Wednesday's Post reported that at a White House reception for newly elected members of Congress, Webb "tried to avoid President Bush," refusing to pass through the reception line or have his picture taken with the president. When Bush asked Webb, whose son is a Marine in Iraq, "How's your boy?" Webb replied, "I'd like to get them [sic] out of Iraq." When the president again asked "How's your boy?" Webb replied, "That's between me and my boy."
Webb certainly has conveyed what he is: a boor. Never mind the patent disrespect for the presidency. Webb's more gross offense was calculated rudeness toward another human being -- one who, disregarding many hard things Webb had said about him during the campaign, asked a civil and caring question, as one parent to another.
Today, it's Peggy Noonan's turn--and she's siding with Webb. She writes:
Mr. Webb did not want to pose with the president and so didn't join the picture line. Fair enough, everyone feels silly on a picture line. Mr. Bush approached him later and asked after his son, a Marine. Mr. Webb said he'd like his son back from Iraq. Mr. Bush then, according to the Washington Post, said: "That's not what I asked you. How's your son?" Mr. Webb replied that's between him and his son.
For this Mr. Webb has been roundly criticized. And on reading the exchange I thought it had the sound of the rattling little aggressions of our day, but not on Mr. Webb's side. Imagine Lincoln saying, in such circumstances, "That's not what I asked you." Or JFK. Or Gerald Ford!
"That's not what I asked you" is a sentence straight from cable TV, from which many Americans are acquiring an attitude toward public and even private presentation.
Interestingly, the line that led Noonan to fault Bush--"That's not what I asked you"--is conspicuously absent from Will's rendering of the exchange.