06/21/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama vs Cheney: Future vs Past

We couldn't ask for a better favor this morning than the one handed to us by Barack Obama and Dick Cheney. At no other time, not even during the election, have we been able to see such a clear juxtaposition between where we are now as a country and where we used to be. Election '08 was little more than a theater of the absurd that ended promptly on November 4th. This morning, however, was real life, a real opportunity to stand in the age of reason and look back vividly on the age of fear, spite and distortion. We saw a current leader and policy maker lay out every detail of what he stands for, what he has done, what he intends to do and refrain from doing and exactly why, whether you agree or not. He grounded his policy stance in his constitutional scholarship and took nothing personally. He made it absolutely clear that his policies will be made in accordance with the rule of law and not the other way around. We learned that Gitmo is not jot one problem but a series of problems, each of which have to be treated differently. He reminded America and the world of the simple truth that nothing is just that simple; that reducing issues to black and white terms while ignoring important details of color will do nothing but endanger us in the long run. And he did so with respect for our troops and our intelligence.

Immediately afterward, we got a healthy dose of nostalgia from 2004, a rehashing of a linear argument that was long ago lost. A man who claimed to have no political agenda opened his remarks with a barb about the length of the Commander-in chief's speech. Indeed, the former vice president's total time at the lectern was maybe a fourth of the president's, but the president had a lot more ground to cover, not to mention a lot more ground to stand on. Cheney's only goal was to defend his torture policies, and apart from that there wasn't really much else he could talk about. He couldn't talk about Iraq, which he only mentioned once in passing, brushing off the whole six-year debacle as "high and low points." He couldn't talk about the real reason he ordered the waterboarding of one guy over 100 times -- to get him to say that Iraq was linked to Al Queda and justify a bogus invasion. He couldn't talk about those things because they're political cyanide, so he had to fill his time with fear-induced anger, inaccurate claims, righteous indignation and cheap shots at Europe. From the outset he played his trump card: 9/11. He played it over and over again as if he and the other 19% of Americans who support him are the only ones who remember it. They aren't.

But this was clearly Cheney playing to his audience, for it's all he has left. The bully pulpit now belongs to the new president, and all Cheney can do is preach to his choir. That's why he spoke from within the cozy confines of the American Enterprise Institute while Obama enjoys the broader stage of the National Archives. But it goes deeper than that. Obama gets the bigger platform and the longer time slot because more people are inclined to listen to him, and that's because he's inclined to listen to more people. Cheney and his president didn't want to listen to anyone. That is why his era is bygone and his influence on our future is dwindling.