David Brooks: Playing our Roles

cheney liquor.jpg
Photo via Jesus’ General, whose posts on Cheney the past couple of days are among the funniest things the blogosphere has yet producted.

Brooks tries to make liberals look like fools for questioning the circumstances of Dick Cheney’s shooting a man in the face with a shotgun whilst killing animals last weekend. It all could have been avoided if Cheney hadn’t delayed reporting of the incident, creating the perfect storm for conspiracy theorists. But the questions these “liberals” are raising are valid and we deserve an answer. One the one hand, we have the vice president of the United States who shoots a man in the face, says nothing to the world about it for 14 hours, remains silent and uncontrite for four full days and his story is full of holes. On the other hand, we had a president who got a blow job and hurt no one and the media — well, we all know what happened. Anyway, here’s Brooks’ rather foolish article. He tried to whitewash Tom Delay and now he’s doing the same for Cheney.

Places, Everyone. Action!

Published: February 16, 2006

One of the most impressive things about us in Washington, you must admit, is our ability to unfailingly play our assigned roles. History throws unusual circumstances before our gaze, but no matter how strange they may at first appear, we are always able to squeeze them into one of our preapproved boxes so we may utter our usual clichés.
The Battle of Corpus Christi is but the latest example of our capacity to transform fact into stereotype.

On a personal level, the Cheney-Whittington accident was a sad but unremarkable event. Two men go hunting. Both are sloppy, and one friend shoots another. The victim is suffering but gracious. The shooter is anguished in his guilt.

“The image of him falling is something I will never be able to get out of my mind,” Dick Cheney told Brit Hume yesterday, adding, “It was … one of the worst days of my life.”

Afterward, he looked back, relived the moment and took responsibility. “It was not Harry’s fault. You can’t blame anybody else,” Cheney said. “I’m the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend.”

In normal life, people would look at this event and see two decent men caught in a twist of fate. They would feel concern for the victim and sympathy for the man who fired the gun.

But we in Washington are able to rise above the normal human reaction. We have our jobs. We have our roles.

So in the days following the Cheney-Whittington accident, liberal pundits had to live up to their responsibility to manufacture a series of unsubstantiated allegations while turning the episode into a Clifford Odets-style tale of plutocrats gone wild. “Was he drunk? I mean, these are ultrarich Republicans, at a weekend, fun-time hunting,” the pundit Lawrence O’Donnell wondered on MSNBC.

Meanwhile over at the blogosphere, the keyboard jockeys had a responsibility to sniff up vast conspiracies and get lost in creepy minutiae. “The 50,000 acre Armstrong Ranch is in Kenedy County. So I figure the Armstrongs probably have a lot of pull in county government. So, just a question: how thorough was the investigation of what happened?” the influential blogger Josh Marshall queried darkly. Earlier, he veered off, as he must, into picayune and skin-crawling theorizing about the path the pellets took through Whittington’s body:

“Would the weapon and ammunition Dick Cheney shot have the force to imbed pellets near Whittington’s heart at 30 yards? … These pellets would have to have pierced his clothing, his skin and then lodged inside the body cavity, somewhere near or around his heart. The shot came from the right and the heart is on the left so that might add to the amount of tissue needing to be traversed.”

Meanwhile we in the regular media have our own stereotypes to guide us. We are assigned by the Fates to turn every bad thing into Watergate, to fill the air with dark lamentations about cover-ups and appearances of impropriety and the arrogance of power. We have to follow the money. (So was born the stories of the potentially missing $7 hunting license.) We are impelled to elevate horse race over substance and write tales in which the quality of the message management takes precedence over the importance or unimportance of what’s being said.

Then, rushing to the footlights, come the politicians, with their alchemist’s ability to turn reality into spin. It would have been natural, and probably smart, for some politician to put politics aside and say simply that Cheney and his friend were to be sympathized with at this moment. But life is a campaign, and they are merely players.

“The refusal of this administration to level with the American people in matters large and small is very disturbing,” Hillary Clinton declared. Nancy Pelosi added, “Open government would demand that the vice president come clean on what happened there.”

Finally there is the Office of the Vice President, inevitably failing to surpass expectations. The vice president’s role, on this as on all days, is to treat the press and the Washington community in general as a plague-ridden horde, from whom it is possible, upon the merest conversation or contact, to catch some soul-destroying disease. So, of course, the vice president was compelled to recreate his role as Voldemort, Keeper of the Secrets.

We have, when you put it all together, created a political climate impeccably sterilized of spontaneity and normal human response. We have our roles, dear audience. Ours is not to feel and think. Ours is but to spin or die.

The Discussion: 8 Comments

But it was Dick Cheney, for God’s sake! It just makes sense; what is Brooks’s problem?
By the way, looks like you copied the article twice…

February 16, 2006 @ 3:54 am | Comment

Thanks, will correct

February 16, 2006 @ 3:57 am | Comment

The lesson here – vis a vis Clinton and Cheney – is that it’s more dangerous to shoot sperm into someone’s face than gunshot.

February 16, 2006 @ 4:12 am | Comment

If Cheney is forced from office because of what is obviously an accident, it really will be too bad…. I was hoping he would be nailed to the wall for conspiracy (in the Scooter Libby/Valerie Plame situation) or worse (in the Abramoff situation.)

February 16, 2006 @ 7:37 am | Comment

Good point Mickey; this could be his big break.

February 16, 2006 @ 7:48 am | Comment

The press requires damn little help in making itself look
foolish. They can’t even get something as simple as the timeline right. First it was 24 hours, then 18, then 14. Then it came out that local authorities were called less than an hour after it happened. Irregardless of Cheney’s culpability, the press comes off looking petty, peevish and thoroughly spoiled. The MSM seems more pissed that the story was given to a local daily than them.

February 16, 2006 @ 2:42 pm | Comment

That confusion was caused by the VP’s lack of candor at the beginning. He could have and should have straightened it all out on the spot. He chose not to. Thus, confusion, rumors, conspiracy charges.

February 16, 2006 @ 4:58 pm | Comment

Oh, and James, local authorities did go there almost immediately – and were turned away by the Secret Service; they weren’t allowed to talk to our bubbled VP, who wanted his alcohol or cocaine level to go down (at least that’s my guess). The whole thing smells, and reflects the incredible arrogance of this regime. But we’ll see; it’ll all come out in the wash.

February 16, 2006 @ 8:42 pm | Comment

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