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Bullet and a Target

By Kathy Y. Wilson · February 22nd, 2006 · Editorial
In the waning light of Black History Month, how better to put the reparative short month to sleep than a rumination over white men being themselves?

I always know when white men are embarrassed by their counterparts. They tell jokes about one another.

Like this one, overheard in my favorite white enclave of Hyde Park at The Echo, told one white man to another: "What do Dick Cheney and Bill Clinton have in common? They both shot their loads all over someone."

Or this from David Letterman "Vice President Dick Cheney is on vacation." (The audience laughs, though this isn't the joke.) "He's already shot two skiers." (The audience laughs again, only this time self-consciously. But is it funny?)

It all amounts to little more than white-on-white violence among 50ish- to 60ish-year-old men, a subversion of the much maligned "black-on-black violence" among young black males "at risk" in this country. That was awkward. Violence is never written or talked about that bluntly when white men do one another in, whether intentionally or accidentally.

We don't cast as violence the soft-kill evil that white men do. Yet bullets and guns criminalize black men.

Cheney wielded both on the Armstrong Ranch, yet his persona makes him vile and his 28-gauge Perazzi shotgun was but a mere extension of the man. What's more violent and butch than the very image of a group of white men -- probably all powerbrokers in their respective non-hunting lives -- hoisting high-powered rifles at quail while standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the thicket of a Texas ranch?

The replayed clips of this incident look like outtakes from America's Most Tragic Male Bonding Videos. In the DVD Collector's Edition, Cheney gets his own reel, hopefully with the director's commentary for added insight.

Maybe he could give us a peek into Cheney's general meanness, which has gotten more frequent and seemingly haphazard. It's quite calculated, however, if taken in toto.

What's greedier than Cheney's allegedly shaky dealings with Halliburton or more manipulative and destructive than his spin on pre-war intelligence just to rush us into war with Iraq? What's more vindictive than his leak of the CIA operative's name to the press?

Cheney is, as Letterman's joke writers put it, "a big bowl of mean." But, hey, it's Texas, and mean gets it done down there.

So, apparently, do the ranches. According to "The Ranch Where the Politicians Roam" in The New York Times, the Armstrong Ranch was bought by John B. Armstrong in the late 1800s with $4,000 in reward money the Texas ranger got after a shootout with the outlaw John Wesley Hardin.

After Armstrong died in 1913 and the ranch passed to his heirs, it became a weekend destination for powerful Republicans and the literal birthplace of the modern brand of Texas Republican nepotism we've come to expect.

That Texas is today known as a sort of Republican Ground Zero is owed to the very existence of these huge ranches where deals are brokered, relationships forged and boards stacked with friends and the family of friends all on a handshake and a shotgun blast. The Bushes, the Cheneys, Karl Rove, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Gov. Rick Perry and businessman Harry M. Whittington, whom Cheney shot, have all "paid their respects over the years" to the Armstrongs on their ranch.

Tobin Armstrong, a descendant of John B. Armstrong, bankrolled a young Rove's direct-mail consulting firm. Tobin's wife, Anne, was a counselor to Richard Nixon. Gerald Ford, for whom Cheney was chief of staff, appointed her U.S. ambassador to Britain. Anne Armstrong also sat on Halliburton's board while Cheney was its chief executive.

When President Bush was Texas governor, he appointed the Armstrongs' daughter, Katharine, the ranch's present owner, to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. During the 2000 election the Armstrongs were listed as "pioneers," campaign fund-raisers who put $100,000 in donations into Republican coffers.

If you think this level of postmodern back scratching doesn't amount to much, consider the way the post-shooting White House press secretary handled the details of the shooting, eschewing its significance in favor of information more pertinent to the American people like how evil Al Quaida is. Duh.

Cheney chose Fox News, the Bush administration's real press secretary, to sit down with to tell the story, only after otherwise dodging questions. What other office, what other administration, what other population of people wield this much skin privilege that they can pick and choose when, where and how to be accountable for what the rest of us would be, at the least, detained for?

If I accidentally shot my best friend, Mina, while we hunted in her West Chester back yard, I'm certain the Union Township Police and the Butler County Sheriff would have some questions for my black ass, and I wouldn't be able to just drive away.

Then again, I don't have Cheney's aim.

My aim is true.

contact Kathy y. wilson: kwilson(at)citybeat.com.


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