Least hypothesis

If Cheney wasn’t drinking, he should have made sure the sheriff’s deputies observed that fact. He did the opposite, and he’s not a fool. Draw your own conclusion.

All right, then.

We’ve had the Cheney-hunting-accident jokes, and the solemn analyses of how the incident encapsulates the entire experience of the “ready-fire-aim” Bush Administration: the inexplicable bungling, the contempt for law (Cheney hadn’t bothered to buy a bird stamp), the obsessive secrecy, and the reflex to pin the blame on someone else: in this case, the shooting victim.

But jokes and synecdoche only take you so far, and I’d be inclined to agree with Glenn Reynolds that the matter is being attended to all out of proportion to its importance, if it weren’t for the fact that Cheney arranged not to talk to sheriff’s deputies investigating the incident until the next morning. (There are conflicting reports about the role of the Secret Service in keeping the deputies away from Cheney that evening.)

That, paired with the long delay in making the incident public, has two possible explanations, the same two as apply to Ted Kennedy’s actions after the Chappaquiddick incident: either the principal was a complete idiot, or he needed time to sober up. The determination by the sheriff’s office that no alcohol was involved in the shooting is, of course, completely worthless; since none of the witnesses was likely to talk, the only way to know would be to have done a Breathalyzer or blood-alcohol test on Cheney within a few hours of the incident.

Cheney told Brit Hume that he’d consumed “one beer” at lunch, which is exactly half the “two beers” usually reported to police by drivers too sloshed to walk a straight line.

It’s no secret that hunting, like fishing and boating, is often lubricated with alcohol, just as “dancing” or “partying” are often euphemisms for heavy use of alcohol or other intoxicants. I’m no expert, but I’ve never heard of anyone being charged with handling a firearm while intoxicated, which leads me to believe that there may not be laws against it. [Update: There are some places, but apparently not in Texas. See below.]

But if the victim had died, Cheney might have faced charges of negligent homicide, and his having been under the influence at the time of the shooting would certainly increase his legal jeopardy.

No, I don’t have any way of knowing that Cheney was drunk, any more than I have any way of knowing that Kennedy was. But it’s the least hypothesis that fits the facts. If he’d been sober, it would have been in his interest to talk to law enforcement as soon as possible. He chose not to, and now he’s going to have to live with the consequences of that choice.

Does it matter? In one sense, it doesn’t, much. It’s Cheney the public scoundrel who ought to worry us, not whether he likes to get tanked when he hunts or gets careless after doing so. But of course private misconduct is much easier to understand, which is why Chappaquiddick and the semen-stained dress had so much political resonance. If there are people in the country who think that Republican officials tend to have better private morals than their Democratic counterparts, and to whom that matters, and who will have their minds changed a little bit by this incident, I don’t see any reason to be unhappy at the result, or apologetic about helping to bring it about.

Update Two readers fill me in on the laws about hunting-while-sloshed. It’s against the law in some states &#8212 Ohio, for example, bans even possessing a firearm while intoxicated &#8212 but Texas bans it only on public lands.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com