Whether one agrees with Rush Limbaugh that the media views Dick Cheney as a
marked man, this much seems safe to say: a marksman he ain't. If "safe' is
the word I'm looking for.
Hard not to think back to George Jessel, who was famous among showbiz folks
for never managing to break 100 in golf. One day George Burns walked into
the clubhouse and found him exulting over finally shooting a ninety-nine.
"How did you do it?" asked Burns. Jessel responded: "How did I do it? I'll
tell you how I did it. Every shot was perfect!" Perhaps the Vice President
should move on to other forms of recreation, now that he finally hit
something -- a man named Harry Whittington who had every right to quail. And
the greatest thing about this story is that it comes with a built-in movie
title: When Harry Met the Sally.
Jesting aside, this tragedy of errors has finally arrived at its meaningful
destination. The Vice President has finally been heard on the subject.
(Okay, just one jest. Am I the only one who thinks that it's weird to
explain a hunting accident on Fox?) Moral pedants can sniff that he ought
to have done so sooner, and public-relations mavens can kibitz that he
should have gotten out ahead of the media frenzy. For serious people who
want to absorb the social import and historical impact, the day that counts
is today. A man stood up with the eyes of the nation upon him and owned up.
Here are his words: "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. And
there's no -- it was not Harry's fault. You can't blame anybody else. I'm
the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend." That's being a stand-up
guy. Maybe it took three days of soul-searching to arrive at that place; we
have all been there and it's not an easy process. What counts is today.
This is class. This is character.
According to Jewish tradition, Judah earned the right for his tribe to have
kingship over the others because he confessed publicly that he was the
father of Tamar's twins (Genesis 38:26). In fact, one of the meanings of
Judah is "he will admit". Later, his descendant King David, after having
the prophet castigate his behavior, cried: "I have sinned…!" (Samuel I
12:13). This is taken as proof that he had inherited that great quality
that is prerequisite for leadership.
The verse in Leviticus (4:22) outlines a program of penitence to be
fulfilled "when a king should sin". If read very literally, it almost looks
like this is good news, something that "should" happen. The Talmud (Horayot
10b) explains that every leader sins, but fortunate is that generation whose
king is able to accept that he has erred: that is what "should" happen.
Elsewhere, the Talmud (Yoma 86b) posits that although one should not
broadcast his private misdeeds, wrongdoing committed in public must be
acknowledged in public, as Solomon wrote (Proverbs 28:13): "He who tries to
cover up his offenses will not succeed, but if he admits and desists, he
will receive sympathy."
All this chapter and verse has been confirmed by millennia of history.
People who are blind to their shortcomings eventually trip over them.
Additionally, their subordinates and subjects see this hubris and lose
respect. On the other hand, when a person in a high position offers an
honest self-appraisal with warts and all, his ability to make better
judgments in future is enhanced and he is much respected by the
In truth, there has been a reluctance to admit error on the part of this
administration, perhaps no worse than previous ones but still pronounced.
That teaser question by David Gregory to President Bush at a few press
conferences, asking him to cite his own biggest mistake, while rude in its
presentation seemed to be gleaning a kernel of truth. The natural human
tendency is to be defensive, to imagine that conceding a mistake feeds one's
enemies, but in reality it does more to inspire and reassure one's friends.
There are plenty of ways to do tricky jabs masquerading as admissions.
Sharon Stone once dropped me a note after reading my column: "Dear Jay, I
used to think that you were a pretty smart guy but now I see that I was
mistaken." To which I responded that I take pride in being the first man to
get her to admit error. (Yes, I know: she topped me, but I had to say
something.) But there was nothing mealy-mouthed or evasive about Cheney's
It was, you should excuse the expression, right on the mark.