« The Onion Soupçon | Main | Les soeurs floridiennes »


What are we calling it? The Whittington Affair? Shotgungate? (Drop a 't' and a 'g' there, and you have the kind of regime Dick Cheney wishes he were running.) Whatever we call it, I hope that we all learn its lesson, which is that the Bush Administration regards public opinion with an indifference that masks fear and contempt. There was no good reason for Mr Cheney not to step forward with a prompt, sportsmanlike statement. Instead of which he's huddling in an eye of Utter Irresponsibility. Poor old Whittington stepped into the line of fire; the Armstrong lobby decided how and when to break the news. God only knows what Mr Cheney meant when he told Mr Whittington that he "stood ready to assist." "Don't let that asshole near me" would have been an apt reply. But the Vice President, however characteristically clumsy and maladroit, did nothing wrong. Accidents happen.

So, what held the Vice President back? I would say that it was an adherence to the CEO playbook that, so far as I can tell, is the only explanation of the Administration's behavior overall. CEOs fear public opinion because it can be surprisingly powerful. They have contempt for it because it is so often unintelligent and misinformed - no thanks to CEOs and their flaks. These uncomfortable responses are powdered by an indifference that almost but not quite sincerely wonders why a "personal" matter is of any interest to strangers. I am convinced that the Vice President believes that what happened at the Armstrong Ranch on Saturday concerns no one but the people who were present and (possibly) their families. The accidental shooting - O! how I'd like to believe that the trigger was pulled nefariously! (but I can't) - in no way amounts to an affair of state. The normal thing to do, if you're following the CEO playbook, is to wait to see how bad the damage is before going public. If the damage is slight, then there's no story and no problem.

Who knew how serious Mr Whittington's injuries were? The important thing, from the playbook point of view, was not to fly off the handle with lamentations and regrets. I can almost hear Mr Cheney patting himself on the back for "holding it in" while waiting for the doctors' report. Right. Sadly, Mr Cheney is not a CEO. He is employed by the most public company of them all, the government of the United States of America, and he was elected to that position by voters who are not to be confused with shareholders. Shareholders might be as interested in keeping mum about the shooting as Mr Cheney; who knows what such news might to do the share price. But American electors are not investors. They see themselves as the investment.

At last we have a scandal that parallels the Clinton debacle. The original sin was not so bad, and it would have been forgiven if the sinner had 'fessed up. But the sinner in question didn't and doesn't want to do that. Mr Clinton denied that he'd had sex with Monica Lewinsky because he was misguided by pollsters. That was not an impeachable offense, but it was a serious presidential failing (lying about the relationship was more serious still). Mr Cheney didn't lie about anything, but there seems to be a strong feeling that his letting a day go by before confronting the story in public was inappropriate at best.

I'm not calling for impeachment - please! I'm simply pointing out that Mr Cheney's behavior after the accident is identical in spirit to that of corporate desperadoes from Ken Lay to Martha Stewart. Treat the public like the fool that it usually is, and hope for the best!


TrackBack URL for this entry:

I am a kottke.org micropatron

Powered by
Movable Type 3.2