sign-off by the local chapter of the ACLU.
That Cheney is winning seems undeniable.
Not only has his approval rating risen to 37 percent, probably higher on national security, Obama's coalition is cracking apart.
Speaker Pelosi's credibility has been shredded over what she knew and when she knew it regarding waterboarding. Her comrades are all howling that the CIA lied, but no one wants an investigation.
The left wing of the party believes Obama double-crossed them when he refused to release the photos of abused prisoners, kept the military tribunals and sent 22,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
And Harry Reid and a Democratic Senate voted 90 to 6 to humiliate Obama by denying him the funds needed to close Guantanamo until he comes up with a plan to hold the 240 hard-core inmates somewhere other than in the United States.
Again, Cheney is winning because he has been there and his position is reality-based. For, while the use of harsh interrogation techniques is a legal question, it also presents a moral dilemma. A moral case can be made that, given the murderers we confronted, the prospect of more U.S. dead, the non-lethality of the techniques and the value of the intelligence acquired, it was the right thing to do.
And the Democrats are losing because, with few exceptions, they have been neither consistent nor honest.
Their key leaders were read in on the interrogation techniques. Few protested. They went along when America seemed in imminent peril. Recall: Democratic Sens. Dodd, Daschle, Edwards, Kerry, Reid and Clinton all voted to authorize war in Iraq.
But, by the time the primaries of 2008 came around, they had all moved -- some 180 degrees -- to get right with the Democratic base. And this is Obama's problem.
He ran to the left of Hillary and pledged to close Guantanamo, as the prison camp had come to be twinned, though unfairly, in the liberal mind and Muslim world with the sadistic abuses at Abu Ghraib.
Obama never thought through what he would do with the hard-core al-Qaida housed in Guantanamo.
This is a recurring problem of liberals. They are forever into posturing, assuming heroic moral stands, but rarely consider the consequences in the real world. It was brave to denounce the Shah, Anastasio Somoza and Ian Smith. But when they fell, we got the Ayatollah Khomeini, the Sandinistas and "Comrade Bob" Mugabe in Zimbabwe.
In his speeches, Obama is all abstractions. While listeners may say he speaks beautifully, 24 hours later, who remembers what he said? Cheney deals with the concrete. We remember that scene in the White House bunker, with that plane headed for the Capitol, and we remember Khalid Sheikh Mohammad saying he will talk after he gets to New York and sees his lawyer.
The Republican Party needs to get off the psychiatrist's couch, and stand up and fight for what it believes. You don't need a moderate with a pretty face to deliver a moderate message. The former vice president with the crocodile grin has just shown the way.