Sunday, February 19, 2006

Newsweek has a treacly, earnest psychological analysis of how Dick Cheney came to shoot his friend in the face while quail-hunting (Newsweek uses the word "peppered"). We are told at least three times how badly Cheney really felt about it:

"He was shaken, crushed, miserable," his host, Katharine Armstrong, told NEWSWEEK. "I could have gotten up and wrapped my arms around the vice president."

And describing the interview with Brit Hume:

Cheney's words and manner in that 20-minute session were indeed affecting: "Ultimately, I'm the guy who pulled the trigger that fired the round that hit Harry," he said, speaking in a monotone but looking grave and sad. "That is something I'll never forget ... It was ... one of the worst days of my life."

And describing the immediate aftermath of the shooting:

Armstrong, watching from an off-road vehicle about a hundred yards away, saw Whittington fall. A team of Secret Service agents bolted out of the car and ran past her, one of them shouting an expletive. Gun in hand, Cheney rushed over to the fallen Whittington. Later, the vice president rode back with Armstrong. "You'd have to be an idiot not to see what the poor man was going through," recalled Armstrong. [She means CHENEY, not Whittington.] "It was very quiet. I remember leaning forward and squeezing him on the shoulder." At one point Cheney said, "I never saw him."

No, he didn't -- because he didn't look around him before taking his shot. But Newsweek doesn't point that out.

After this maudlin, thoroughly intimidated piece, reading Josh Marshall's posts on the subject is like stepping out into crisp autumn weather after being in a hot, stuffy room.

Josh totally nails Mary Matalin for claiming on this morning's "Meet the Press" that Cheney never asked anyone to go out and blame Whittington for being shot by Cheney.

How can she be serious when she was one of the lead surrogates sent out to do just that?

Right out of the box there was Katharine Armstrong (call her surrogate #1): Whittington "came up from behind the vice president and the other hunter and didn't signal them or indicate to them or announce himself ... The vice president didn't see him. The covey flushed and the vice president picked out a bird and was following it and shot. And by God, Harry was in the line of fire and got peppered pretty good."

Then Scott McClellan who builds on Armstrong's initial point (call him surrogate #2): "I don't know all the specifics about it, but I think Mrs. Armstrong spoke publicly about how this incident occurred. And if I recall, she pointed out 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 (call her surrogate #3): "The vice president was concerned. He felt badly, obviously. 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."

This just isn't even up for debate. Until they were forced to switch course the party line was that Whittington screwed up by sneaking up behind the vice president.

Cheney permitted this to go on for three days. Which makes him a moral coward, as Josh points out.

About physical courage I don't know the answer. But all available evidence suggests that the Mr. Cheney is a man of deep moral cowardice. Makes a mistake and shoots his friend; blames the friend. Only he won't do it directly. So he gets underlings to do it for him. Forced to speak out publicly, he appears before a ringer-journalist guaranteed not to press uncomfortable questions.

It's all of a piece with the man's record. He's afraid of accountability. That's why he's such a fan of self-protecting secrecy. That's why he's big on smearing government whistle-blowers. It's really just two sides of the same coin. He's afraid of accountability. It's the same reason why he's such a notorious prevaricator -- lies to avoid accountability.

These are all the hallmarks of a moral coward.

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