By Eugene Robinson
Which reality do you inhabit, Obama World or Cheney World? If it’s the latter, remember that storm clouds are always gathering. Don’t forget your umbrella.
In Obama World, it’s always morning. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping and the pollen count is low. In Cheney World, it’s perpetual twilight. Somewhere in the distance, a lone wolf howls at the rising moon.
In Obama World, human beings are flawed but essentially decent and rational. Most will behave in a way consistent with enlightened self-interest. In Cheney World, humanity’s defects are indelible and irredeemable. Absent evidence to the contrary, evil should be assumed to lurk in every heart. Better to do unto others before they have a chance to do unto you.
In Obama World, choices are artifacts of reasoning and thus are only as valid as the logic underlying them. Security and freedom, for example, do not have to be seen as an either-or proposition. The nation never came to a fork in the road with one path labeled “torture” and the other labeled “disaster.” In Cheney World, choices are binary and absolute. There’s no wiggle room, no gray area, no time for second thoughts and no debate about how our options are framed. It’s my way or the highway, citizen.
In Obama World, objective fact matters. The failure to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is significant. The absence of any link whatsoever between Iraq and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks is relevant. In Cheney World, facts are based more on conviction than evidence. If it’s possible to imagine “nuclear-armed terrorists,” as Cheney did in his speech the other day, then they “exist” at least as a concept—and this conceptual existence justifies torture, among other abuses.
In Obama World, some “threats” can be recognized as no threat at all. Since there has never been an escape from the federal “supermax” prison in Colorado, and since it already houses plenty of terrorists, spies and other miscreants, there’s no real reason to be concerned about transferring any of the Guantanamo inmates, even the worst of the lot, there. But in Cheney World, no threat, however remote, can be definitively ruled out—especially if there’s political hay to be made. And anyway, it’s fun to scare people.
Obama World buzzes with information overload—hundreds of cable channels, zillions of Web sites, constant “tweets” from Twitter. In Cheney World, it’s pretty much Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, all day, every day. It’s like the saying, “I like both kinds of music—country and western.”
In Obama World, Americans have a sense of community and shared purpose. Those upon whom fortune has smiled—through accident of birth, educational opportunity, career-enhancing connections or any other kind of “right place, right time” serendipity—recognize that extending a hand to those who do not enjoy such advantages is not just morally right, but ultimately beneficial to all. They believe that Henry Ford was right to pay his workers the shockingly high sum of $5 a day—so they could afford to buy the cars they were making.
In Cheney World, sharing is for saps. Obtaining great wealth and power has nothing to do with being “fortunate,” whatever that means. It’s all about preparation, focus and hard work. The idea that luck or connections could possibly have anything to do with, say, becoming the lavishly compensated chairman and chief executive of a mega-corporation such as Halliburton? Preposterous and un-American.
In Obama World, America exerts its leadership not just through force but through example. Our nation’s exceptionalism lies in its ideals of freedom, justice and opportunity for all, in its decency and generosity, in its commitment to the rule of law and its zeal for self-improvement, in its willingness to examine its own flaws and work to correct them. These intangibles are backed up by the world’s most powerful military, but it’s the ideals that matter most. When we lose sight of them, we head down the path of inevitable decline.
In Cheney World, ideals are nice and all that, but might makes right. We do what we want. Because we can. You got a problem with that?
Obama World is an exciting place to live right now—not perfect, to be sure, but full of energy and hope. If Dick Cheney wants to stay in his bunker, that’s his business. Others might want to come up for some fresh air.
Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.
© 2009, Washington Post Writers Group