Col. Jessep Goes A-Hunting
I told you people Dick Cheney was dangerous.
Let's all wish a full and speedy recovery for Harry Whittington, the man Cheney accidentally shot on Saturday while they were out in the Texas boonies hunting quail. As for the trigger-happy vice president, let's hope he takes this unfortunate episode as a hint to pack up his shotgun and go home. Lord knows he's done enough.
The man is out of control.
Then again, out-of-control is the way this whole administration operates: Ready, fire, aim. Global war on terrorism, global war on poultry, what's the difference? You see something moving, shoot it.
Sorry, Harry, my bad.
It's been clear for some time that Cheney came to office with a revanchist agenda, and he has pushed so hard in his campaign to assert autocratic powers for the White House that even his allies on Capitol Hill have begun pushing back. No wonder, given the way he treats them. On electronic spying, Cheney has essentially told Congress that if any members would like to discuss checks and balances, they're welcome to talk to the hand.
His uncompromising drill-and-guzzle position on energy makes a lot of oil industry executives sound like tree-huggers. When the subject turns to measures that could actually begin to lead this country toward energy independence, such as conservation and alternative fuels, Cheney begins checking his watch and barely tries to stifle his yawns. But let someone raise the prospect of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which couldn't even begin to slake America's energy thirst, and he lights up with such glee that it's impossible not to think of Mr. Burns on "The Simpsons."
Conservation sounds like one of those sissified foreign ideas. Drilling, now that's what America is all about -- at least the America that spends its weekends on a 50,000-acre ranch in south Texas with a bunch of fellow millionaires, shooting at quail.
Typically, Cheney's office didn't bother to tell anyone for more than 18 hours that the vice president of the United States had shot someone. A vice presidential shooting doesn't happen every day, and I, for one, would appreciate being informed whenever the man who's just a heartbeat away from the presidency peppers a 78-year-old attorney with birdshot. But Cheney apparently is taking his cues from Jack Nicholson's character in "A Few Good Men," the ultrapatriotic Col. Nathan Jessep: "You can't handle the truth."
Cheney seems to believe that we want to know far too much about what our government is up to. He doesn't have to tell us who came to the White House and engineered the administration's "Happy Days" energy policy; he doesn't have to tell us whom the National Security Agency is spying on or how it's doing it; he doesn't have to tell us anything about the conduct of the war on terrorism that this administration is waging in our names. Anyone who leaks information to try to keep us informed, such as the unnamed whistle-blowers who told of the secret CIA prisons and the unauthorized domestic surveillance, will be hunted down. (No shotguns involved, one hopes.) Of course, at times when public opinion is trending perilously the wrong way, Cheney apparently is happy to play the Washington game and leak information that bolsters his argument and tears down his opponents. According to press reports last week, Cheney's former aide Scooter Libby now says it was his "superiors" who instructed him to do the kind of leaking that has him facing trial on federal charges.
Foreign policy wise man Brent Scowcroft, who served with Cheney under George Bush the Elder, famously said that he doesn't recognize the man who now occupies the vice presidency. I wonder what happened.
A pop psychologist might speculate that Cheney was shaken by two stunning blows. One of them -- the Sept. 11 attacks -- was suffered by all Americans, but it's hard to overstate the extent to which George Bush the Younger and his inner circle took Sept. 11 personally. The other blow is Cheney's personal health crisis, which has entailed a series of heart attacks and operations. It's easy to imagine that the fear of a new, even more catastrophic terrorist attack, combined with the intimation of his own mortality, could produce the kind of out-of-my-damn-way inflexibility we see in Cheney today.
But I doubt the vice president would have any patience with this sort of navel-gazing. Just lock and load. The rest of you, don't forget to duck.
It was radio host Tom Joyner who came up with Cheney's Valentine's Day poem:
Roses are red, Violets are blue, Say something I don't like, And I'll shoot you, too.