Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Column 72 - Dick Cheney

Dick Cheney – L’Etat, c’est lui.

In the grand scheme of things, the furor over the Vice President’s hunting accident would be a tempest in a teapot. Hunting accidents happen – it’s almost inconceivable that a group of people armed with rifles or shotguns and firing at fast-moving game will not occasionally hit something other than what they were aiming at, and sometimes that will be another hunter. It’s fortunate that the outcome of this particular accident was not much worse.

In our free society, when something that could happen to anyone happens to a public figure, it becomes fodder for the talk mill and the comedy shows – Carter had his encounter with the “attack bunny,” Clinton his stops at McDonalds, and Ford his famous falls and Quayle his spelling impairment – so at worst l’affaire Cheney should have been good for a few laughs at the Veep’s expense.

But humor ranks right below candor in this administration’s value system. Not long after the incident, the blogosphere began buzzing with stories of lies and cover-ups and then on Saturday the AP published an article detailing what it called “a week of shifting blame, belatedly acknowledged beer consumption (not ‘zero’ drinking after all) and evolving discrepancies in how the shooting happened, its aftermath and the way it was told to the nation.”

Arrogance has been a hallmark of this administration, and Cheney is in a close race with Rumsfeld for most arrogant. Beginning with the campaign, every piece of unwelcome information has been met by defaming the messenger. Questions about Bush’s military record and Cheney’s having “other priorities” than serving in Viet Nam? Get Rove’s minions together to smear John Kerry and Max Cleland, who did answer the call to serve. Unwelcome facts about the supposed yellowcake from Niger? Send Scooter to smear Joe Wilson and expose his wife as a CIA agent. And so it goes right up to Cheney and the White House blaming the poor sap who got shot.

While there is no evidence that beer drinking impaired Cheney’s judgment, drinking while hunting is an unsafe practice. The solution? Lie. Katherine Armstrong, the ranch owner and doyenne of Texas Republicans said “No one was drinking. No, zero, zippo” – that they drank Dr. Pepper with their lunch. Later Cheney acknowledged that “I had a beer at lunch.”

There is more, of course – the minimizing of the extent of Whittington’s injuries, the fact that Cheney’s licenses were not in order, and the speculation of experienced hunters that if, as was stated, the victim was 30 feet from Cheney, and if he were wearing the sort of layers of clothing that would be expected given the temperatures, the pellets should not have penetrated and harmed him below the one that hit his face – yet clearly they penetrated enough to get into his system and be carried to his heart. Most importantly there is the constipated flow of information both to the White House and to the public that has the appearance, at least, of an attempted cover-up.

Dick Cheney epitomizes the attitude of this administration that they are accountable to no one but themselves, and least of all to the public. They lie, cover up, and rationalize their behavior under the umbrella of national security and the war on terror. Yet these chickens are starting to come home to roost. In an administration that was accountable, that had not lost touch with all but the most blindly partisan segment of the public, that had an approval rating that was not in the cellar, this would have been an unfortunate case of bad judgment. In the case of this administration and its arrogant disregard for the public, it is an example of Lord Acton’s maxim that power corrupts.

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