I must admit that I've been a bit unsure about Jim Webb, the senator-elect from Virginia whose narrow victory put the Democrats over the top. He is, after all, a former Republican.
But Webb did something this week that proves he is exactly the kind of senator the country really needs at a time like this: He refused to make nice with George Bush.
According to The Washington Post, Webb avoided the both the receiving line and individual photo op with the president at a reception for new members of Congress. However, Bush tracked him down and reportedly asked him "How's your boy?" (Unlike the children of most of the power elite in Washington, Webb's son is a Marine serving in Iraq.)
Webb replied that he'd like to bring all the troops home. Bush apparently said that wasn't what he asked, and Webb replied, "That's between me and my boy, Mr. President."
George Will was offended by this behavior, calling Webb a "boor." Will apparently believes that nothing is more important than the social politeness that is the rule for Washington insiders. You can savage each other in the press and on the talk shows, as long as you follow all the forms at social gatherings. And following the rules includes kowtowing to the president.
Maybe in most cases, with most presidents, that's the way it should be. But as one who has long argued that the Bush administration should not be seen as business as usual, but as a serious threat to our country and our democracy, I am glad to see someone in the Senate who is more interested in doing what's right -- and in speaking truth to power -- than in joining the club.
Furthermore, there was nothing polite about Bush's inquiry; he was trying to play his "compassionate" card by acting as if he really cared about Webb's son. If Webb had played along -- had pretended that the issue of his son's welfare has nothing to do with Bush's unnecessary war in Iraq -- he would have been agreeing to a polite subordinate role. People like Bush can always use that.
Webb told The Post:
I'm not particularly interested in having a picture of me and George W. Bush on my wall.He added that he meant "[n]o offense to the institution of the presidency," but pointed out that "leaders do some symbolic things to try to convey who they are and what the message is."
I'm not sure whether Webb meant to imply that he took the stand he did because he's a leader, or that Bush was attempting, by use of the symbolic act of asking after Webb's son, to convey a message. But it works either way.
I think Jim Webb is going to be a breath of fresh air in the Senate. He's clearly "not ready to make nice."