Thursday, November 30, 2006

[Formerly: ] George F. Will on Jim Webb
[Now: George F. Will: Big Fat Liar?]

[This whole post becomes irrelevant because, if the WaPo's report of the incident is correct, Will altered the Webb-Bush conversation in such a way as to completely misrepresent the tone of the participants. Thanks to Anonymous who points us to this at TPM cafe.

Just for the record, I've had to delete several versions of my reaction to this in order to maintain anything even vaguely resembling civility. If the WaPo's version is correct and Will did what it looks like he did, then the technical term for what he is includes the terms 'lying' 'sack' and 'of', but I'm trying really, really, really hard to keep from saying things like that for a lot of reasons but people like Will are NOT making it easy.]

No time to do this right, so I'll just point you to this in the WaPo.

At a glance, this seems to me to be one of those Rorschach-test cases, the interpretation of which says more about the interpreter than the interpreted... But that's a quick judgment on a busy day.

Two questions:
1. Was Webb wrong to act as he did toward Bush?

Quick suggestion: not obviously. Bush has run the country and a goodly part of the rest of the world into a ditch, partially as a result of stupidity--which may be excusable--but partially out of meanness, stubbornness, and inexcusable partisan blindness. So what is the right way to treat someone like that?
Two possible answers:
A.. He's the President, one should always treat him with respect.

B. At a certain point, one is relieved of one's obligation to act toward him in a friendly and excessively courteous manner.

Sidebar: Even in the worst-case scenario--Webb somehow turns out to be a pompous moron once he's in office--we won't be any worse off than we were when Allen was our Senator.

2. What about the Webb quote that Will dissects?
Two possible answers:
A. Will's pretty much right.

B. Will's being petty. What Webb meant is clear: the economic inequality in this country is mind-boggling. It isn't infinite, of course, and it may not be the worst ever, and it may not be worse by some measures, but if you're not at least worried about it then you're not paying attention.

Final fascinating and inconclusive note: I've actually wondered how I should act if I were to meet Mr. Bush. Since I believe that he has done approximately as much harm to my country as Osama bin Laden has, and perhaps even more, it would be rather difficult, not to mention irrational, to greet him warmly.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might already know this, but Will truncates the exchange in a way that somewhat distorts the picture. In Will's version, the exchange is:

BUSH: How's your boy?
WEBB: I'd like to get them out of Iraq.
BUSH: How's your boy?
WEBB: That's between me and my boy.

According to the Washington Post's reporters, however, the exchange was as follows:

BUSH: How's your boy?
WEBB: I'd like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President.
BUSH: That's not what I asked you. How's your boy?
WEBB: That's between me and my boy, Mr. President.

I think that Bush's "corrective", "That's not what I asked you", puts a rather different spin on the exchange. I think that that's a highly inappropriate way to speak to the parent of a soldier in Iraq. Furthermore, I think that Will is somewhat dishonest to remove that line, and then scold Webb for his part in the selectively-edited exchange.

(See for more. If this is posted multiple times, I'm awfully sorry.

12:28 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I'm not going to respond now because I find myself unable to express myself without cursing.

If what you say is right, and Will knew what the real exchange was like, then he (Will) has done something very wrong.

12:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I hold courtesy as a virtue, I really do. However, I hold truth as a greater one.

Just as in the case of the fellow who told Cheney that his policies were reprehensible, I see nothing wrong with Webb telling the truth in a polite way.

It seems, actually that being non-deferential or bluntly saying things that the president or vice-president disagree with is perceived as rude, and I just don't think that that's so. It's not like Webb was directly insulting, he was just . . . direct.

If the President insists on inserting himself into another man's family affairs, that man has the right to tell him he's unwelcome.

1:47 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, let's just call it the New Propriety and be done with it. There is no line between the personal and the political; the appropriate time for politics is anytime, anywhere.

I'm wary of assertions of truth. Everybody is convinced of their truth.

BUSH: How's your boy?
WEBB: I'd like to get them out of Iraq.
BUSH: Well, Jim, I think your idea could be disasterous for Western Civilization.
WEBB: Well, I think your policies are reprehensible and are a disaster for Western Civilization.
BUSH: Well, I think you're sticking your head in the sand, and if you want to be commander-in-chief, why don't you get yourself elected president?

(Unknown who then threw the first punch...)

Wisdom and especially prudence are what you do with truth after you've convinced yourself you have it. Otherwise, we're at each others' throats 24/7.

7:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, sure, but you don't think that the president, the most public of public figures, can have his policies criticized when he asks?

I (with the best of intentions) accidentally set fire to your house, trapping your wife and children inside. When I innocently ask, "so, how's the wife and kids," I think you're well within your right to say "Well golly, man, they'd sure be better if you hadn't set fire to the house."

9:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, and Re: Truth.

The thing is that what Webb said was actually indisputably true, in that it wasn't a claim about the exterior world in any meaningful way, it was a claim about his family and his life.

"How's your boy?"
"I'm actually pretty pissed off about how you've put my boy into what I perceive as needless danger, so, aside from the part you have some control over (whether my boy is in Iraq or not), I'll keep my boy's welfare as our family's private business, thanks."

He was saying in effect, "Mr. President, we're not buddies."

9:50 PM  
Blogger Alexander Wolfe said...

"He was saying in effect, 'Mr. President, we're not buddies."

Myca, I think that's pretty much right now.

10:27 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

BUSH: How's your boy?
WEBB: Fine.

That's how you'd do things under the Old Propriety, but you guys are in charge now, so you get to make the rules. I'm sure the rest of us will catch up, but our hearts aren't in it.

12:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you guys are in charge now, so you get to make the rules.

Ah yes. I recall the rules in effect when 'you guys' were in charge.

Didn't it go something like "You're all weak-ass terrorist-lovers and un-American and unpatriotic and you hate the troops, and a vote for the Democrat party is a vote for Osama, & etc, & etc, & etc."

Come off it, Tom. If a politician making a direct, though by no stretch of the imagination rude, political comment to another politician is out of bounds, then what is in?

You've argued elsewhere that it's just for a citizen expressing dissent with his elected representative's policies to be arrested. Do you believe that we are actually obligated for the sake of courtesy to pretend as though there's nothing wrong?

I was told once, "when someone tries to hand you a pile of crap, remember that you don't have to take it." It's as though you'd like everyone to not only take it, but also to pretend that it doesn't smell.

12:57 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Not arrested for dissent, but for being a boor. Setting the record straight here.

I understand if Webb felt Bush was getting too familiar. But when Webb confirmed the exchange to the papers, he made it public, not personal, and political as well:

"No offense to the institution of the presidency, and I'm certainly looking forward to working with him and his administration. [But] leaders do some symbolic things to try to convey who they are and what the message is."

(The leader being Webb.)

1:55 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Tom, goddamn it, I love having you around here and wish we had more conservatives.

But you are simply not making a lick of sense here. NOT A LICK.

Sometimes you're right. You're probably right more than I admit. But you ain't right here.

I'm not going to waste my life swatting this kind of fly. If you really believe this bizarre effluvium you're outgassing here I just don't know what the hell to do with you.

If you're just being cantankerous, then that's one thing. But if you really believe this crap I'm not sure how we can even have a conversation.

Jeez, man, open your freakin' eyes, step back from your partisan platform and *think about what you're saying here*.

10:13 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

It's almost impossible to discuss underlying principles when partisanship is involved. Either there's a line between the political and the personal, or there is not.

If not, then the concept of civility no longer has meaning.

5:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Will were on the other side of this story, he'd be solemnly telling us that a gentleman never insults anyone accidentally. Will would be doing this pompously, as if it were a great unquestionable truth.

What Webb was signalling to his constituents is that he's not going to play the ass-kissing Washington game even with Duhbya, that he's the scion of the Scotch-Irish line he described in Born Fighting. He believes in leaders and their men being close and frank with each other.

The felt like slugging him part was overboard. I note for the record that it didn't actually come to that - for which Webb would surely and rightly have been arrested.

Duhbya's long-time practice is to be overfamiliar with everyone but to cherish for himself a patrician distance. He tried it again this time, and Webb pushed back. I wonder what the story would have been had Webb used this rejoinder: "Fine. How are Barb and Jenna enjoying Latin America?" Or: "Okay. Are Jenna and Barb going to sign up? It would be a good first job for them."

The upshot is that both men were mildly uncivil to each other. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

10:35 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Yeah, Tom's gone over into knee-jerk apologist mode. You're exactly right, LL, about what he'd be saying if the tables were turned.

Or it'd be, e.g., "Real men aren't hurt by words...they can take the rough-and-tumble of frank discourse."

Or whatever.

You're a smart guy, Tom, but you've got your heart chained to a sad and tragically misguided cause.

But, LL, I disagree about the rest of your analysis.

The REAL dialog shows Webb being frank and W exhibiting characteristics that I will not even describe fully and accurately out of respect for the office. He sounds like the snotty rich bully correcting the help or something.

11:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Webb may turn out to be a pain for Democrats from time to time, given his independence and flamboyant streak. But I took a lot of satisfaction from his remarks to Bush. In my reading of this administration, very few people seem to have had the guts to confront Bush. Bush, on the other hand, frequently treats his peers with a patronizing and bullying attitide. So it's refreshing to see someone with a background like Webb's put Bush in his place in this instance. Bush needs to take personal responsibility for his horrible decisions in this war, and he's probably not hearing anything that comes close to the kind of mild reproach Webb gave him.

