Killer Cheney

Posted: Feb 20, 2006 9:05 PM

This commentator rations himself to only one prediction every 15 years. Mine now is that there is going to be a devastating backlash in the months and years ahead in the matter of Cheney and the quail shoot.

Some critics of the administration are arguing as if Iraq were a subsidiary concern. What has been brought forth in the plains of Texas is the venal character of the vice president of the United States.

One columnist for The New York Times headlined his column, "Mr. Vice President, It's Time to Go." Resign, "for the sake of the country and" -- one inhales the purity of the writer's motives -- "for the sake of the Bush administration."

Now that gentleman's concern for the well-being of the Bush administration is on the level of his concern for the quail that Mr. Cheney did or did not kill (this is the only detail of the event unexplored by the historians). Why did the critic want Cheney to resign? Because "Mr. Cheney is arrogant, defiant and sometimes blatantly vulgar." Oh? Yes -- the critic arrived with documentation in hand: "He once told Sen. Patrick Leahy (news, bio, voting record) to perform a crude act upon himself." You do not say! Well, that's the kind of thing one would expect from somebody who goes about crippling his friends while ostensibly aiming only at quail.

It is to the credit of the newspaper of record that a few pages before the call for the resignation of Mr. Cheney, a careful reporter, Ralph Blumenthal, gave a detailed account of what had happened on Saturday at the Armstrong ranch.

Who all was there? Well, Pamela Pitzer Willeford, ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, and her husband, a physician; the hostess, Katharine Armstrong, and her sister, and her husband. Also Nancy Negley, an art philanthropist; Ben Love, a West Texas rancher; and the victim, Harry Whittington, a 78-year-old lawyer, and his wife. Also several outriders, whose duty was to flush the birds. Also a dozen American pointers and Labrador retrievers. Close to 5:30 p.m., the two shooting groups had bagged about 40 quail each, and were working now on the last covey.

About 100 yards away from the Jeep carrying the hostess and her sister (daughters of the fabled Anne Armstrong, whom Gerald Ford had once asked to run for vice president), "Mr. Cheney, Mr. Whittington and Ms. Willeford were walking in a line in a low spot on gently sloping ground. After Mr. Whittington bagged his birds he dropped out of sight, along with one of Ms. Armstrong's bird dogs." (Her name -- not originally disclosed to the press -- is "Gertie.") "Then, suddenly, he was in a dip about 30 yards away against the sun just as Mr. Cheney fired a blast from his Italian-made 28-gauge Perazzi shotgun." That is when Mr. Whittington "caught the spray of birdshot on the right side of his face, neck and chest."

Mr. Cheney is recorded as having said, "Harry, I had no idea you were there!" The exclamation point is mine, and will offend only those who refuse to believe that Cheney was startled at finding that his friend stood in a line between him, Gertie and the setting sun.

We all know what then happened. But the only thing that then happened that seemed to catch national attention was that the party drove not to the nearest newspaper, but to the hospital.

An account was filed with a local newspaper, and the doleful news came from the hospital that one pellet had entered the heart of the victim. There is little doubt but that he will survive. Mr. Cheney has said that what blame there is, is Cheney's. That detail, by the way is also not fully explored -- conceivably the victim had failed to identify his position when moving forward from the firing line established by hunters moving in parallel.

We can't celebrate a backlash until Mr. W. is back home and well. But here is one observer who predicts that Mr. W. will chuckle over the misadventure, unless, after years of friendship with Mr. Cheney, he only now discovers that he is arrogant, defiant, and that he uses vulgar language.