Just as Bush’s nicknaming hobby is a dominance game, so is his behavior with Webb from the very start. First, he butts in on a man who is trying to avoid him. Then he picks a guaranteed bone of contention as his “pleasantry.” Bush knows where Webb’s son is; Bush knows Webb wishes his son weren’t there. Bush also knows that Webb knows that Bush has total control of whether Webb’s son is in Iraq or not. As “commander-in-chief of the armed forces,” Bush is the younger Webb’s ultimate boss. Bush is taunting Webb here. He’s trumping him. No wonder Webb wanted to slug him.
More fallout from the Bush-Webb flap, this time from R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. of the American Spectator. Tyrrell compares Webb to such personality challenged Democrats as Howard Dean and John Kerry and remembers an unpleasant dinner with Webb some years back.
At any rate, I invited him to dinner for what turned out to be a gruesome evening. Webb is one of those people of whom it is said he is uncomfortable in his skin. At first I thought his discomfort might come from the fear he was going to have to pay his way. It was a classy eatery. I reassured him that he was my guest. I went on to make clear I considered him a fine writer. Nothing I said reassured him, not even my insistence that he have dessert. I left baffled. Most of the military men I have known are gents. Many writers are cads, but I thought a writer who had also served high up in the Reagan Administration might be civilized. After that dinner I never made the mistake of inviting him anywhere again.
There is no surer sign of a social outcast than not enjoying a fancy, expensive, free dinner with the witty and brilliant founding editor of the American Spectator; but then it's remotely possible that Webb got tired of constantly having to say, "why yes Bob, you are another H.L. Mencken."
UPDATE: Several American Spectator readers take exception to the magazine's recent lame attacks on James Webb. Here's part of a good one:
RET's account of his dining experience with Webb, albeit humorous, appears to be a major factor in his evaluation of the senator to be. But how many who question Webb's ability to handle properly his fork and knife (he is, after all, a graduate of the Naval Academy), or his excessive pugnacity, have ever met the man? Allow me to raise my hand.
. . .
During the luncheon held in the ambassador's residence, Webb spoke of the Soviet naval threat with precision and knowledge; his responses to all questions were carefully thought out and measured; in short he was in his element. If memory serves, he did not drool or talk with his mouth full of food either. But what followed I retain, twenty years after, as an indelibly etched memory: I had the opportunity to spend the afternoon with him, and Webb, always a gentleman, allowed your scribe to question him, among other things, about his article, "Why Women Can't Fight," the plight of the military academies, as well as the state of the Cold War. He was nothing short of impressive, and quite comfortable in his own skin.