'It's time for Dick Cheney to step down'

United States Vice-President Dick Cheney badly handled a damage limitation exercise after accidentally shooting a hunting partner and could now become a case study for future politicians, experts said.

“This is a classic one,” said political analyst Larry Sabato.

“It will be studied as one of the big ones—an example of how a modest mishap goes completely out of control,” said Sabato, head of the Centre for Politics at the University of Virginia.

In US politics, where spin and image control are crucial skills, the handling of the controversy has shocked many experienced White House hands.

The vice-president said he had accidentally shot lawyer Harry Whittington (78), during a quail hunt on Saturday on a Texas ranch.

The one-day delay in announcing it to the public—and the way it was announced by the ranch owner to a local newspaper—stunned many observers.

Cheney only spoke publicly about the incident, which he called “one of the worst days of my life”, in a television interview on Wednesday—four days after the event.

“He had an obligation to disclose it himself, and he should have done so Saturday night or Sunday morning,” said Ari Fleischer, a former spokesperson for President George Bush.

“The vice-president has brought this on himself and on the White House.”

He added: “It would have been a serious story, but it would have been a one-day story, with a follow-up on the gentleman’s health.”

Marlin Fitzwater, who was White House spokesperson from 1987 to 1992 under the administration of the elder George Bush, told Editor and Publisher magazine he was “appalled” by the administration’s handling of the story.

He also said the story should have been made public straight away.

“It would have been the right thing to do, recognising his responsibility to the people as a nationally elected official, to tell the country what happened,” Fitzwater added.

“It would have been confined to the vice-president. By not telling anyone for 24 hours, it made it a White House story,” Fitzwater told the magazine. “It becomes a story about the White House handling of it.”

Cheney’s interview with Fox News Channel on Wednesday has also been criticised as too little, too late.

“Giving an interview to one individual, particularly in a forum deemed friendly to the administration, is unlikely to silence the criticism,” the Miami Herald newspaper said in an editorial on Thursday.

“There are more questions to be asked and other angles to be pursued.
The vice-president should hold a news conference and answer questions from a larger circle of interviewers if he wants to put this public relations debacle behind him.”

Opposition Democrats have seized on Cheney’s behavior as emblematic of his secrecy. Some in Cheney’s Republican party have also conceded that he bungled the incident.

Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer also demanded Cheney “clear the air” on a number of issues by holding a news conference.

“The press corps and American people deserve answers, not avoidance from this administration,” Schumer said.

Respected New York Times columnist Bob Herbert called on the vice-president to resign in a column on Thursday.

He said the shooting imbroglio was the last step in a career sullied by scandals over the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, leaks of classified information and a penchant for secrecy.

“It’s time for Dick Cheney to step down for the sake of the country and for the sake of the Bush administration,” Herbert wrote, citing “Cheney’s controversial and even bizarre behavior as vice-president.”

Whatever he does at his point, Sabato said that the episode, which might have been a fleeting if embarrassing incident, now becomes forever associated with the vice-president.

“It confirms what they already know about Cheney: that he is secretive by nature. This is just another example of that,” he said.

“It’s permanent now in peoples’ minds,” Sabato added. “It will be in his obituary.” - AFP

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