I'm not sure what it says about American sports, society or politics. All I know is a 20-year-old snowboard queen from a "hey, dude" culture set a larger standard of personal responsibility recently than the vice president of the United States.
Lindsey Jacobellis messed up. It cost her an Olympic gold medal, it opened her up to scorn and some folks branded her a loser. Way ahead in the snowboard cross event last week and on the second-to-last jump, Jacobellis elevated, grabbed her board in a hot-dog maneuver, landed on her bottom and watched the gold medal slide away.
After a couple of hours of claiming it was just a routine move, Jacobellis 'fessed up to putting extra mustard on the hot dog. That same night she went on national TV, one-on-one with Bob Costas. She owned up to the mistake and took responsibility for an understandable bit of exuberance that will haunt her long after the Olympics are over.
In so doing, she showed more guts, character and sense of responsibility than a vice president who made a similarly embarrassing blunder.
Filling friend and quail-hunting partner Harry Whittington's face full of birdshot -- thankfully, not a critical wound -- wasn't Dick Cheney's finest hour. What he did in the following hours merely made it worse.
News of a Saturday afternoon shooting wasn't made public until midday Sunday (Cheney later said the family needed to be told and Whittington's exact condition known). White House officials then said it was Whittington's fault -- a classic case of blaming the victim. Cheney, meanwhile, for days went undercover so deep that his picture could have been on the side of a milk carton.
It wasn't until four days after the shooting that Cheney spoke publicly, 'fessing up on Fox News that it was his fault. He didn't make his first public appearance until six days after the botched quail outing. Even then, Cheney's flanks were amply covered by a Whittington. Bending over so far backwards as to risk further injury, Whittington apologized for causing pain to Cheney and his family. If I didn't know better, I would have thought that Whittington pulled the trigger and Cheney took the birdshot.
The contrast between the pigtailed snowboarder and the 64-year-old vice president is notable because Republicans are the self-styled party of personal responsibility. From tough-on-welfare rules to up-by-the-bootstraps rhetoric, the message is everybody is responsible for their actions. Fair enough. Yet when the birdshot hit the fan, personal responsibility headed for the hills and accountability hid under the couch.
Granted, hypocrisy isn't a partisan vice. Democrats are every bit as capable of it as Republicans. Witness ultra-liberal Ted Kennedy's longtime ties to a former Harvard men-only club, revealed last month. But Cheney's Olympian avoidance came at nearly the same time as a real Olympic blunder.
There is a difference between blowing a gold medal and blasting birdshot into a buddy. But Jacobellis took huge heat for her mistake. She was roasted in sports columns and on sports talk radio for everything from idiocy to letting down her country. If I didn't know better, I would've thought she, well, shot somebody.
Cheney did. Because the victim was somebody other than himself, Cheney was arguably under more of an onus to own up to his blunder. Somebody else paid for his mistake. But for all the ducking, dodging, swerving and avoiding Cheney did for days, you would have thought he was the one riding the snowboard.
They both messed up. But afterwards, the 20-year-old kid with the pigtails showed me something. The vice president barely bothered to show up.