The Gun and the Bottle

I don't know anything about the personal habits of the vice president of the United States (though if he doesn't drink prolifically only a serious mental disorder explains his behavior and perpetual snarl).

I do, however, know something about hunting in Texas. And it's not just about huntin'. It's also about drinkin'. If you are going to a ranch in the brush country of South Texas to shoot birds, you are almost certainly packing guns and Jack Daniels and some big coolers of beer. During the course of the day, if it's warm, the boys are always grabbing a beer out of the back of the truck. Toward the end of the day, the serious stuff comes out and usually gets mixed with Coke.

The smart hunters start putting the guns up as they take the bottles down. Not all hunters are smart, though, and, of course, alcohol clouds judgment. There is much about the Cheney shooting incident that demands more questions. First, the person holding the gun is always responsible for knowing where the other hunters are. Harry Whittington was not at fault for his failure to let Cheney know his location. Before the covey of quail was flushed, Cheney should have considered who or what was on his right and left. He ought not to have brought his gun up unless he was completely aware of the location of all the other hunters.

In the Cheney/Bush/Rove reality, though, they don't make mistakes. The guy who got shot is the guy who screwed up, not the vice president. If Whittington had just not been in the way of the buckshot, he would not have been "peppered." Durn fool. We still don't know the exact number of hunters on the ranch where the incident occurred or the number of coveys they were working. But it is always dangerous to be trying to raise more than two coveys. Any more and there are too many guns gathered and ready to fire in too many directions.

It's naïve for anyone to think there wasn't alcohol on the scene, too, or at least consumed in the ranch house before getting in the truck and driving into the brush. That's how it's done. And ask any of the people in the Bush administration who have been hunting on that ranch through the years and they will have to admit to that fact. The Armstrong Ranch has been used as a retreat, a fund-raising headquarters, a recruiting office, and a place to drink and hunt.

This brings us to the heart of the matter. There was no reason to delay reporting the incident to authorities unless Cheney was worried about a blood alcohol test. He had just shot a man and if the local police showed up and the vice president of the United States of America had booze on his breath, we would be talking today about something more than jokes on The Daily Show. There would almost certainly be political fallout and charges of irresponsibility.

But this is a well-managed White House. The sheriff decided not to even go to the scene when he heard and the deputy didn't talk to the VP till what -- 16 hours later? Sobriety by sunrise. Anne Armstrong went out to spin the reporters who had shown up and made "blasted by a shotgun" into the lesser "peppered." She had been on the phone the night before with Karl Rove. Nice message work, pal. Good to know you are back in the hunt, as it were.

The tactic now is for the White House to make light of the incident. Laugh about it. It's kind of like looking for WMDs under furniture in the Oval Office. Let's get on with the business of the people. You irresponsible reporters need to stop fixating on this accident. You're doing a disservice to the American people.

When Whittington's heart hesitated in his hospital room, though, he probably didn't think the incident was very funny. Maybe the vice president can offer to donate his. He sure doesn't seem to have any use for it.