Friday, December 01, 2006

 

A Tangled (Jim) Webb

The recent shall-we-say terse exchange between President Bush and Senator-elect Webb continues to attract commentary and reaction. Online at the Washington Post: Webb's Icy Exchange Might Diminish Effectiveness.

I dunno – that assumes he has some effectiveness to diminish. I think Mr. Webb is a single issue guy who is going to have to reinvent himself if he’s ever going to fit in with the mainstream of the Democratic Party. He can do it; he’s certainly smart and accomplished enough but I don’t see it happening. Mr. Webb seems to possess what may be the ultimate piece of leverage in politics – he doesn’t need the job. He doesn’t to be a Senator. Accordingly, if he does what he wants and says the first thing that pops into his mind for six years and then finds himself out of office – I believe he’s going to be okay with that. Now Washington changes people – lots of 3-terms-and-out'ers change their mind once they experience the headiness of political office. But I’m betting Jim Webb won’t be one of them.

But that kind of independence doesn’t make you effective by most traditional measurements in Washington.

Your reaction to what happened between the two may be colored by your politics, particularly on Iraq and/or the President. The reactions noted in the Post certainly seem to reflect that range of opinion. But I find this simply silly:

“Among hundreds of comments posted on The Washington Post website, many Virginia residents and others praised Webb's courage in standing up to Bush.”

Courage? This speaks only to that faux courage alluded to in the “Truth to Power” mantra so often bandied about. What was the President going to do in response? Have him arrested? This is of the same level of courage as exhibited by Kenye West, the Dixie Chicks and Cindy Sheehan – which is to say it is self-indulgence under a new name. It is the proverbial pig-with-lipstick.

I obviously don’t agree with Mr. Webb on a lot of issues but he served honorably and is a graduate of my father’s alma mater, the Naval Academy. I have a lot respect for what he’s done with his life and expect that he would act in the tradition of an officer and a gentleman. So I’m disappointed that he is beginning his Senatorial stint in such a boorish fashion.

Side Note: James Taranto’s continually excellent Best of the Web Today has this fun comment today:

“Jose Carbonell, meanwhile, manages to respond to Rangel and Kerry as well as Webb: "You have to understand Webb's uncomfortable position. A reception with the president and other lawmakers is not the place to admit he has a dumb and uneducated loser of a son (why else would he be in Iraq?)."

Comments:
Webb's comments aren't about courage. They're about his willingness to keep true to himself. He's no fan of Bush, has indeed been a harsh critic. Why should he do photo ops and smarmy insincere handshakes with him?

Webb's refusal to answer Bush's personal question about his son was not so much about courage as it was his expression of independence from the gladhanding, fake bonhomie of the Washington scene, and his refusal to be dominated by a manipulative twerp whose real purpose was to assert his domination over Webb by making him answer a question he didn't want to answer.

I don't think for a moment that it's boorish to refuse to say something smarmy and insincere and flatly untrue about one's loved one who even as the parties speak is in danger. Webb knows his son is in a combat zone and has been under fire. So does Bush. What was Webb supposed to do when the architect of the great disaster known as the Iraq War approached and asked in his smirky way how his son was? Why should he be expected to discuss a family member with a man who is not only a virtual stranger, but someone he dislikes? Why couldn't Bush take the hint and bow out of the conversation after Webb's first response instead of virtually demanding an answer?

There is no officer tradition which demands that officers share news of their loved ones with their superiors or with their political enemies. The question may be asked, but once refusal is broadcast the question may not be pursued. Bush is a churlish jerk.
 
Fair enough..than why was he at a White House meet and greet? He had to figure that the President had a good chance of being there.

I believe there is a time and place for expressing disagreements - this was not it. You come into the President's home, expect some small talk and deal with it politely...or just send your regrets.
 
"Why was (Webb) at the White House meet and greet?"

Because this was probably his first chance to meet members of this year's freshmen class (both GOP and Dems).

Had the Senator-Elect not attended the event, I'm am sure that two weeks later someone from the White House probably would have leaked the information saying "look at this guy he's out of control! He doesn't want to have his picture taken with the president. He didn't even bother to show up for this formal event at the White House. What a boor!"

In reference to Iraq, keep in mind, the president broached the subject.

The Senator-Elect's statement "We need to get them out of Iraq"--was a way of stating "This is not just about my son". I see nothing controversial here.

The president could have expressed his sympathy for the Senator-Elect's concern--instead he took personal offense, which is understandable coming from a parent who really can't relate to the experience of another parent actually living with the reality of having a child in a warzone.

In the big scheme of things I think this incident has been overblown. I also agree that this wasn't exactly a case of "speaking truth to power"--certainly not in the mode of a Gandhi, or dissident in a totalitarian state.

I'm inclined though to give Jim Webb, the father of a Marine in a war zone, a degree of latitude on this issue. I also think there's probably some value in tweaking George W. Bush on this issue--even at a public function. The sad reality is that G.W. can avoid the human costs of this war in a way that many parents cannont.

In an ideal world Jim Webb might have been more polite. But then again, in an ideal world, we wouldn't be in Iraq; and parents would never have to send children off to war either.
 
"...and parents would never have to send children off to war either."

Can we please just put this line to bed? Parents don't send their children off to war in this day and age. This is an all-volunteer service. While some may serve for financial/educational reasons - they serve of their choice. No one entering the military today goes in not knowing about Iraq...and yet still they come. Certainly Jim Webb's son had other options (no matter what Rep. Rangel says) and but chose the military.

I don't mean to make light of a parent's anxiety over a child away in uniform. I've never experienced it but my parents have and I understand it's not easy. But when you raise your children right, you don't make their decisions.
 
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