February 16th, 2006

Brad @ Burning Man

The first vice president to shoot a man since Aaron Burr

Okay, I held off for a couple of days because Vice President Cheney's shooting of a hunting partner was one of those situations where I knew, just absolutely knew, that any opinions formed in the first few hours or even the first few days would look quaint and half-cocked when more of the facts came out. What I failed to anticipate is just how few facts would come out, and ever will apparently.

I am not going to jump all over anyone for a hunting accident. I grew up around hunters, and every hunter I know has a story that comes perilously close to this one. Hunting is a sport that uses firearms, and like a lot of sports involving heavy hitting or heavy equipment, sometimes people get hurt. When a football player makes a late hit on a guy and that one late hit breaks the other guy's knee, he's just broken the rules and assaulted another guy and what's more cost him his entire career. We don't prosecute it as assault, and we don't sue the late hitter for lost wages. Why? Because the courts, like almost everybody in America, understands that certain activities are "assumed risk."

The thing is, as tempting as it is for anybody who knows anything about hunting to write this whole story off, I swear to the Gods the man took his playbook for how to deal with this accident right out of Ted Kennedy's mis-handling of his 1969 drunk-driving accident, the one that killed Mary Jo Kopechne, and look how well hiding from the cops at first and then stonewalling for a couple of days served him.

There are details that just don't add up, like the fact that they're almost certainly wrong at best (and lying at worse) about the range of the shot, and the fact that instead of driving to the nearest hospital with a major trauma center they drove to a small town hospital even farther away, and the fact that we've now heard three different conflicting accounts of how the owner of the hunting range came to notify a local reporter. No one of these adds up to evidence of a crime, nor even all of them together. But for the love of the God and all that's holy, what on Earth possessed the Secret Service detail to even think that they had the authority to turn away the cops who first showed up on the scene and wanted to interview Cheney, as they routinely would after any hunting accident? He says he only had one beer at lunch; presumably there are witnesses who will back him up on this. Even if he had admitted to having had a six pack in the last hour before shooting the guy, I know from stories I heard in high school from other hunters that he wouldn't have been in very much trouble, not much more than a traffic ticket. These are supposedly smart guys, so why would they abuse their authority and weaponry to deny the police access to Cheney for long enough that if he'd needed to, he could have sobered up and passed a blood-alcohol test?

The thing is, it's just about impossible to concoct a scenario in which the Vice President did anything really horribly wrong, or even illegal beyond the trivial matter of an ordinance violation. But he acts like he's guilty of attempted murder. The secrecy, the long trip to a rural hospital, the fact that he took (in an early account that they've now reversed themselves on) two days to notify his boss, the President, that something had happened, the turning away of the cops, the several day stonewall, and the refusal to be interviewed at all on the subject for several days and only then briefly by a friendly reporter on Fox News? It's pretty obvious to me that Dick Cheney seriously thought that he had enough money and power to make this have not happened, that he actually thought he could accidentally shoot a guy and that nobody would ever, ever hear about it. And that's madness, that's lunacy.

(I get to see a fair amount of the White House Daily Press Briefings, by the way, and they're bearing out a prediction I made about Scott McClellan, the President's press secretary. The White House press corps has absolute and total contempt for the man, and aren't afraid to show it. Watching him try to change the subject and fail, over and over again, because even the right-wing reporters don't give him the authority to run his own press conferences, just bears up what I said before: if the Bush administration were smart, they would have replaced him by now, with some other equally loyal flack who hasn't been caught lying to the Press yet.)