Sunday, February 19, 2006

Mary Matelin, Mistress of Mendacity

The Vice-president of the United States of America shot a 78-year-old man in the face, neck and chest, a few hours after consuming alcohol with his lunch. Had the Vice-president observed the most basic protocols of gun safety this accident would not have happened.

It is beyond dispute that this was an accident, and a tragic one at that. The Vice-president has taken responsibility. He appeared on national television four days later, and clearly he has suffered the pain of knowing he had committed a terrible wrong.

It is incomprehensible to me, a non-hunter, that people could be so blaze about blazing guns nearly killing people. Here in Alaska we have special laws to actually encourage kids to go hunting. Is it possible that we want to encourage kids to engage in activities that routinely involve near-lethal accidents with guns? What does the N.R.A. have to say about this?

The official Republican line is that this was an accident, and what more is there to say? Only this: Oh, Mr. Vice-president, we are so sorry for the pain you feel.

Indeed, this is the answer that was suggested by Mary Matelin on Meet the Press, today. Paul Gigot, of the Wall Street Journal, was in complete agreement. He added that for the answer to be anything else, would suggest “the standards for scandal are really sinking.”

Here’s a different answer: Mr. Cheney you were involved in an avoidable accident. Good for you for taking responsibility for it. When you take responsibility for an avoidable accident, you are admitting that you were negligent and you must accept the consequences. In Texas, when you negligently cause serious bodily injury to a person over 65 years old by means of a firearm, you have committed a felony.

I don’t know if alcohol contributed to Mr. Cheney’s poor judgment, but I do know from everything I have heard since this tragic accident occurred that drinking before shooting is a gross departure from the standard of care that people are expected to adhere to in Texas. It must be sufficiently serious to be deserving of punishment, or why else would the Veep’s victim, and designated spokespersons lie about it?

Mary Matelin almost caused a serious injury to me today. That is because I nearly fell off my chair when I heard her say, “People who know the vice-president know that he is not a drinker.”

Mary, sober up! The man had two DWI’s and was kicked out of college for being a sot. He has never received treatment for his alcohol problem. That may seem a little unfair, since these things occurred 40 years ago, as one of my critics pointed out. But what about the fact that Mr. Cheney, by his own admission, had been drinking that day, just a few hours before the tragic accident that has caused him so much pain?

And what about the fact that before he called the President, Cheney fixed himself a cocktail. My judgment, harsh though it may seem to some, is that if you take a cocktail to steady your nerves before doing an important task like talking to your boss, the President of the United States, you might want to consider your relationship to alcohol. If, as it appears to be the case, you then blow off the business of calling your boss, you might want to talk to someone else about your alcohol problem.

Yes, the hunting accident was tragic. A man nearly died. But like the great tragedies of Greek theater, this tragedy involves the fall of a man with too much hubris, and not enough awareness of his own vulnerabilities. The Vice-president’s pattern of secrecy and undisclosed locations, with unpublished schedules, kept some of his vulnerabilities from the view of the American public, but now they are in full view.

Mr. Cheney’s apologists ask us to have compassion for the suffering he is going through now. Consider this my act of compassion: Dick, get help.

Note: I pointed out that a man nearly died. On Face the Nation this morning, Senator Bill Frist, once again exhibited that remarkable talent for diagnosis at a distance, and pronounced that Harry appears to be quite healthy. The phrase “for a man with buckshot in his heart” was assumed sub silento.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

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