My quick take on Obama's speech today is that it was characteristically thoughtful and elegant--if anything, perhaps even too nuanced for the soundbite culture to do it justice. But I suspect if there is one core point he wanted to drive home, it was his determination to make safety and security his clear top priority. How can I be sure? Because by my count Obama repeated some variation of the word "safe" ("safety," "safer," "safeguard") sixteen times. Sample excerpt:
In the midst of all these challenges, however, my single most important responsibility as President is to keep the American people safe. That is the first thing that I think about when I wake up in the morning. It is the last thing that I think about when I go to sleep at night.
Just as the White House clearly sees Obama as vulnerable to demagogic charges of wasteful spending and pork when it comes to the bailouts and stimulus, it's clear that in the current debate about torture and detainees, the flank the Obama team is covering is security. It may be true that Democrats have dramatically narrowed their longstanding national security gap with Republicans. But they clearly remain deeply insecure about the issue. (See the behavior of congressional Democrats over Gitmo this week.) Obama is trying to walk a fine line, pushing the political envelope by conceding that some detainees will end up on U.S. soil, but doing his damndest to make clear he doesn't take security lightly. A key question now is how much Democrats on the Hill will continue to make trouble on his right.