Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Unbearable Lightness of Responsibility

Let us accept, from the outset, that this will be taken as "acceptance of responsibility":

Well, ultimately, I'm the guy who pulled the trigger that fired the round that hit Harry. And you can talk about all of the other conditions that existed at the time, but that's the bottom line.
But should it be? Notice that at no point does Mr. Cheney say "I am responsible" or even "I accept responsibility."

Not necessarily "magic words," but careful phrasing which excludes any final causal connection. First there's that "ultimately." And what was penultimate in the cause and effect chain between the shot leaving his gun and entering Mr. Whittington's body? Mr. Whittington's behavior? Dick's poor hunting skills? His excitement and finally flushing quail that caused him to forget he was separate from one of the other hunters?

I know, I know, no one will dissect the issue this carefully. But the examination is still worthwhile.

All Cheney has admitted is the obvious: "I'm the guy who pulled the trigger that fired the round that hit Harry." And all in the house that Jack built. Or, if you prefer, for want of a nail, the kingdom was lost; and all for the want of a nail.

So, nobody's fault, really. An accident. An unfortunate chain of events. Amazing what the passive voice lets you get away with. "I'm the guy who pulled the trigger..." And the gun did the rest by itself. I didn't shoot it. I didn't discharge a load. I didn't spin on my heel following a bird and do a 180 to line up a hunter who was behind me at the time I raised my weapon. I'm just the guy who pulled the trigger. The chain of events after that wasn't really in my control, now, was it?

A pity, really, and Cheney feels very badly about it. And, as Jon Stewart pointed out last night, Harry Whittington feels pretty badly about it, too. But I hardly think the similarity of terms indicates an equality of feeling. Or responsibility.

But Mr. Cheney clearly does, still. Keep looking: "And you can talk about all of the other conditions that existed at the time, but that's the bottom line." Yes, you can talk about the other conditions, but only certain "other conditions" need apply, yes? Should we talk about the setting sun, which Cheney apparently wheeled toward as he spun about to follow a flying bird? Should we talk about the discrepancy in stories about the distance between Cheney and Whittington? What about the alcohol? Present, or absent? Unfortunately, we will never know for sure, because Mr. Cheney waited 14 hours, apparently long enough to clear any alcohol from his system, before talking to a law enforcement officer.

Well, we could go on and on in this vein, raising questions that cannot be answered. But that's the point, isn't it? Mr. Cheney didn't answer any questions, either. Nor did he disavow the lies that have been told about this incident. He didn't clarify the contradictions, didn't settle any of the issues. He didn't, in the end, clear up anything.

He didn't even take responsibility for shooting another hunter.

He just said it made him feel bad. And that's got to be a hard burden for him to bear.

Almost as hard as the burden of all those families in Iraq and America, who've lost loved ones in shootings and violent death. Almost as hard as the burden Harry Whittington and his family will have to bear.

Poor Dick. It's such a burden, being him.

ADDENDUM: to re-state the obvious, you can already see how this is being received:

Cheney is in a "state of meltdown" over shooting his friend and the political fallout it has caused, a source close to the Cheney has told CBS News. On Wednesday, he accepted full blame for the incident and defended the decision to not publicly disclose the accident until the following day.

Cheney described when he shot 78-year-old Harry Whittington as "one of the worst days of my life."

"I'm the guy who pulled the trigger that fired the round that hit Harry," Cheney told Fox News Channel in his first public comments since the shooting Saturday in south Texas.
The words are unchanged, but the interpretation changes everything. That passive voice careful distancing "I am the one who pulled the trigger that tripped the release that dropped the firing pin that struck the cartridge that lit the cap that fired the gunpowder that released the shot that penetrated the heart that Harry owned" puts Cheney at the end of such a long chain of events its practically Aristotelian. He's responsible the way the Unmoved Mover is responsible: only ultimately, and what responsibility is that, if he is only the mover but remains unmoved?

Except, of course, he's in "meltdown," so we have to feel sorry for him. And after all, even " '[Whittingon] still kind of wonders what all the hoopla is about,' said Peter Banko, administrator of Christus Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi-Memorial."

But considering this is the same administrator who gave us no idea there was any shot that more than broke the skin, until he broke the story about the heart attack, pardon me if I take that characterization with a grain of salt, too.

And so it goes.

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