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A Tale of Two Speeches

Monday, June 1, 2009

By Shaun Randol

On May 21 Big Media and the Internet went bananas over the dueling rhetoric of President Barack Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney. Nevermind the nuances of their respective arguments on whether or not (or how) to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay and keep our country safe from terrorists, news and information outlets were more interested in the heavy weight fight theme than anything.

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post called it the Thrilla Near the Hilla. The Daily Beast noted the gentlemen "squared off" and then proceeded to "score the fight."

Others took high ground, though. The New York Times and LA Times, for instance, took measured approaches to reporting on the speeches. Jeffrey Toobin writing in The New Yorker did the same. But nobody reall commented on what it meant that the speeches were given in the first place.

The other night, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said these back-to-back speeches were terrific for our democracy. My initial reaction was to agree with Haass. What better moment to underscore the belief and practice of free speech then to have two wholly contradictory speeches broadcast one after another on a highly complex issue? It certainly beats the soundbite culture we Americans are spoon fed 24 hours a day. Despite your own bias or position on the issue of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, here were two, thoughtfully argued speeches advocating two disparate perspective on the closing of the abhorrent institution.

Was this day of dueling speeches a good thing for democracy and free speech? What if, in the case of Cheney, there are deliberate distortions? What if there is deliberate, unfounded fear mongering happening? Would it had made a difference, or such a big splash, if the bloviate Rush Limbaugh had made the same speech Cheney did? Does it make a difference that Cheney is a former high ranking official with powers to influence members of Congress and Media?

Watch the video and transcript here of Obama's speech.

Video of Dick Cheney's speech here.

 

 

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Shaun Randol is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Mantle and the co-editor of Gambit: Newer African Writing.