On November 28, 2006, it was reported that at a White House reception for those newly elected to Congress, Webb attempted to “avoid” President Bush, whom he criticized frequently on the campaign trail, and declined to stand in the presidential receiving line or have his picture taken with the president.
Reportedly, the president found Webb and asked him, “How’s your boy?”, referring to Webb’s son, a Marine serving in Iraq. According to reports, Webb replied that he “really wanted to see his son brought back home”.
Bush responded,”I didn’t ask you that, I asked how he’s doing.” Webb responded that that was “between me and my boy”.
Accounts claim that Webb was so angered by the exchange that he was tempted to “slug” the president, and later when recounting the incident divulged “I’m not particularly interested in having a picture of me and George W. Bush on my wall,”
By now, this little incident between President Bush and Senator-elect James Webb of Virginia has raced through the media tracks so many times, it has become dizzyingly blurry and confusing. Many pundits and editorial writers with spare pens and spare time to write have weighed in to add their precious bits and pieces of unalloyed and unsolicited wisdom to this fray. Silly me, that’s what media pundits are expected to do and which they do with gusto.
Anyway, most possible discernible angles have been amply covered and vivisected by pundits of widely differing political stripes. Revered conservative columnist, Mr. George Will started the proverbial ball rolling, laying the blame on Mr. Webb for exhibiting such a disrespectful attitude toward the exalted office held by widely-ridiculed President George Bush. For her part equally renowned Ms. Peggy Noonan “creamed” the buttered-toast side of Bush inferring that the president did not show presidential “grace” with his curt retort to Mr. Webb’s initial response. A credible sign of the escalating loss of grace in public discourse and demeanor, she appears to opine. And the ball has been bouncing back and forth, all across traditional media and the blogosphere. So fast and furious, a detached observer may find the overall scenery muddled and confusing.
One may wonder how in this enlightened and overly-informed world we live in, these “simple” matters appear difficult to resolve and have to be subjected to bountiful discourse and incessant hand-wringing. It would appear that most public issues cannot be plotted out as either black or white, but typically as shades of gray.
But are there still widely-held traditional values and standards that do not change and have withstood the harsh onslaught of time and strife? And don’t these “absolutes”, if we could call them such, still count to help resolve issues similar to this with judicial firmness and finality?
Anyway, why not ask the opinion of the detachedly uninitiated, out of the loop, not so sophisticated, and whatever, you know, the man on the street side of things, and see what he thinks. Take me, for example.
Thus, like it or not, here’s my rather puny take, randomly scribbled, as understood from different sources read.
It is common knowledge that Mr. Webb “dislikes” the president though for what exact reason opinions are quite divided. And judging from the way President Bush has regarded and responded to those who do not share his views or the way he runs his presidency, which is with almost nonchalant inattention to their criticism and name-calling, he has not responded in like manner. Meaning, he does not in turn “dislike” Mr. Webb tit for tat, not publicly at least.
Now, the White House, occupied and represented by the President, hosts a reception for ALL newly-elected members of Congress. If Mr. Webb so dislikes the President that he cannot stand his presence, why did he attend the affair in the first place, knowing Bush as the host will try his best to greet and exchange shoptalk with everybody present? Unless he was angling for a confrontation, a public one at that. And that he got, regardless. So, he should have stayed home instead.
For his part, the President’s retort, “I didn’t ask you that”, may not be the most tactful nor polite way of handling and deflecting any possible outburst, but cannot people see it in their hearts that anybody suddenly and unexpectedly rebuffed in that manner may not have the perfectly-scripted answer at that precise moment and thus as a result, what came out was a rather challenging and maybe, inappropriate reply. Of course, the body language and/or the tone of voice could have revealed more of the President’s real attitude toward Webb’s initial reply. But publicly, Bush has been quite circumspect in his pronouncements, even granting his apparent inability at times to articulate his ideas in as deft and artful manner as those of his contemporaries or those who had occupied his exalted office in the past.
Thus, regardless of what Mr. Webb thinks of this person occupying this most exalted nationally-elected position, and as he is now himself a newly elected public official in this same republic, he ought to convince himself to show proper respect, deference, and decorum before that presence, and most especially in any public setting. And to publicly report that he had entertained the “temptation” to physically assault the president adds more to that disrespect for the office. It would have been to the unquestioned benefit of everybody concerned had Mr. Webb kept that thought privately.
For his part, I would think that the President would be taking the high ground and elevating his and his office’s stature even more, if he would just publicly accept and apologize for that blurted retort to Mr. Webb’s initial reply to his question, not necessarily because he meant it as a brusque retort but simply because Mr. Webb may have taken offense.
Then, we can all say, Amen.