Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Senator Webb Stands His Ground

When most politicians work a room, they're just meeting people and getting themselves better known. I've never liked the way Bush works a room. He acts like he's learned all the tricks from a Dale Carnegie executive training course, particularly the chapter on assertiveness (to put it politely). One of his gimmicks, among several I've seen, is to grab someone by both arms in greeting and hold on to them until they make eye contact; the message is simple: I'm dominating the encounter here.

Senator Webb chose not to play the game. Here's the story from Michael D. Shear of The Washington Post (hat tip to Mahablog who has her own take):
At a recent White House reception for freshman members of Congress, Virginia's newest senator tried to avoid President Bush. 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...

Note that Senator-elect Webb did not seek out Bush, but like others who had just been elected, he honored the occassion with his presence. President Bush may have simply wanted to greet Webb and he may have simply shown his thin skin when Webb replied to the question about his son and Bush became rude. But I have watched Bush work a room. It would not surprise me that Bush noticed that Webb was avoiding him and decided to 'assert' himself. Normally, I believe people should respect the office even when they strongly disagree with a president. But Bush does not respect any number of traditions associated with being president nor does he appear to have much respect for the US Constitution. I applaud Jim Webb. His answer was a civil one given the circumstances. The president is a man, not a king or a dictator. Even the president has to remember who he is.

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Blogger Kvatch said...

I'm not much for 'respecting the office' when the occupant shows such manifest disrespect for what his office is about. I applaud Webb for giving Bush a dose of reality.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Craig said...

Kvatch, thanks for the comments. When I was a kid, there was a scene in The Shoes of the Fisherman where a pope puts on ordinary clothes so he can see what life is really like in the poorer sections of Rome. I can't see Bush or Cheney ever thinking of doing such a thing in Iraq, even in their imagination. Or even listening to ordinary Iraqis.

12:59 AM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

Bush, more than any president I've ever seen or heard of, avoids personal contact with unscreened groups and gatherings. The screening is intended to restrict participation to dyed-in-the-wool supporters.

If you were to ask Bush about this, I suspect he'd say he's only trying to avoid ugly scenes that might end up diminishing respect for the presidency.

If you could get inside his head and extract the truth, I think you'd learn the following.

Bush is painfully aware of his knowledge and savvy deficits. He's also painfully aware other people regard him as a lightweight in those departments, among others. To compensate, he follows a strict good-offense/best defense approach.

That means surrounding himself as much as possible with agreeable, supportive people and approaching even them assertively, preferably with a script or preplanned message. He intends to always sound assertive and decisive.

He probably went to the encounter with freshman Congress members-elect believing the majesty of the White House and experience of being the president's guest there would keep anyone from speaking out of turn.

Bush reportedly had been warned Webb was very sensitive about his son because of an incident in Iraq.

I suspect Bush was not only being perversely assertive, but seeking to impress on Webb, and maybe on himself as well, that because of his power and position, and being on his own turf, he could tweak Webb and oblige Webb to go along meekly.

Like so many things Bush tries, it didn't work.

8:28 PM  

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