Hunting with Dick Cheney
When I was a kid learning to shoot, my dad made me adhere to the same safety rules whether I was handling a BB gun or a 12 guage loaded with buckshot. Infraction of any of them meant no shooting for quite a while.
I never became much of a marksman but I did gain an appreciation for gun safety. And when I heard that VP Cheney had shot a man by accident, I could hear my departed father’s voice telling me; “Accidents do not just happen, they are caused.” He would not accept excuses where firearms were involved.
In the week following, I’ve seen Fox News spin the whole episode like a ballerina, and various liberals try to say it was emblematic of the Bush administration’s arrogance of power, or something. The main lesson I got from it was; “Don’t go hunting with Dick Cheney”.
But I did learn something about his unintended target, Harry Whittington. Turns out ol’ Harry is a really interesting guy. Sure, he’s a Texas Republican or he wouldn’t be hunting with the Veep. But he’s also the ‘go-to guy’ on prison reform in Texas. Here’s Molly Ivins:
Not that I accuse Harry Whittington of being an actual liberal—only by Texas Republican standards, and that sets the bar about the height of a matchbook. Nevertheless, Whittington is seriously civilized, particularly on the issues of crime, punishment and prisons. He served on both the Texas Board of Corrections and on the bonding authority that builds prisons. As he has often said, prisons do not curb crime, they are hothouses for crime: “Prisons are to crime what greenhouses are to plants.”
In the day, whenever there was an especially bad case of new-ignoramus-in-the-legislature—a “lock ‘em all up and throw away the key” type—the senior members used to send the prison-happy, tuff-on-crime neophyte to see Harry Whittington, a Republican after all, for a little basic education on the cost of prisons.
When Whittington was the chairman of Texas Public Finance Authority, he had a devastating set of numbers on the demand for more, more, more prison beds. As Whittington was wont to point out, the only thing prisons are good for is segregating violent people from the rest of society, and most of them belong in psychiatric hospitals to begin with. The severity of sentences has no effect on crime.
Molly Ivins: The buck stops… where?
A Republican advocate of prison reform? That is interesting stuff, and now that I’ve heard of Whittington, I plan to learn more about his stats on prisons. But there’s something else interesting here, something about Molly Ivins’ character, in the way she goes on to say that there’s basically no political significance in Cheney’s hunting accident.
I’ve heard Ivins in person and liked her a lot. Sure, she’s deadly smart, and funny, but she also recognizes her opponents’ virtues. Without pulling any punches, she finds value in people she disagrees with whenever she can. I have seen her apologize profusely – in print – for errors of fact, and she tries to balance the real-world consequences of politics without being consumed by it. These attributes distinguish her from Coulter, Malkin, or O’Reilly, who, as Will Rogers said, “divide the world into two groups”.
There are plenty of substantive things to wrestle with in politics; it’s not like we’ll run out of things to talk about if we pass up opportunities to inflate non-issues into “big stories”.