Nasty, Brutish & Short

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What to make of this exchange between the President...

November 30, 2006 09:43 AM

... and James Webb, the newly elected junior Senator from Virginia:

Democrat James Webb declined to stand in a presidential receiving line or to have his picture taken with the man he had often criticized on the stump this fall. But it wasn't long before Bush found him.

"How's your boy?" Bush asked, referring to Webb's son, a Marine serving in Iraq.

"I'd like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President," Webb responded, echoing a campaign theme.

"That's not what I asked you," Bush said. "How's your boy?"

"That's between me and my boy, Mr. President," Webb said coldly, ending the conversation on the State Floor of the East Wing of the White House.

Ann Alhouse thinks it "compliments neither man."  George Will thinks Webb was grossly offensive and rude.

I think Webb was definitely being rude, and the President was just being brusque in the face of rudeness.  It is perfectly okay--indeed, a kind gesture--to ask someone how their son is doing if they are serving in harm's way.  Especially if the President is the one who is doing the asking.  To give a political response in the context of this private conversation is rude.  Especially when you follow up by saying that your son's welfare is not of the President's business. 

Maybe the President's question hit a little too close to home, because the Senator's son doesn't actually want to come home, and thinks the work he is doing is important?  Perhaps the Senator thought the President's question was too personal, because it pertained to a family dispute? 

Who knows?  I certainly have no idea if Senator Webb's son wants to come home.  But a difference of opinion between father and son is the only explanation I can come up with to defend Senator Webb.


Bush is the Commander-In-Chief, with the ability to assign personnel to dangerous missions, or to safe and cushy ones. Webb no doubt interpreted the President's remark as a veiled offer of a favor, or perhaps a veiled threat. Any father in Webb's situation would have interpreted the remark in the same way - though not all would have been as forthright as Webb.

Haig   ·  December 1, 2006 01:14 PM

Oh please. Any military parent who thinks the President of the United States would order their son into harm's way out of spite is an idiot. Same with anyone who thinks the President would order a Senator's son in to a cushy job to protect his safety.

Idiotic. Would not happen in 2006.

NBS   ·  December 1, 2006 03:54 PM

A conversation that occurs between the POTUS and a US Senator on the State Floor of the East Wing of the White House could never really be purely social. While it may mesh with the president's "style" to treat the question about the son as though it were more important than politics, and probably no loving parent would think otherwise, I give Webb points for not conceding the premise that the conversation was social and not political. Moreover, it sounds like the president sought out a man who was avoiding him, which has it's own social inconsistencies. What purpose did that conversation serve, other than to be shared online so that people would debate which of the two men was more rude? A kind of political genius in and of itself, but I doubt that it tells us anything we didn't already know.

Lily Graypure   ·  December 4, 2006 02:18 AM