Vice President Cheney’s mishap on the Armstrong Ranch in Texas last February is every hunter’s nightmare come true. The humiliation following that mishap is every politician’s worst dream realized.

An easy metaphorical reach allows us some fun at the expense of the Vice President, the apparently careless shotgunner who once held the office of secretary of defense, whose finger is today poised at one remove from The Button, and who stands as the principal architect (again, at a remove) of the disastrously conceived and waged Iraq war and the Bush administration’s fatal Middle East policy. More germane, if less gratifyingly piquant, is the fact that Cheney never served in the Armed Forces, where (presumably) he would have learned at least responsible shooting and also, perhaps, something of the art of war. The conceit, as I say, is compelling—but facile. In 1980, when Ronald Reagan stepped forward with his wife to claim victory on Election Night, he and Mrs. Reagan were presented with an enormous cake representing the United States of America on which all the lower 48 states were carefully demarcated. The cake proved as unwieldy as it was ugly, causing the First Couple-elect almost to drop the hideous thing. The following week, the “Talk of the Town” writer at the New Yorker spread himself with this one, suggesting that Reagan’s clumsiness in handling his cake was a metaphor for the coming peril the country faced in his awkward and incompetent hands. The trope appealed to me at the time as dreadful poetry and worse manners, New York’s idea of intellectual fair play. In Cheney’s case, myth approaches a little closer to reality, perhaps, but not by much. In any event, the administration is dismal enough to contemplate at the drab prosaic level, without venturing onto the poetic one.

More disturbing than Dick Cheney’s handling of firearms and his comportment in the field is the panicky reaction displayed by this armchair warrior in a crisis falling existentially short of threatened nuclear warfare, or even another terror attack. It was a columnist for the Washington Post who summed up the Vice President’s conduct over the 16 hours after the wounding of his friend Harry Whittington with the words “Shoots, Hides and Leaves.” The most charitable (as well as highly possible) explanation for his behavior is that Cheney’s medical attendants, fearing the shock of the accident could trigger a fifth heart attack, sedated him to the point where he was incapable of speaking responsibly or even lucidly with the media until the next day. This scenario does not, of course, explain why Cheney waited four days to make his appearance—and a canned appearance at that, sensitively regulated and modulated by a hand-picked, hand-tamed reporter for a parti pris television network. And it is entirely irrelevant to the Vice President’s stubborn defense of his decision to delay coming forward until such time as the demands for “accuracy” could be met—meaning, apparently, until it was reasonably obvious to him how the situation would ultimately unfold. That, of course, is on the order of suggesting that the attack on the World Trade Center should not have been reported until the Twin Towers had fallen and the number of casualties ascertained. News is supposed to be news, not recent history, nor is it within either the responsibility or the constitutional power of the U.S. government to distinguish between them.

That said, we need to add that the press (now the media) has no right to be told much, if anything, by government. Its freedom, in other words, is negative in character rather than positive. In many instances (certainly not all), cover-up by governments, or members thereof, is criminal. But Cheney is not guilty of a cover-up: He is guilty of shut-up, instead. In a free society, the media are at liberty to ferret out what they need, or think they need, to discover about the actions of the government and the conduct of its

individual members. In a society, however, that in fact is no longer free (owing significantly to the censorship and self-censorship practiced by biased and activist journalism) the news organs have invested themselves with the right to be informed—and pronto—and then have browbeaten and blackmailed government into acknowledging that right. If Dick Cheney were a man, instead of a politician, he would have said as much outright and defied the media for the liars and hypocrites they are. If George Bush were a man, instead of a post-turtle (doesn’t know how he got up there; can’t do anything up there; doesn’t know how to get down from there), he would have backed his second-in-command to the hilt. But this is like saying that, if the United States were Narnia, we’d have a lion for a president, instead of an arrogant dwarf.

As Joe Sobran has observed, no one in Washington deserved a good deflating as much as Dick Cheney, and now that deflation has occurred. The laugh is that Richard B. Cheney, the “senior statesman,” was chosen for the Number Two spot to add gravitas to a ticket headed by the spoiled heir of an evolving political dynasty with the looks of Alfred E. Newman and a voice like a duck trying to speak English. Hard as it is to imagine today, Cheney was supposed to be reassuring! Thanks in no small part to the incident on the Armstrong Ranch, we can now see that Cheney was no statesman at all, not ever, but only a political fixer, schemer, and conniver, with as much understanding of the world and his fellow man as a think-tank warrior and enormously less than the New York mobster whom, as his eerily altering facial appearance suggests, he has grown to resemble over his six years in office.