Washington is abuzz over the purported "smackdown" between incoming freshman Senator James Webb of Virginia and President Bush. At a White House reception last week, Mr. Bush asked how Webb's son, a Marine Lance Corporal serving in Iraq, is doing.
Mr. Webb, whom we've taken to calling One Term Jim, apparently couldn't resist the opportunity to transform a casual inquiry into a political statement. Webb responded that he really wanted to see his son brought back home. "I didn't ask you that, I asked how he's doing," the President retorted.
Webb later "confessed" that he was so angered by the President's response, he wanted to slug Mr. Bush (but of course, he didn't). While the White House has refused comment on the reported exchange, readers will note that The Hill (which published this account of the incident) got its information from a source who heard it directly from Webb. Apparently, the senator-elect has no problem with airing private conversations, particularly if they enhance his "fighting" image.
Personally, I think Mr. Bush got it right. His inquiry was for the welfare of Webb's son, not a discourse on what the Senator-elect thinks of the war. Mr. Webb has made his opposition to the Iraq War abundantly clear, and his comments at the reception were nothing more than cheap political theater. We know it's hard, but save it for the Senate floor, Jim. You'll get even more exposure you so obviously crave, once the oath of office is administered.
As others have noted, voters in the Old Dominion may be somewhat shocked by the senator-elect, once he actually begins casting votes in Washington. In recent weeks, he has aligned himself with the Kennedy/Pelosi/Rangel wing of the Democratic Party, promising to vigorously support an increase in the minimum wage. Wonder what small business owners in Virginia will think about that. In fact, Mr. Webb says that "restoring economic fairness" is one of his top issues as a freshman senator. That sounds like another name for income redistribution, and it ought to play well among the entreprenuers of Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads and the Richmond area.
But beyond his new-found liberal politics, there's another aspect of Jim Webb that many should find distasteful. Exactly what kind of father repeatedly uses his son as a political prop? On the hustings this fall, Mr. Webb wore an old pair of his son's combat boots, a supposed show of solidarity with the troops and a reminder of his own, gallant service in Vietnam. Now, with his little speech at the White House reception, it appears that Lance Corporal Webb has become his father's favored tool, employed at the appropriate time, for maximum political effect.
I have no doubt that Mr. Webb wants his son home from Iraq, safely and as soon as possible. His feelings are no different than those of any other parent whose child is serving in a combat zone. Most of those mothers and fathers also understand that their sons and daughters volunteered for military service, along with the hazards and sacrifice associated with that occupation. And thankfully, most of them don't engage in petty, partisan stunts like the senator-elect.
Good luck and best wishes to Lance Corporal Webb. I pray for his safe and speedy return from Iraq. I also hope that Corporal Webb can perform his duties outside the political spotlight. When he signed on for a tour in the Marine Corps, I doubt that the younger Webb imagined himself becoming a political device for an opportunistic father. Serving in combat is tough enough, without your father, "The Senator," using the rotation to score political points.
Even before he takes the oath of office, One Term Jim is proving himself unworthy to serve in the U.S. Senate. We can only hope that he lives up to his nickname.