Dallas, TX –
We've just about exhausted the story of Dick Cheney and Harry Whittington except to say that the lawyer from Austin has handled the situation with a lot more grace than the vice president. When he left the hospital in Corpus Christi, Whittington expressed regret "for all that. . . Cheney has had to go through" and noted that the vice president has far more serious things to deal with the hunting accident at Katharine Armstrong's ranch. He sent his love and respect to the Cheneys with the hope that the vice president will "continue to come to Texas to seek the relaxation that he deserves." You can hardly be more elegant than that.
By contrast, Cheney went from a tight-lipped official statement about the shooting to a somewhat more satisfactory account of it in an interview with Brit Hume. But what he should have said was that he doesn't intend to hunt again. Given his health and his age, he has no business wielding a gun any longer. He may have been a good shot once, but he isn't now. And while he may have had only one beer at lunch, before the accident, mixed with the medications he probably takes for his heart, that can be too much for a man of his years who's about to wave around a weapon.
Perhaps he dared not say anything so confessional fearing that the Whittingtons might sue. But that seems unlikely now, given Harry Whittington's admission that people "assume certain risks" in whatever they do, and "accidents do and will happen." Cheney is free now to say not only that the shooting was the worst day of his life but that he means to make sure it never happens again. This would be truly assuming responsibility for his actions, not only past, but also future.
Cheney would not be the first to make this sensible decision. Many in their fifties and sixties choose to stop skiing or to stop flying, lest they become a hazard to themselves and others. It would be a welcome touch of humility in a vice president not known for such a thing.
Whittington was right, of course. The shooting in South Texas, no matter how sick Cheney surely must be about it, is not the most serious problem he faces. He has other far more worrisome matters involving the whole of the nation. Here his mistakes in judgment have been breathtaking, especially in Iraq and the Middle East. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has called for "transformational diplomacy" in that part of the world. But the transformation already is underway, and it's not a picture with any powers to reassure.
What is needed now is the smallest gesture, not the grandest, the quietest statement, not a megaphone with nothing convincing to say. What Cheney must counsel the president to do, and what he must do himself, is hunker down and try to get through each day without inflicting any further harm. Together they must ride the bronco now activated in the Middle East, and search for a decent way out of Iraq. Hunting season there is drawing to a close for Americans. The only question is when we can afford to admit it.
Lee Cullum is a contributor to the Dallas Morning News and to KERA.
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