I wouldn't be in favor of this kind of discourse becoming the norm, Tom, but Bush's question was ridiculous, even supposing it was an honest expression of concern. What did Bush expect Webb to say? "My son's doing great, Mr. President, thanks so much for asking." What he actually said was direct and not friendly, but still somewhat mild. Webb could have been even more blunt than he was and said something along the lines of, "So far he's been spared, Mr. President, but he's lost all confidence in this war and is furious over your prosecution of it. I couldn't agree more with him."

1:04 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

On the narrow and specific grounds of this incident, I yield. It certainly doesn't rate in the top 1000 of the incivilities we've inflicted on each other in the past few years. As an extension of the previous discussion about the personal and political, and proper places and times, I reiterated my general view.

I do think Webb was Born Fighting (ran across a review of it the other day). Seems he also at one time called Bill Clinton's "the most corrupt administration in modern memory."

Still, Webb had the guts to ask Clinton to campaign for him. I can't quite reconcile Webb's romance with the Celtic warrior culture and what I think of as civilization.

(If I were Clinton, I may have exercized my Celtic warrior right to quote Cheney-to-Leahy in response.)

2:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Still, Webb had the guts to ask Clinton to campaign for him."

"If I were Clinton, I may have exercized my Celtic warrior right to quote Cheney-to-Leahy in response.)"

Yeah, imagine that Webb might believe that Clinton would actually put the good of his country ahead of any personal grudge or animus he might have had against Webb. Good to know where you stand, though.

10:38 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Yeah, and besides, Webb was obviously wrong about the Clinton admin. It wasn't even particularly corrupt, and certainly not even to be spoken of in the same terms as the Nixon, Reagan, or Bush '43 admin.s

2:04 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

``I cannot conjure up an ounce of respect for Bill Clinton when it comes to the military,” Webb said in that interview. ``Every time I see him salute a Marine, it infuriates me. I don’t think Bill Clinton cares one iota about what happens in a military unit.”

The irony is that Webb wanted such a man to campaign for him, what with a son in the military and all. This Celtic warrior ethos is hard to figure out sometimes. I'd be tempted to call him a hypocrite, but that word only applies to Republicans.

Webb says he had an epiphany and is over his anger about Vietnam, which made him say all sorts of nasty things and led him to refuse to shake John Kerry's hand at one point. Of course that's irrelevant to his estimation of Clinton's character, although I suppose it could be spun that way.

I would not want to be Jim Webb's friend, as that will last only until his next epiphany. In fact, it's probably safer to be his enemy.

As for the corruption of the Clinton administration, that's another one down the happy memory hole. I get no kick from bashing him, but the epistemologically challenged could start with the corrupt pardons he issued in the last days of his presidency and work backwards. Should take about 15 seconds on Google. If you find it "not particularly corrupt," then we have set a new and easily achievable standard.

I myself am really only tweaked about the China connections, the investigations of which were largely buried by both parties and the press. Which is a good thing, I suppose---you can charge a president with corruption, but not treason.

5:33 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Yes, we all know the frenzied anti-Clinton crowd's assertions...

And he's a rapist, and he's a murderer, and he's a drug-runner...and what about those two kids killed on those railroad tracks in Arkansas? Huh? Huh?

Most presidents issue corrupt pardons. It's damn bullshit, but (a) they all do it and (b) it's way far down the list as far as contemporary corruption goes.

That's why I said "not *particularly* corrupt." I.e., not corrupt in comparison to Reagan (the campion of recent corruption), Nixon, and Bush '43.

The Clinton admin wasn't great, just not too bad. By contemporary standards (mostly set by Republicans...and we haven't even mentioned the last 10 years in the House), Clinton was a piker.

Re: China: when people have thousands of connections and do lots of things, the True Believer can always find something they can spin into something semi-suspicious. But just going with proven, obvious, non-conspiracy-theory corruption (leaving out "Clinton sold us out to China!" and "Bush knew about 9/11!" and suchlike), it's Republicans for win, place, and show.

9:17 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

The China connection was no mere moonbattery. I don't know if you're being disingenuous, drinking kool-aid, or if your Google is broken.

Sigh. How soon they forget.

"Seventeen people were eventually convicted for fraud or for funneling Asian funds into the United States elections. A number of the convictions came against longtime Clinton-Gore friends and political appointees."

There's more, about Clinton transferring sensitive technology to the Chicoms, but you don't care and at this point neither do I.

4:53 PM  

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