Cheney: Peppering Harry Whittington with buckshot absurdly one of the worst days of his life Print E-mail

As Marina Hyde ponders in her below column "how the feeling compared with the first US casualty in Iraq, or the 1,000th, or the 10,000th Iraqi civilian death". The non-fascist world would relish an answer from the US Vice-President, particulary since he played a key role in Bush Jnr's decisions to reduce both Afghanistan and Iraq to dust, leaving both countries awash with the blood of the innocent - Lynette

 London -- Tuesday February 21, 2006

Dick Cheney's sense of responsiblity to his friends is admirable. But what about to the US public?

Marina Hyde

Last week, millions of people turned on their TV sets to hear words of regret they never imagined anyone from the Bush administration would utter. "Ultimately," said Dick Cheney, "I'm the guy who pulled the trigger."

In fairness, it was always going to be tough for the vice-president to pin his accidental shooting of a hunting buddy on anyone else (although I wouldn't rule out whispers of a quail insurgency in the coming days). Yet Cheney's mea culpa made a shocking impact against the backdrop of a political climate - on both sides of the Atlantic - where the concept of "taking responsibility" has been debased beyond all recognition.

Now some of the laughter has subsided, and it turns out there isn't going to be an immediate funeral, the post mortem is in full swing. In yesterday's International Herald Tribune, Mary Matalin, Cheney's longtime troubleshooter and a mastermind intimately involved in the way in which the shooting story was made public, explained that the first press release on the matter had been scrapped on the basis that "a bad statement is worse than no statement". If only she had managed to hold her nerve with that approach.

The general consensus seems to be that the real damage was done by the vice-president not speaking out sooner, but having endured several airings of his still perma-looped interview with Fox News, I can't help feeling that that verdict is misplaced. What are the more pervasive criticisms that attach themselves to Cheney? Are they allegations of secrecy? Obsessive news management? I am not sure those things strike a deep chord with what we might unsatisfactorily refer to as average Americans. But the image of Cheney as a rich man, the ultimate corporate crony who understands nothing of life's harsher realities: this has been the one that has defined him ever since he gave up his post running Halliburton to be George Bush's number two. And it is this characterisation which is shored up by that ghastly, dolorous news interview, where the overriding sense is of a cossetted creature who has just been forced to confront possible death and personal responsibility for the very first time; a man who has hitherto had the luxury of conceiving of both in abstract, theoretical terms, and has suddenly had their true meaning revealed to him in the most personal of ways.

Not for the first time when contemplating Mr Cheney, I found myself put powerfully in mind of Arthur Miller's All My Sons. In that play, that savage indictment of wartime profiteering, Miller's anti-hero is Joe Keller, a businessman who knowingly dispatches defective airplane parts to the very front on which his son is stationed. Though his son never flies the same model of plane, the audience discovers that he was driven to undertake a suicidal mission by the deaths of his colleagues who did and never came back, and by the discovery that back home his father has shifted all blame for the situation on to his partner. Ultimately, Joe Keller's realisation is that his guilt is inescapable, that his public responsiblities are indivisible from his personal ones.

"Sure, he was my son," runs his devastating final line. "But I think to him they were all my sons. And I guess they were, I guess they were."

Even without the Halliburton profiteering analogies, comparisons between the vice-president and Miller's capitalist-brought-low are enormously seductive. Half close your ears during Cheney's interview, and you could almost fancy you were hearing the first faltering admissions of responsibility for the quagmire the Bush administration's Iraq adventure has long been. "I'm the guy who pulled the trigger ... " "The image ... is something I will never be able to get out of my head." "You can't blame anybody else." Who knows, had the exclusive been granted to anyone other than Rupert Murdoch's ineffably supine Fox News, perhaps the interviewer might have asked how the feeling compared with the first US casualty in Iraq, or the 1,000th, or the 10,000th Iraqi civilian death.

But we didn't get the "they were all my hunting buddies" speech, and as such Cheney's appearance served to do nothing so much as throw the administration's silence on all other matters of possible regret into the sharpest relief. The focus remained determinedly on a single lawyer, who took some buckshot in the face, and the profound agonies this had caused Mr Cheney. And when such a pose is struck by a man who has famously not simply never attended the funeral of a single US soldier killed in Iraq, but who fought tooth and nail to prevent even photographs of the military coffins being shipped back from the warzone, one conclusion is inescapable. This is a man who places his narrow responsibility to his circle of friends far above his wider responsibility to the American people.

One particularly memorable moment in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 comes when the documentary maker asks various senators who voted for the war whether any of their sons are in the military. It's classic Moore editing, no doubt, but the look on all their faces as they hurry flustered away from the camera is faintly appalled."Good God, no!" they seem to say. "Not our sons."

As for the Bush administration's Joe Keller, he has returned to seclusion in his bunker, a more fascinating paradox than ever. The warmonger who is torn apart by a quail-hunting mishap, the parent of a lesbian who refuses to condemn his party's opposition to gay marriage ... Yes, dramatists in search of a character - dramatists who seek to filter wider social issues through the prism of the personal - could do a lot worse than start with Mr Cheney.