Bob Herbert: Cheney Needs to Go

Mr. Vice President, It’s Time to Go
Published: February 16, 2006

It’s time for Dick Cheney to step down — for the sake of the country and for the sake of the Bush administration.

Mr. Cheney’s bumbling conduct at the upscale Armstrong Ranch in South Texas seemed hilarious at first. But when we learned that Harry Whittington had suffered a mild heart attack after being shot by the vice president in a hunting accident, it became clear that a more sober assessment of the fiasco at the ranch and, inevitably, Mr. Cheney’s controversial and even bizarre behavior as vice president was in order.

There’s a reason Dick Cheney is obsessive about shunning the spotlight. His record is not the kind you want to hold up for intense scrutiny.

More than anyone else, he was fanatical about massaging and distorting the intelligence that plunged us into the flaming quagmire of Iraq. He insisted that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons and was hot on the trail of nukes. He pounded away at the false suggestion that Iraq was somehow linked to Al Qaeda. And he spread the word that the war he wanted so badly would be a cakewalk.

“I really do believe,” he told Tim Russert, “that we will be greeted as liberators.”

Well, he got his war. And while the nation’s brave young soldiers and marines were bouncing around Iraq in shamefully vulnerable Humvees and other vehicles, dodging bullets, bombs and improvised explosive devices, Mr. Cheney (a gold-medal winner in the acquisition of wartime deferments) felt perfectly comfortable packing his fancy 28-gauge Perazzi shotgun and heading off to Texas with a covey of fat cats to shoot quail.

Matters went haywire, of course, when he shot Mr. Whittington instead.

That was the moment when the legend of the tough, hawkish, take-no-prisoners vice president began morphing into the less-than-heroic image of a reckless, scowling incompetent who mistook his buddy for a bird.

This story is never going away. Harry Whittington is Dick Cheney’s Monica. When Mr. Whittington dies (hopefully many years from now, and from natural causes), he will be remembered as the hunting companion who was shot by the vice president of the United States. This tale will stick to Mr. Cheney like Krazy Glue, and that’s bad news for the Bush administration.

The shooting and Mr. Cheney’s highhanded behavior in its immediate aftermath fit perfectly with the stereotype of him as a powerful but dangerous figure who is viewed by many as a dark force within the administration. He doesn’t even give lip service to the idea of transparency in his public or private life. This is the man who fought all the way to the Supreme Court to keep his White House meetings with energy industry honchos as secret as the Manhattan Project. (Along the way he went duck hunting at a private camp in rural Louisiana with Justice Antonin Scalia.)

This is also the man whose closest and most trusted aide, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, has been indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice as a result of the investigation into the outing of a C.I.A. undercover operative, Valerie Wilson.

Mr. Cheney is arrogant, defiant and at times blatantly vulgar. He once told Senator Patrick Leahy to perform a crude act upon himself.

A vice president who insists on writing his own rules, who shudders at the very idea of transparency in government, whose judgment on crucial policy issues has been as wildly off the mark (and infinitely more tragic) as his actions in Texas over the weekend, and who has now become an object of relentless ridicule, cannot by any reasonable measure be thought of as an asset to the nation or to the president he serves.

The Bush administration would benefit from new thinking and new perspectives on the war in Iraq, the potential threat from Iran, the nation’s readiness to cope with another terror attack, the development of a comprehensive energy policy and other important issues.

President Bush’s approval ratings have dropped below 40 percent in recent polls. Even Republicans are openly criticizing the administration’s conduct of the war, its response to Hurricane Katrina and assorted other failures and debacles.

Dick Cheney is a constant reminder of those things the White House would most like to forget: the bullying, the intelligence failures, the inability to pacify Iraq, the misuse of classified information and the breathtaking incompetence that seems to be spread throughout the administration.

Mr. Cheney would do his nation and his president a service by packing his bags and heading back to Wyoming. He’s become a joke. But not a funny one.

The Discussion: 3 Comments

Thanks again for providing these articles, Richard. They’re the only reason I ever really logged onto the NYTimes (and to know the temperature).

February 16, 2006 @ 3:49 am | Comment

This is not one of Herbert’s smarter pieces. Are we now to go back into every politician’s past to see if kthey have every injured anyone in an accident? Do we start with Teddy K? Please for go the obvious “sober assessment” jokes.

You want Cheney’s ass? Fine. But you got to do better than some conspiracy rantings. Since day one, those who oppose Bush/Cheney have promised hard facts and evidence – and presented nothing but innuendo, rumors, allegations and endless theories. The Dems move ever closer to total irrelevence, the GOP extends its control of government – and the press (and the Herberts) are tied up with splitting hairs about a hunting accident. Leave us not think about abuses at Abu Grahb, warrantless wiretapping, etc. Best we just leave the important things to Rove/Gonzales and the White House Boys – right?

When all is said and done, this is an act of carelessness that resulted in a man getting seriously hurt. Cheney is responsible. He pulled the trigger without knowing his target and beyond. The victim’s actions, while contributory, in no way diminish Cheney’s responsibility. If anything, Cheney needed to be even more cautious than normal. What with all the people there, he could have just as easily shot a Secret Service Agent, dog handler, etc.

February 16, 2006 @ 4:54 pm | Comment

Note to Bob Herbert: Bob, you hurt the cause with this one. I’m open to persuasion, but you really have to do better than this.

So this Cheney’s “Monica”? Hhmmm. Does Herbert mean “Monica” in the sense that Cheney was having an illicit sexual relationship with the man he shot? Or perhaps Herbert means it in the sense that Cheney lied under oath about having an illicit relationship with the man he shot? Wait, Cheney was not having sex with the man he shot and did not lie about shooting the man. I’m confused.

As for the vulgarity directed at Sen. Leahy, my heavens! Has Herbert turned into a southern belle? Why, it’s enough to make a hardboiled newspaperman suffer a touch of the vapors, that language. (That City Room at the Times must be some special place). Yet, I seem to recall Mr. Kerry making a few vulgar references to the present administration and then professing to have no need to apologize. I guess Herbert didn’t hear about that or else he would certainly have called for Kerry to drop out of the race.

February 17, 2006 @ 12:37 pm | Comment

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