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 Cheney and Chappaquiddick 

February 14, 2006 
“You know a politician is in trouble when even shooting a lawyer can’t boost his approval ratings.” Okay, I’ve added my little bit to the glut of Dick Cheney (and lawyer) jokes. Oh, have a couple more: “By now I suspect even President Bush has heard about it.” “If Today's column is "Cheney and Chappaquiddick" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.Cheney hadn’t had ‘other priorities,’ the United States might have won in Vietnam.”

All kidding aside, the incident may have deeper significance as a parable. An innocent man is shot, while the bird gets away. The War on Terror in a nutshell.

The shooting occurred on Saturday, and by Sunday night it was clear that Leno’s and Letterman’s gag writers must already be meeting in emergency session. Not since Monica Lewinsky had they been handed an opportunity like this one.

How would the Republicans handle this? The answer came the next day, when Rush Limbaugh opened his show with ... a Chappaquiddick joke! Say what you will, the man’s spirit is invincible, his wit inexhaustible. And you thought this incident would shut him up, did you? You thought the Democrats would have the last laugh for once, did you? Guess again. Republicans have a consoling saying in times of stress: “We’ll always have Chappaquiddick.”

Then Rush found his own deeper significance in the story. The liberal media were harping on it, he explained, because here was a chance to embarrass the Bush administration! No doubt if Cheney had slipped on a banana peel on Pennsylvania Avenue, they’d had harped on that too, for the same reason. Rush is nothing if not unpredictable. In a pinch, he’ll always have Chappaquiddick. (Notice how the liberal media covered that up!)

I’m reminded of a stern Catholic reader who assured me, after I wrote a column on Mozart’s 250th birthday, that the “only reason” the media noted the occasion is that Mozart was a Mason. What’s more, he is now “roasting in hell.” Without trying to excuse Mozart’s faults, I reflected that some people may get indignant about too many things at once. I may be prone to this myself when I think about the Bush administration.

Which brings me back to Cheney. If you ask me, nobody in Washington has been more overdue for deflation. For a while it looked as if the special prosecutor might achieve this, but he lacked the necessary light touch. The task has now fallen to others.

[Breaker quote for Cheney and Chappaquiddick: The Rush response]In the words of P.G. Wodehouse, “Meanwhile, Fate, unseen, was quietly slipping the lead into the boxing glove.” The moment Cheney squeezed the trigger, we may surmise, his pacemaker skipped a beat. Imagine the thoughts that raced through his head as his lawyer friend, 78 years old, slumped to the ground. Jail! Lawsuits! Impeachment! The (liberal) media! How would he explain this to the boss, if it got back to the Oval Office?

If? There was no way to cover it up for more than a few hours. He would have to think fast. Even Karl Rove would have a hard time spinning this one.

Fortunately, the lawyer wasn’t gravely wounded, and anyway, he was whisked off to the hospital in the ambulance that follows Cheney wherever he goes, now put to an unforeseen use. When the dust settled, there would be no mug shots or police lineups or, thank heaven, prosecutors, special or otherwise. Just a little indignity. But wasn’t that bad enough? Cheney isn’t usually associated with slapstick, but that’s what this whole thing would look like to the public when it came out. If handcuffs or manacles were bad, the Leno-Letterman pillory wasn’t a whole lot better. Cheney could already hear the coast-to-coast guffaws.

Well, at least it wasn’t Chappaquiddick or Monica Lewinsky, let alone Watergate. Let’s keep this in perspective. As Rush was quick to point out, Cheney hadn’t left anyone to die, or tried to cover up a criminal or cowardly act, or engaged in absurd semantics. All the historical analogies worked in his favor.

All the same, the Bush administration didn’t especially need more slapstick right now. With so many crises hitting the fan at the same moment and his own party ready to revolt, President Bush may be in no mood for historical perspective. The old battle cry “We’ll always have Chappaquiddick” just won’t cut it anymore.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2006 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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