Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Both Barrels

The Traverse City (Michigan) Record-Eagle is not some left-wing rag printed in the basement of a dorm in Ann Arbor. As long as I’ve been reading it — off and on for over forty years — it has been reliably Republican in its endorsement of candidates and respectful of the conservative values that are a part of the life of northern Michigan. So when they come out with an editiorial like this, you have to know that there is trouble in the heartland.

Dick Cheney’s ill-fated weekend hunting trip is a gold mine for editorial cartoonists and satirists – dress him up like Elmer Fudd, haul out the list of shoot-a-lawyer jokes – but there’s something remarkably revealing about the vice president’s reckless shooting of Harry Whittington on a Texas game ranch.

When Cheney blasted the Republican lawyer with birdshot while quail hunting Saturday, the Sultan of Sneer unwittingly scrawled the perfect epitaph for his tenure in the Bush administration. Call him:

– Pseudo-macho. Oh, he’s a gun-toting darling of the National Rifle Association, and he talks awfully tough on terrorism. In reality, Cheney is the dictionary definition of a chicken hawk. His now-discredited public bleatings about weapons of mass destruction and Sept. 11 terrorist links helped hurtle the U.S. into the disastrous, deadly invasion of Iraq. But during the 1960s, when he had the chance to carry a gun for his country, Cheney clung with a death grip to deferments while less fortunate kids fought and died in Vietnam.

– Contemptuous of the public. The vice president of the United States shot someone and the White House kept the lid on it for 24 hours. The story emerged only after the administration handed announcement chores to one of the ranch’s owners, of all people. Cheney’s office routinely stiff-arms reporters because he loathes them, except when he’s fear-mongering to fawning Rush Limbaugh and Fox Newsies or when his staff uses a favored few to reveal the identity of a CIA agent. The public had an absolute, immediate right to know about the shooting, and Cheney shouldn’t hold public office if he can’t handle scrutiny.

– Above the law. Regular folk might expect a visit from police if they happen to shoot someone, accidentally or not. Cheney’s Secret Service team shooed away local authorities when they arrived at the game ranch shortly after the incident. Police weren’t allowed to question Cheney until Sunday morning. Why? Police generally consider it important to immediately discern if drugs, alcohol or some other factor played a role in a shooting. Not here.

– Buck passer. Spinners included ranch owner Katherine Armstrong, who hinted that Whittington was at fault because he walked up behind Cheney without signaling and found himself in the line of fire. That’s nonsense. The first and only rule of handling a gun is to control the weapon and make sure no one’s in harm’s way. Cheney didn’t do so and shot a man. By Wednesday, the Bush administration began playing the incident as a joke, at least until Whittington suffered a heart attack after Cheney’s birdshot moved into his heart.

It’s no joke, but it is instructive. This is vintage Dick Cheney. It’s always someone else’s tragedy.

I’m sure the paper is going to get angry letters from the knee-jerk defenders of the Bush cult — and there are an awful lot of them up there — but when you have this kind of sentiment being expressed by the Record-Eagle, we’re moving into the area of disgust that transcends partisan politics.