"In less than a second, less time than it takes to tell," Dick Cheney mused last week, his quail-hunting expedition had gone "from what is a very happy, pleasant day with great friends in a beautiful part of the country, doing something I love—to, my gosh, I've shot my friend. I've never experienced anything quite like that before." It was perhaps the most eloquent, emotionally unguarded moment from the notoriously buttoned-up Vice President. He seemed stunned, uncertain for once. And the haunted look in his eyes reminded me of what soldiers in Vietnam used to call the Thousand-Yard Stare—the paralytic shock that comes from seeing the impact that even low-caliber weaponry can have on human flesh.
Yeah, poor Dick, now he knows what it must be like to be a real shoot 'em up soldier. Right.
The Vice President's hunting accident occasioned a familiar explosion of public inanity. We seem to have a primal need for these circuses; they are the postmodern equivalent of scapegoat sacrifice. There was the embarrassing, self-righteous reportorial melee in the White House pressroom. There was the predictable patter of late-night comedians, although the jokes didn't seem quite so funny this time; a man had been shot.
Public inanity. Self-righteous reportorial melee. My how above all of us, including the White House press corps, you are Mr. Klein.
But Cheney's stubborn diffidence may have been something else entirely: a consequence of the incoherence and confusion that come with emotional trauma, as well as an understandable desire to protect oneself and one's friends from the ravening horde at a moment of personal anguish.
The possibility of vice-presidential anguish was barely mentioned by most commentators at first. Cheney is a tough customer; Oprahfied "sharing" isn't his way. But then, there he was, with that haunted look in his Fox News interview, saying, "[T]he image of him falling is something I'll never be able to get out of my mind. I fired, and there's Harry falling ..." Hunting had given him "great pleasure" in the past, but he wasn't so sure now. In fact, he sounded a lot like the combat veterans I've spoken with over the years, for whom the living nightmare of firing a weapon under questionable circumstances is a constant theme.
I guess you have a special window into his soul, Joe, thanks for clearing it up. And I'm sure all those combat veterans out there really appreciate that analogy.