I was more than a little surprised when Jim Webb defeated incumbent George Allen in the recent Virginia Senate election. I voted for him happily, but didn’t rate his chances very high. My confidence in him has only soared in light of recent events. Here’s George Will:
Wednesday’s Washington Post reported that at a White House reception for newly elected members of Congress, Webb “tried to avoid President Bush,” refusing to pass through the reception line or have his picture taken with the president. When Bush asked Webb, whose son is a Marine in Iraq, “How’s your boy?” Webb replied, “I’d like to get them (sic) out of Iraq.” When the president again asked, “How’s your boy?” Webb replied, “That’s between me and my boy.” Webb told the Post:
“I’m not particularly interested in having a picture of me and George W. Bush on my wall. No offense to the institution of the presidency, and I’m certainly looking forward to working with him and his administration. (But) leaders do some symbolic things to try to convey who they are and what the message is.”
My kind of guy! Will is less impressed:
Webb certainly has conveyed what he is: a boor. Never mind the patent disrespect for the presidency. Webb’s more gross offense was calculated rudeness toward another human being — one who, disregarding many hard things Webb had said about him during the campaign, asked a civil and caring question, as one parent to another. When — if ever — Webb grows weary of admiring his new grandeur as a “leader” who carefully calibrates the “symbolic things” he does to convey messages, he might consider this: In a republic, people decline to be led by leaders who are insufferably full of themselves.
I’m getting weepy. Try to picture the situation: There’s poor President Bush, gamely putting aside all the mean things Webb said about him during the campaign to express some totally sincere concern for the well-being of Webb’s son, a son whose well-being is in jeopardy for reasons having nothing to do with his feckless and ill-conceived foreign policy. And, almost inconceivably, Webb seems unimpressed by this magnanimous gesture. Life can be so cruel.
Nora Ephron has a far more intelligent take on the situation:
This is truly Washington, in case you wonder what Washington truly is. Washington is a place where politics is just something you do all day. You lie, you send kids to war, you give them inadequate equipment, they’re wounded and permanently maimed, they die, whatever. Then night falls, and you actually think you get to pretend that none of it matters. “How’s your boy?” That, according to George Will, is a civil and caring question, one parent to another? It seems to me that it’s exactly the sort of guy talk that passes for conversation in Bushworld, just one-up from the frat-boy banter that is usually so seductive to Bush’s guests. George Bush once said to someone I know, “How old is that seersucker suit anyway?” and my friend (who should know better) went for it lock stock and barrel.
So finally someone said to George Bush, Don’t think that what you stand for is beside the point. Don’t think that because you’re President you’re entitled to my good opinion. Don’t think that asking about my boy means that I believe for even one second that you care. If you did, you’d be doing something about bringing the troops home.
George Will thinks this is bad manners.
I think it’s too bad it doesn’t happen more often.