Sunday, December 03, 2006

Eleanor Clift: Senator-Elect Webb Not to Be Toyed With

Every so often a politician comes along who doesn’t pander to the president. Fresh off a nasty campaign that centered on the war in Iraq, Virginia Senator-elect Jim Webb had no interest in a picture of himself with President Bush, and he didn’t want to exchange small talk with the man whose war policies he opposes. So he skipped the receiving line at a White House reception for newly elected members of Congress, creating the first of what we should all hope will be many ripples in Washington.

Webb’s presumed snub of Bush is rare enough in a city where everybody who’s anybody has a glory wall, and social occasions are geared to a parade of picture taking. But what happened next is where the story really takes off. President Bush, spying Webb across the room, walked over to him and asked, “How’s your boy?” Webb’s son is a Marine in Iraq.

A more seasoned politician might have been flattered that the president knew his son was in the line of fire and bothered to ask about him. That wouldn’t be Webb, a best-selling author who got into electoral politics for primarily one reason, his opposition to the Iraq war. “I’d like to get them out of Iraq,” he replied, according to several published accounts. “That’s not what I asked you,” Bush said, repeating his question: “How’s your boy?” Webb’s reply: “That’s between me and my boy.” Afterward, a source told The Hill newspaper that Webb was so angered by the exchange he was tempted to slug the guy. That might have prompted the Secret Service to pull their weapons, which wouldn’t have been the first time Webb, a highly decorated Vietnam combat veteran, faced the barrel of a gun.

A quirky individualist who wants no part of the phony collegiality of Washington, Webb was rightly insulted when Bush pressed him in that bullying way—“That’s not what I asked you”—trying to force the conversation back to Webb’s son. Webb could have asked how the Bush girls are doing, partying their way across Argentina. He could have told Bush he was worried about his son; the vehicle next to him was blown up recently, killing three Marines. Given the contrast between their respective offspring, Webb showed restraint.

But that’s not how much of official Washington reacted. Columnist George F. Will was the most offended, declaring civility dead and Webb a boor and a “pompous poseur.” Were the etiquette police as exercised when Vice President Dick Cheney told Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy to perform an anatomically impossible act on the Senate floor? Or is that amusing by Washington’s odd standards?

-SNIP-

It’s justice long overdue for a president who has so abused the symbols of war to get his comeuppance from a battlefield hero who personifies real toughness as opposed to fake toughness. Bush struts around with this bullying frat-boy attitude, and he gets away with it because nobody stands up to him. Bush could have left Webb’s initial response stand, but no, he had to jab back—“That’s not what I asked you.” Webb is not one to be bullied. He knows what real toughness is, and it’s not lording it over people who are weaker than you, and if you’re president, everybody by definition is weaker.

FULL STORY

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