December 4, 2006

Having A Senator's Head


“If you accept somebody’s invitation, you’re expected to respond in socially acceptable ways. Why go to be rude? Is it so awful to be polite?

— Stephen Hess, “The Little Book of Campaign Etiquette”

“[D]iplomacy is what’s supposed to stave off wars and other violence.”

–Miss Manners

I thought the media was done fronting for Bush, but apparently not.

If you missed the story, the President asked Senator-elect Webb the other day how his son, a serviceman in Iraq, was faring.  Instead of answering “Just dandy,” however, Webb took the opportunity to express his desire to “get them out of there.”  Not taking kindly to the response, Bush crisply informed the Senator he had answered a question he hadn’t been asked.

This late in a presidency that has almost completely derailed (not to mention, racked up stratospheric debt, poisoned international relations, and forsaken thousands of innocent American lives), apparently anything less than complete deference toward the President constitutes a gross breach of etiquette.  Or, so says the NYT.

A matter of etiquette?

Given Bush’s physical bubble and profound state of denial, Webb’s action wasn’t about manners so much as it was about reality, and responsibility.  Webb has been taken to task for confronting Bush in a social situation.  But if Bush can’t be gotten through to, especially in formal political situations and interactions (which we know are constrained to the point of asphyxiation), then what’s the recourse?

As much as The Times wishes to attribute Webb’s response to rudeness, given current circumstances, who is to say it wasn’t primarily a patriotic reflex — as well as a profoundly paternal one.  (The war being as abstracted as it, perhaps its hard to appreciate Webb’s kid is not off screwing around in South America, but fighting for Bush’s folly in Iraq.)

Look, however, how The Times visually pushed its point in the Week In Review.  First of all, the composition places Webb’s head a couple of pixels higher so the Senator appears to be talking down to his “superior.”  (The fact the Webb image looks off in the distance when the actual situation, in context, would call for looking someone in the eye, also conveys a cheap shot.)

The sleaziest move, however, is the made-up reaction they cut-out for Bush.  I never imagined the political discourse could become so slanted and juvenile.  I mean, what else could be said here on behalf of an otherwise venomous Junior, but:  “I hate you, Jimmy.  You hurt my feelings!”

(photo illustration: unattributed. December 3,

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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