Of all the weird non sequiturs that have sprung up in defense of Dick Cheney, perhaps the weirdest can be summarized thusly: What about Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick? The disingenuous Mark Steyn is among many who have taken up this cudgel, writing:
Hmm. Let’s see. On the one hand, the guy leaves the gal at the bottom of the river struggling for breath pressed up against the window in some small air pocket while he pulls himself out of the briny, staggers home, sleeps it off and saunters in to inform the cops the following day that, oh yeah, there was some broad down there. And, on the other hand, the guy calls 911, has the other fellow taken to the hospital, lets the sheriff know promptly but neglects to fax David Gregory’s make-up girl!
Steyn does this, by the way, in the context of quoting Washington Post columnist David Ignatius with evident approval, calling Ignatius a “wise old bird.” So I am shocked — shocked! — to report that Steyn has misconstrued Ignatius, who does not seem to be at all happy with Cheney’s actions at the Armstrong Ranch, seeing his “long delay” in reporting the accident as evidence of the “arrogance of power.”
With that in mind, some questions and answers, please.
1. Was Chappaquiddick more serious than Cheney’s shooting his friend Harry Whittington? Of course. Mary Jo Kopechne died, in all likelihood because of Kennedy’s negligence. Whittington could have died, and Cheney has already confessed to having acted negligently. But, yes, Chappaquiddick was quite a bit more serious.
2. Does invoking Chappaquiddick somehow mean that Cheney did not shoot Whittington? To read Steyn, as well as some of the comments to Media Nation that I’ve read, you’d think so. But I have it on very good authority that the first incident, which took place nearly 37 years ago, does not negate the second. Cheney did indeed shoot his friend. Front-on. In the face and chest.
3. Did Kennedy suffer any consequences? Kennedy was charged with a criminal offense in Chappaquiddick, pleading guilty to leaving the scene and receiving a two-month suspended sentence. Too light? Perhaps. But his was a first-time offense, and car accidents — even those involving death and alcohol — were simply not taken as seriously in 1969 as they are today. (Cheney himself can attest to the blasé attitude about drunk driving in the 1960s.)
Moreover, Kennedy’s political career was permanently curtailed. Before Chappaquiddick, he was considered a near-certain future president. Afterwards, he became something of a national joke outside Massachusetts, at least among everyone except committed liberals.
4. Will Cheney suffer any consequences? None so far.