Don't Buy The Fallout Theme From Cheney's Misstep
Trust me, I’m going to move on from Shooter’s story, but just as I was minimizing the fallout from this mistake by the White House now that Cheney has owned up to it, along comes an interesting piece by Newsweek’s solid Richard Wolffe and Holly Bailey online just now. This follows on the heels of a piece in today’s Post that tells us the whole Whittington shooting has the GOP worried about how Cheney has damaged Bush with this mistake. And a David Sanger piece in today’s Times gives you the impression that with Scooter Libby gone, Karl Rove is taking advantage of his absence to blame the Vice President for not keeping Bush’s staff informed as to what really happened.
Republicans on Capitol Hill have been increasingly critical over the White House’s tendency to guard information. Last week, Bush traveled to the House GOP’s annual retreat in Maryland where he attempted to shore up support among congressional Republicans for the controversial wiretapping program. The remarks came on the heels of Rep. Heather Wilson’s decision to go public with her concerns about the program. Privately, House Republicans have been more critical of the White House’s handling of the program than the surveillance itself. It’s a gripe that has been echoed about the handling of Cheney’s hunting accident.
“If they wouldn’t have been so secretive, giving people the idea that there is something to hide, they wouldn’t be in this situation,” one House Republican told NEWSWEEK. “But they have a pattern of withholding information until the very last minute, until the volume is at full tilt and incredibly damaging, even if the information they are trying to hide isn’t so bad. Five years in office, and they still haven’t learned.”
Cheney’s relationship with congressional Republicans isn’t some kind of sideshow. It’s one of his primary responsibilities. He has been a central player in congressional strategy, legislative battles and electioneering for the last five years. Now, in an already difficult election year, his own role is in jeopardy both inside Congress and on the election trail. His handling of his own troubles raises doubts about his political competence in dealing with difficult personal issues—a key challenge for a party struggling with personal scandals that center on cozy friendships with lobbyists like shooting-victim Whittington.
What’s worse, Cheney’s image as the dark, brooding protector in chief has been punctured forever. When he next appears in front of the troops, will his TV audience be thinking of his experience with a shotgun? The jokes may be merciless and repetitive.
But there’s no effective response to becoming the butt of late-night punch lines. Cheney can’t get self-righteous about the subject. He can’t even suggest this is a partisan attack. (He may try to do both, but even Trent Lott was poking fun at Cheney on Tuesday.) As Al Gore can testify, there’s no return from the twilight zone of political ridicule.
As much as I respect the work of Wolffe, Bailey, and Sanger (I withhold judgment on VandeHei for previously disclosed reasons), I’m not sure I buy the idea that Cheney is damaged here. As I said, these stories all reflect the media’s typical “kick them when they’re down” mentality, when in fact Cheney has bludgeoned these guys for years and will continue to do so because they are pussies. And in the case of the Sanger story, this is simply a Rove attempt to throw Shooter under the bus.
But if anyone thinks this will make any difference to the public, as I said in the earlier post, I doubt it. And it won’t make any difference on Capitol Hill either, as evidenced by how quickly Olympia Snowe, Mike DeWine, and Chuck Hagel were willing to cave in and let the administration off the hook on the NSA spying mess. Dick may have made a fool of himself on this, but he still owns Hagel, DeWine, and the rest of the GOP caucus.
Before leaving this story for a while, note that:
RJ Eskow also at the Huffington Post says that there is reason to think that Cheney’s problem here stemmed from booze and broads.
And Fox thought the media should have paid more attention to how Cheney was feeling than how Whittington was doing.
By the way, where was Lynne Cheney anyway?