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Monday, February 13, 2006
If we lived in any other time, under any other administration, the story of Dick Cheney's wounding of a fellow hunter would be a minor story. The vice-president is known to be an avid hunter, and serious accidents happen even to careful sportsmen from time to time.

But we do not live in ordinary times. We're talking about the Bush administration, the biggest collection of goons, nutters and blockheads in the history of our Republic.

This incident is in many ways a microcosm of the Bush administration itself. It is a textbook example of the administration's dysfunctional nature. A mistake is made through carelessness, or stupidity, or recklessness. The idea of owning up to the mistake, taking responsibility for it, being open about what happened, is immediately rejected as unacceptable.

Instead, the plan is to bury the incident -- make sure that no one ever hears about it.

But the bigger the mistake, the more difficult it is to hide. Inexorably, all the painful, embarrassing, messy details are dragged into the open.

Once this happens, the administration's propaganda machine is sent in to spin the problem out of existence. But some problems are harder to spin than others.

Like a guilty schoolkid who has just thrown a baseball through somebody's plate-glass window, it's now time to slink away -- to distance yourself from the incident in question:

Asked by The New York Times why it did not make the news known, Cheney spokeswoman McBride said, "We deferred to the Armstrongs regarding what had taken place at their ranch."

Armstrong said later, according to The Associated Press, that everyone at the ranch was so "focused" on Whittington's health Saturday that it wasn't until Sunday she called the Caller-Times to report the accident.

"It was accidental, a hunting accident," Sheriff Ramon Salinas III of Kenedy County told The New York Times, adding that the Secret Service notified him Saturday of the episode. "They did what they had to according to law."

Quite a profile of courage, our vice president. It happened at the Armstrong's ranch, not my ranch. See? Nothing illegal happened. I was so focused on Whittington's health I didn't have time to report it. What's that? Is there a question from the back? Okay, for those of you who didn't hear it, the question is, "If you were so focused on Whittington's health, how come you didn't visit him in the hospital, but immediately left town?". Okay, next question.

When that doesn't work, it's time for a favorite Bush administration tactic: blame-shifting.

Whittington "came up from behind the vice president and the other hunter and didn't signal them or indicate to them or announce himself," Armstrong said, according to the Associated Press.

That excuse doesn't wash. Anyone who's ever gone pheasant hunting knows better. The main group walks together in the open mostly, say along the rows at the edge of a cornfield, and one person cuts to the outside, back through the trees to flush out the pheasants. When the birds are flushed out they come up fast; and you only have a few seconds to take your shot. It's quite common for you to wheel around, trying to get a bead on a fast-moving target. But as a hunter it's your responsibility to not shoot anyone standing behind you. It's not their responsibility to duck when you pivot around, blasting away.

But blame-shifting is SOP for these guys, regardless of whether or not it's a smart or credible tactic. And true to the workings of the Mighty Propaganda Wurlitzer of Death, the blame-shifting always comes from subordinates. The higher ups just stand there with their mouths behind their sleeves, trying to keep the grins off their faces.

The president, who was at the White House over the weekend, was informed about the incident in Texas after it happened Saturday by Chief of Staff Andrew Card and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and was updated on Sunday, press secretary Scott McClellan said.

But neither the White House nor the vice president's staff announced the shooting. The Washington Post reported late Sunday that Cheney's office did not make a public announcement....

In an odd disparity, Armstrong told the Houston Chronicle that Whittington, 78, was "bruised more than bloodied" in the incident and "his pride was hurt more than anything else." Yet he was airlifted to a hospital and has spent more than a day in an intensive care unit.

Okay, let's review: the guy's "pride was hurt more than anything else"? I don't think being shot by another member of your hunting party can be brushed off as an embarrassing pratfall. And if it was such a minor incident, what was he doing in the ICU? Was his pride on life-support?

Clearly Cheney's wasn't. His hubris is the healthiest thing about him.

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