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Vice President Quail

Mr. Vice President, you're doing a heck of a job.

It's almost too easy to take shots at Dick Cheney for the quail-hunting accident over the weekend that left a fellow hunter wounded and the White House trying to spin itself out of a major political embarrassment. The Bush administration always has a problem shooting straight, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that Cheney aimed at quail and hit a lawyer. The late-night comedians and editorial cartoonists are having a feast. But the wounded hunter's condition has proven more serious than anticipated, and the White House's handling of the situation isn't funny.

The 78-year-old lawyer shot by Cheney on Saturday, Harry Whittington, was back in intensive care Tuesday after some birdshot lodged in his heart and caused a minor heart attack. Meanwhile, Cheney stayed hidden in the weeds as the White House continued to explain why the accident was not promptly disclosed and why the vice president has not publicly accepted responsibility. The attempt to stonewall and cast blame on others is symbolic of how this administration conducts itself, regardless of the issue.

The hunting accident occurred at 5:30 p.m. Saturday on a Texas ranch. President Bush was informed that there had been an accident, then learned Cheney had shot someone, within two hours. But White House spokesman Scott McClellan wasn't told until early Sunday morning. Even then, it was left to the ranch's owner to call her local newspaper with news of the shooting. It wasn't until 2:30 p.m. Sunday that news services distributed the first account. Cheney has never accepted that he is a public figure, and he has never learned that covering up the truth only makes things worse.

As the circumstances of the accident come into focus, it becomes clearer that Cheney is not blameless. While Cheney is an experienced hunter, he appears to have violated common hunting safety rules by turning quickly and firing his 28-gauge shotgun as a covey flushed. Whittington had gone to get a bird and was coming up behind the vice president. Yet the White House tried to blame Whittington for failing to announce his presence. This is a typical reaction from an administration, and from Cheney in particular, that cannot accept responsibility when something goes wrong.

The Hurricane Katrina response was a disaster because poor people didn't evacuate and FEMA director Michael Brown failed to promptly tell his superiors about the flooding, not because Washington failed to listen and react. The war in Iraq isn't going well because of the strife between ethnic groups, not because the administration failed to plan for the postwar recovery. The Medicare Part D prescription drug program is confusing seniors because they aren't doing enough research, not because there are too many complicated options and bureaucratic foulups by the government.

That same kind of arrogance has transformed Cheney's hunting accident from a minor event into another major embarrassment. An administration that can't get the little things right, like promptly disclosing when the vice president shoots a fellow hunter, can't be counted on to tell the truth or accept responsibility when the stakes are higher.

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