Jim Webb at a campaign rally in September 2006
Richmond, Virginia -- November 29, 2006
Senator-elect Jim Webb had a verbal run-in with President George W. Bush a couple of weeks ago and the predictable hyperbolic spin is underway. Republican bloggers are bragging that "Bush smacked Webb into place." Please.
What did happen is that Webb sent an important message: he's not ready to make nice.
Other current and former members of Congress have written about the pressure to conform when they first joined after being elected. Republican Joe Scarborough talked candidly about how charming he found Bill Clinton when he first joined Congress, and has talked about how surprised he was to find himself shaking hands and taking pictures with Clinton soon after the bitter mid-term elections of 1994.
Before the mid-term elections, President Bush struck an uncompromising pose, claiming through his spokeman that he had no plans for working with a Democratic Congress. Immediately following George Allen's concession speech, Bush began waving the banner of bipartisanship.
Webb isn't having any of it. George W. Bush now has an opponent in the Senate that won't get along or go along. In refusing to stand in a receiving line or have his picture taken, Webb is signalling that his term in the Senate will not be "business as usual." Webb was elected after campaigning specifically on his opposition to Bush's War in Iraq. Many Republicans criticized him for talking of nothing else. Why then the surprise when Webb came out swinging (rhetorically speaking, of course)?
Let's face it: Bush was foolish to approach Webb on the issue of the war. His gesture might have been well-meant, but it was certainly ill-advised. The war is an extremely emotional hot-button issue for Webb. What did Bush think Webb would do? Commiserate with Bush over his daughters' troubles during their party-fling in Argentina? Not exactly the same thing Mr. President, even if Argentineans are calling for the Bush twins to pull out of their country.
Political bloggers of all stripes should rejoice: Webb is not going to be boring to watch. I predict that he'll keep us all on our toes. You can read Michael Shear's latest take on the altercation here in The Washington Post.