Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Even Republicans Are Beating Up On Cheney

There are only a few people in the GOP left still willing to defend "Big Time" for the shooting accident. The rest see Cheney as a liability, reinforcing unflattering themes about the administration: 1) Cheney cannot be controlled by the preznit - rather Cheney controls the preznit 2) Cheney thinks he is above the law and 3) the people running this administration are pretty incompetent, particuarly in the way they have handled the disclosure of this story.

Here's VandeHei and Baker in the Washington Post with the story of the GOP turning on Cheney:

Vice President Cheney's slow and unapologetic public response to the accidental shooting of a 78-year-old Texas lawyer is turning the quail-hunting mishap into a political liability for the Bush administration and is prompting senior White House officials to press Cheney to publicly address the issue as early as today, several prominent Republicans said yesterday.

The Republicans said Cheney should have immediately disclosed the shooting Saturday night to avoid even the suggestion of a coverup and should have offered a public apology for his role in accidentally shooting Harry Whittington, a GOP lawyer from Austin. Whittington was hospitalized Saturday night in Corpus Christi, Tex., and was moved back into the intensive-care unit after suffering an abnormal heart rhythm yesterday morning.

"I cannot believe he does not look back and say this should have been handled differently," said Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota who is close to the White House. Weber said Cheney "made it a much bigger issue than it needed to be."

Marlin Fitzwater, a former Republican White House spokesman, told Editor & Publisher magazine that Cheney "ignored his responsibility to the American people."

The episode is turning into a defining moment for Cheney, a vice president who has operated with enormous clout to shape White House policy while avoiding public scrutiny over the past five years.

President Bush has allowed Cheney to become perhaps the most powerful vice president in history and has provided him with unparalleled autonomy. Early in Bush's first term, Cheney developed the administration's energy policy, largely behind closed doors, and then heavily influenced Iraq policy after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

No evidence has emerged to suggest that the shooting was anything more than a hunting accident, but the spectacle of the vice president wounding a prominent Republican at an exclusive Texas ranch has become the punch line for politicians and comedians alike, and has penetrated the popular culture through late-night television. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said he referred to Cheney as the "shooter in chief" in a meeting with members of Congress yesterday morning. It has also raised anew criticism of Cheney's operating style.


Some current and former White House officials said Cheney's refusal to address the issue or accept any blame has the potential to become a political problem for Bush because it reinforces the image of a secretive and above-the-law White House. Top White House aides are pressuring Cheney to discuss the incident as early as today, according to people familiar with the matter.

Cheney, a former House member, White House chief of staff and corporate executive, is dismissive of the national media and unfazed by criticism and unflattering publicity. Bush picked Cheney as vice president in large part because of his lack of political ambitions and his ability to keep confidences.

So are Cheney and his staff worried that this hunting accident will make him a permanent liability to the GOP?

Mary Matalin, a Cheney adviser who has helped him deal with the shooting fallout, rejected suggestions that the White House's handling of the incident might result in political damage. "We have a history replete with evidence to the contrary," she said. "Every time we've had predictions of monumental liability, it never occurred."

That's Cheney and the people on his staff: arrogant to the end.

But Michael Goodwin, conservative columnist fot the NY Daily News, says Cheney, made a laughing-stock for shooting a 78-year old hunter in the face, is already finished:

It is humor that often drives the final nail in the political coffin. The images of Gerald Ford falling on his face and hitting spectators with golf balls outlived his presidency. Jimmy Carter endured the Iranian hostage crisis and the misery index, but he had no comeback to the million yuks that followed his battle with an attacking rabbit.

All of which is to say that Deadeye Dick Cheney is history. He is the Dead Veep Walking, whether he knows it or not. Ridicule is fatal.

It's not just late-night comedians declaring open season on Cheney after he accidently shot a hunting companion in Texas. Team Bush, playing catchup after it bungled the public release of the incident, decided yesterday that joining in on the fun was to its advantage. Presidential press secretary Scott McClellan joked that the burnt-orange color of the University of Texas football team visiting the White House had nothing to do with hunter safety gear.

"The orange that they're wearing is not because they're concerned that the vice president may be there," said McClellan, who was wearing a burnt-orange necktie. But "that's why I'm wearing it." Even the President's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, got in the spirit. In Tampa, he put an orange sticker on his chest, then cracked, "I'm a little concerned that Dick Cheney is going to walk in."

The White House abandoned the tack when victim Harry Whittington took a turn for the worse, but the cause was lost from the git-go. Partisan humor can't rescue Cheney. Not when a knowing, howling humor fueled by accepted truth has him in its death grip. America, and the world, are not laughing with Cheney. We're laughing at him. The already diminished value of Cheney's presence now shrinks to zero.

Sounds like Cheney and Matalin and the rest of the VP's staff should be worried about this story.

But I'd bet there not.

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