If history is any guide, Cheney is going to pay a price for this. These kinds of accidents have a way of sticking with a politician and even if the vice president has indicated that he'll never seek office again, the birdshot episode is likely to be used by comics as a metaphor for a trigger-happy vice president who rushed us in to warand can't shoot straight. These kinds of metaphors aren't usually fair. Gerald Ford was a talented athlete who was a star football player at the University of Michigan and coached at Yale. Still, he was lampooned as a clod because he tripped down a flight of airline stairs in Austria and was filmed falling while skiing in Vail, Colorado. Those images of Ford were the material for send-ups by a rising young comic named Chevy Chase, who was one of Saturday Night Live’s stars. SNL went after Ford so many times that he finally went on the show and kept up the gag by telling Chase he was a "a very funny... suburb." Jimmy Carter was stalked by the "killer rabbit." In 1979, out fishing near his home in Plains, Georgia, Carter's dinghy was besieged by a "swamp rabbit" familiar in those parts. White House Press Secretary Jody Powell told the story to a reporter and it became immortalized in a front-page Washington Post story and became a metaphor for a timid president.
Sometimes the incidents aren't even true. Franklin Roosevelt was pilloried for allegedly spending millions by sending a Navy destroyer to pick up his little dog Fala, a Scottish Terrier, who was rumored to have been accidentally left on one of the Aleutian islands. The President pushed back with humor in his famous Fala speech while talking to the Teamsters Union. Roosevelt said that he and his family expected criticism but that Fala was not used to this. "His Scotch soul was furious."
After he's done sending flowers and apologies to Mr. Whittington, Cheney would do well to get in on the joke before it gets him. The situation in Iraq is too grim to let this metaphor linger. Jon Macks, a former political consultant who is now a writer for NBC's Tonight Show with Jay Leno told TIME by e-mail: "Yeah it’s a 9 out of 10, this is a Tonya Harding type whack on the knee story. I don't know yet what we'll be doing but it's like a drunk airline pilot-story where the plane lands safely-people in danger at end, no one killed."