Saturday, December 2, 2006

The End Of Civility?

One of the great Washington traditions is for sitting presidents to invite newly elected members of Congress to the White House. Yesterday, the Washington Post reported on one incoming senator’s behavior at this year’s event. According to the Post, Virginia Democrat James Webb declined to stand in a receiving line to meet President Bush and then refused to shake the president’s hand or have his picture taken with him. Later on at the event, Bush approached Webb to inquire about Webb’s son, who is serving in Iraq. Here is the exchange that ensued:

“How’s your boy?” Bush asked.

“I’d like to get them [sic] out of Iraq, Mr. President,” Webb tersely responded.

“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.

Webb later revealed that he felt like punching the president in the nose.

Predictably, and in spite of his rudeness, the Washington Post painted Webb in a favorable light, portraying him as a maverick who “won’t be a wallflower”. The Post also quoted prominent Democrats who praised Webb as a man with “deep convictions” (as if there were any other kind) who “won’t be a backslapper.” But, can you imagine how the Post would have treated a newly elected Republican senator if this were 1994 and President Bill Clinton had just been rebuffed and threatened? We surely would have seen story after story about the “hateful, mean-spirited Republicans.”

The American people expect—and desire—that their elected officials have strong opinions on matters of war and peace. But they also expect a certain level of respect for the presidency and, as George Will points out in his column today, “towards 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.”

The Democrats ascended to power on Election Day by promising to restore civility to Washington politics. Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi had lunch with the president, and top congressional Democrats went out of their way to be perceived as promoting a new era of bi-partisanship. If respect and decorum have indeed made their way to the top of the Democrats’ agenda, it’s clear at least one in-coming senator didn’t get the memo.

(Gary Bauer; End- of-Day; Nov. 30, 2006)