When Dick Cheney shot his buddy while hunting quail, then ducked from public view for three days while he let the victim take the blame, it was a perfect illustration of the incompetence and arrogance of the Bush-Cheney administration.
As we all know by now, the vice president sprayed 78-year-old Harry Whittington with birdshot at a canned hunt on a South Texas ranch, then withheld word on the shooting for 18 hours, giving his buddies time to get their stories straight. Local law enforcement authorities were not allowed to question Cheney until the following day, when he could present a sober appearance.
When word finally leaked out, the Kool-Aid Republicans, who are trained to parrot the party line from Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, blamed the victim and excused Cheney. First, hostess Katharine Armstrong said Whittington "came up from behind the vice president and the other hunter and didn't signal them or indicate to them or announce himself ..."
Then White House flack Scott McClellan noted from Mrs. Armstrong's account "that the protocol was not followed by Mr. Whittington, when it came to notifying the others that he was there. And so, you know, unfortunately these types of hunting accidents happen from time to time."
Then Mary Matalin, the pro from Dover, was brought in: "The vice president was concerned. He felt badly, obviously," she said. "On the other hand, he was not careless or incautious or violate any of the [rules]. He didn't do anything he wasn't supposed to do." Other Republicans fell in line: Whittington was at fault for sneaking up behind the vice president.
I am not a hunter (I get my meat at the grocery store) but I have handled guns (during a brief career as a side-armed security guard). The first two rules of gun handling -- as well as hunting -- are: If you pick up a gun, 1) you are responsible if it goes off, and 2) if it goes off, you are responsible for everything and everybody in the line of fire. No matter how you try to spin it.
You don't blame the shell for not telling you it's in the chamber any more than you'd blame the guy behind you who's picking up the quail he just shot for not warning you to look out before you squeeze the trigger on the next covey.
Enough hunters in purple states knew those ingrained rules so that Cheney was persuaded to appear before a friendly interviewer at Fox News the Wednesday following the shooting and finally half-accepted the blame. "I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend," Cheney admitted. He added that it was "one of the worst days of my life."
When Whittington was released from the hospital, he showed the class that should have shamed Cheney. "My family and I are deeply sorry for all Vice President Cheney and his family had to go through this past week," Whittington said.
Then Matalin went on Meet the Press on Feb. 19 with the preposterous claim that Cheney never sent surrogates out to blame Whittington for the hunting accident in the first days after the news broke. For good measure, she also berated the press for going on a "four-day jihad" against the vice president.
We realize that accidents can happen and we are glad Whittington, who suffered a "minor" heart attack from birdshot that lodged near his heart, apparently made a full recovery. Rich Republican lawyers don't deserve to be killed by Cheney's mistakes any more than Iraqi kids deserve to be killed by them. But Cheney, like his putative "boss," appears to be congenitally unable to admit to mistakes. So they keep on happening. Maybe not so much to rich Republican lawyers, but we'll see who gets invited to Dick's next hunting trip.
The Bush-Cheney record has been one of arrogance, incompetence and coverups. Refusal to admit, much less learn from, their mistakes is the hallmark of the Bush White House. And lying seems to be their default response.
When Bush and Cheney took office in 2001, Bill Clinton told Bush to pay attention to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Bush ignored the advice, as well as his own national security briefings, so he ended up with the deer-in-the-headlights look in that Florida classroom on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, after learning that two airliners had crashed into the World Trade Center and another had struck the Pentagon.
Still, the nation rallied around him. With support from all quarters, including most of the Islamic world, Bush put together an international coalition to remove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan and crush al Qaeda. But Bush left it to Afghan fighters to apprehend bin Laden. The lanky terrorist slipped across the border into Pakistan, our "ally" in the war on terror.
Instead of closing the trap on al Qaeda, Bush and Cheney decided to divert resources to Iraq, which very few people outside the White House believed had anything to do with 9/11. Arab leaders tried to warn Bush that invasion of Iraq would alienate Arabs and create sympathy not only for Hussein but also validate bin Laden's rants. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak predicted an Iraq invasion would produce "100 bin Ladens," driving more Muslims to anti-Western militancy. Despite UN inspectors who found no signs of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the Bushites assured the world that they knew where the WMDs were. The invasion was on.
US troops took Baghdad and toppled statues of Saddam. But they were ordered to stand aside as mobs sacked hospitals, libraries, museums, utility installations and government buildings, with the notable exception of the Oil Ministry, which was well-guarded by US troops. Then Bush flew onto an aircraft carrier for his "Mission Accomplished!" photo op.
Bush and Cheney ran for re-election on national security and suggested that if the Democrats won in 2004, al Qaeda would attack again. (This despite an al-Qaeda affiliate involved in the bombings of Spanish trains in March 2004 endorsing Bush's re-election because he was so good for recruiting.) Official terror threat levels in the US remained high throughout the campaign, but were lowered after Bush's re-election.
In 2005, as Bush's summer vacation was winding to a close, Hurricane Katrina closed in on the Gulf Coast. Though warned of impending disaster from the hurricane, Bush's FEMA did little. When the hurricane's backwash breached the levees protecting New Orleans, Bush left his vacation home -- to fly to California. While New Orleans filled with water, stranding thousands of residents who were unable to leave town in advance, FEMA exchanged emails and phone calls with state and local officials, but little aid was forthcoming. With the Louisiana National Guard in Iraq and no orders from the White House, federal military in the region stood by and watched as local rescue efforts were overwhelmed by the natural disaster. Two Navy helicopter pilots who disregarded protocol on their way back from delivering supplies to a Mississippi base and rescued 110 people from rooftops in New Orleans were chewed out when they returned to their base in Pensacola, Fla. Kool-Aid Republicans blamed the residents who failed to leave town before the storm.
Then it turned out that the president had ordered wiretaps without warrants, in apparent violation of the Constitution and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. With the mistreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo, at Abu Graibh and at other prisons run by the military, by the CIA and client regimes overseas, it became apparent that Bush won't abide by US law, international treaties or world opinion. As Kevin Drum wrote at WashingtonMonthly.com, "It's simply impossible to persuade the rest of the world that we're the good guys as long as we persist in plainly repugnant behavior." But to Kool-Aid Republicans, critics of the president are in league with jihadists.
So the Bush-Cheney administration excels in arrogance and incompetence. It is time for Republicans of conscience to stop making excuses for them. -- JMC