Thursday, November 30, 2006

Dining With Bob

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Jim Henley adds:
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.


Daniel Larison said...

I'm generally one who tries to be agreeable in person, and I think politeness, civility and gentility are all to the good, but did Tyrrell ever consider the possibility that Webb also found his company irritating and unpleasant? Some people just rub each other the wrong way. It isn't because either one of them is necessarily boorish or uncivilised. There are awkward encounters like this all the time.

Jefferson and Polk were both famously anti-social and not terribly good company in social settings (I am the same way--perhaps this is why I like them and find gregarious, backslapping pols to be the embodiment of dark forces), and nobody cared all that much, but then they didn't have to live in Versailles, D.C. They just lived in the Federal Town with all its appropriate lack of refinement and haute couture.

Besides, has anybody considered that it was really none of Bush's business how Webb's "boy" was? In my experience, you exchange pleasantries about your own and others' children with people you know fairly well, not people whom you have only recently met.

What would Bush's response have been if Webb had started the conversation and asked Bush, "How's your mom?" If said in the slightest wrong tone, that question could be taken (and often is taken) as one of the nastier insults one can hurl. Even if said without any intention of causing offense, it might very well offend someone. "Mind your own business," would probably be the normal response, or "that's between me and my family." Perhaps that isn't the most sociable answer, but not everyone is that sociable. What people observe as Webb's discomfort in the politician's role is the discomfort a lot of normal people have with the inanity and nonsense of politics. People who are comfortable in the role of politician should be watched closely.

neil said...

Bush has a well-documented habit of putting other people in their place with diminuitive nicknames. It seems not at all far-fetched that he might also have been seeking to cut Webb down by greeting him with a reminder of the frustration of being a parent of a service-member abroad. (The question, of course, came with the implication that Bush has no worries about the safety or well-being of his own children.)

As for the Tyrrell quote, what can you say about a guy who thinks his dinner guests can't get past the idea that they might have to pay for their own meal? I suspect that Tyrrell is the only one with a lingering memory of how big that check was.

Flavius Aetius said...

I see that George Will is upset as well to the point to deliberately misquote Webb. Screw Will. He hasn't been a conservative in years since he commented that he didn't care about what happen to the Second amendment. He's nothing but a washed up writer than most folks don't take seriously anymore marking time on a tv show most folks don't watch.