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. ~George Will
As Will sees it, Bush was right to bristle. You don’t have any right to talk to the president like that, even if his near-criminal unseriousness may end up getting your son killed. It’s “patent disrespect for the presidency.”
Well, this country could do with more “patent disrespect for the presidency.” It might help keep our presidents tethered to reality. ~Gene Healy
Senator-elect Jim Webb has continued to get himself into trouble with the Republican punditocracy. Supposedly, he was rude to the President! To recap: Bush sought him out and asked him what strikes me not as a “civil and caring” question, but a deliberate poke in the eye: “How’s your boy?” Knowing, as he certainly did, that Webb’s son was in Iraq (since wearing his son’s combat boots was a major symbolic part of Sen. Webb’s entire campaign), the appropriate response might have been, “He’s very well, Mr. President, no thanks to you.” Instead, Sen. Webb apparently took a different tack and refused to be baited into saying something like that. According to The Hill, he said that he wanted to see his son brought back from Iraq. As Mr. Healy noted, a “civil and caring parent” would have understood that. Perhaps then he might have asked after Webb’s son.
However, unlike a “civil and caring parent,” as an autocrat, who felt like using Sen. Webb’s son as his icebreaker, he wanted a response to the question he asked and nothing else. This convinces me that Mr. Bush was not “civil and caring” and was not interested in how Webb’s “boy” was doing (Sen. Webb might also have retorted, fairly enough, “my son is a man, Mr. President, and more of one that you will ever be”), but was concerned with making a show of his allegedly deep and unfathomable compassion. My guess is that Sen. Webb, who is evidently not the smoothest Washington operator (which is why people out here in the country like him), wasn’t going to play at the autocrat’s parlour games and decided to use this opening to make a substantive point about policy. Imagine that: policy (one that is close to his heart, obviously), not chit-chat, was Webb’s priority. While Americans are continuing to die in Iraq, who is demonstrating the greater concern for all of the soldiers in Iraq and being less full of himself? Mr. Bush, who will apparently never countenance withdrawal or serious change of policy on his watch, or Sen. Webb, whose first thought and first response was not only for “his boy,” but for all of the soldiers in Iraq whom Mr. Bush placed in harm’s way?
My favourite bit is where George Will invokes the Republic in Bush’s defense. This is like calling Anne Boleyn (d. 1536) as a character witness for Henry VIII in 1537. Typically, the autocrat’s lackeys in the press are simply shocked and outraged that anyone would dare to speak to the master in this fashion. In a republic, the people decline to prostrate themselves before an autocrat, and they decline to be his servants. In the Old Republic, they did away with as much of the pomp and courtliness of European monarchy as they could. If we really were still in a republic, Webb’s son would never have been sent to Iraq, because no one would have allowed the autocrat to start an illegal war of his own will. A little less deference to the master and a little more interest in the welfare of our soldiers seems to be very much in order. That quite a few people have a hard time with those priorities explains how we wound up in this predicament in the first place.