After trying to get me to say that Cheney and Pamela Willeford had an affair (which I wouldn't - I stick with what I know), Tucker Carlson confronted me on "The Situation" tonight* about the fact that Willeford's husband was apparently on the ranch at the time of the incident. It seems that he and others think that my comparison of the Whittington shooting and Chappaquiddick must be all about sex. That, and the fact that my opening paragraph reciting the facts (as we knew them yesterday morning) included the fact that Cheney and Whittington were with two women to whom they're not married.
Did it look suspicious to me that these four were together? Sure - I admit it. All the secrecy and evasion about the event, and about who was there, couldn't help but raise suspicions. But if the facts show that there was no funny business between Cheney and either of the women, that's fine with me. This Administration has already generated so many scandals it's exceeded my absorptive capacity.
There were more important factors than sex behind my Chappaquiddick analogy. (That analogy seems to drive conservatives insane, by the way. The hate mail and even threats I've received are beyond anything I've ever seen. I guess the word's been such a treasured icon of hate for them that the possible loss of it drives them into a frenzy.)
Here are some of the "C" (for Chappaquiddick) factors in the Cheney shooting:
1. Someone with a documented history of drinking problems causes a serious accident, and then avoids the authorities for a period of time - one that happens to be long enough to get the alcohol out of his system.
2. The first stories of the accident are confusing and self-contradictory. (In this case, since Cheney didn't speak himself, the most glaring inconsistencies are Armstrong's. Specifically, she - and now Cheney - describe her as an eyewitness, although she told the Associated Press she thought at first Cheney had suffered a heart attack. That would mean she never saw the shooting.)
3. A powerful figure holds himself out as being above the law, and - at least for a time - appears to get away with it.
4. When the powerful person finally speaks, allegedly to 'come clean,' there are still inconsistencies and glaring contradictions in his story.
It's about power, drinking, irresponsibility, and dishonesty. If there was no romance going on, the issues are still the same. As the song says: What's love got to do with it?
I had a little off-the-air discussion with Tucker about whether this story is important. He, along with many conservatives and a few liberals, have said it's been overblown. I disagree.
I think conservatives got one thing right during the Clinton years: Character matters. Not as in "let's spend $40 million to investigate a sex act," but as in: Are the people running the country honest? Will they lie to officers of the law? Break the rules? Mislead the public? And - most critically in this case - is someone with an active drinking problem helping to lead the most powerful nation on earth?
I don't know all the answers, but I consider them damned good questions. It's time the press took them more seriously.
The suggestion's also been made that I and others are trafficking in "unfounded allegations." Unfortunately, it's the local Sheriff's Office and the national media that have been caught trafficking in unfounded allegations. On Cheney's say-so alone, the Sheriff's Office issued a report saying no drinking was involved in the incident. Now the Vice President allows that he had "one beer" a few hours earlier. One is not none - meaning that by Cheney's word alone the Sheriff's report is wrong. (And we just have his word about the "one beer" - that being one of the liquored-up world's most notoriously untrustworthy phrases.)
As Talk Left has reported, the Kleberg County DA says he may have to convene a Grand Jury should Mr. Whittington die. What would he have for an accident report now, should that unfortunate need arise? He'd have a partially discredited work product from investigators who didn't see the shooter until the next day.
As for the media, they repeated the words "pepper" and "spray" so much it sounded like they were ordering a steak salad at the Ivy. That, and "superficial wounds" - until the heart attack, that is. They insisted that no drinking was involved, too - but today the Vice President said otherwise.
Now we have Cheney's Brit Hume interview. Have our questions been answered? About as much as the questions about Ted Kennedy were answered when he first described the swimming he did that night. To be fair, Hume was a little tougher than I - and probably Cheney - expected. Yet he never asked him the most critical question of all: Why the delay in meeting with law enforcement?
Tucker wanted to know if I regretted the Chappaquiddick analogy, now that they've said that the Ambassador's husband was in town. My answer: I regret that there's been so much evasion, deception, and covering up over this incident that any of us have been forced to collect the facts on our own. America deserves better from its leaders. And I regret bringing up painful memories for the Kennedy and Kopechne families.
Ted Kennedy eventually came clean on his accident, and by all reports he's straightened his life out. All of our leaders should do the same. It's about character. It matters.
*UPDATE: A video clip of the appearance is here.
(more on the Cheney interview here)