There’s a been a little tempest in a teapot over an exchange between Senator-elect Jim Webb and the President last week. At a White House reception for new members of Congress, Bush asked Webb how his son was doing. Webb, whose son is serving in Iraq, responded, “I’d like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President.” Bush countered, “I didn’t ask you that. I asked how your boy was doing.”
The New York Times has interviewed several “etiquette experts” for its Week in Review section and asked their opinions about the exchange.
“I’m surprised and offended by Jim Webb,” said Stephen Hess, the author of “The Little Book of Campaign Etiquette” and a professor at George Washington University. “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? He was secretary of the Navy, for heaven’s sake!”
First, these are not ordinary people at a dinner party. These are politicians responsible for matters of life and death. And one of the two politicians is responsible for sending American troops to die in the middle of a pointless war.
Second, this is a democracy, not a monarch’s court. An American president is not a king. And a president who values “plain talk” certainly shouldn’t complain when someone dishes it out to him.
Third, Webb’s response wasn’t rude. He doesn’t appear to have used impolite or foul language. An incoming senator expressed an opinion to the President of the United States on a matter of public policy.
Judith Martin, who writes the syndicated column under the name Miss Manners, said that even discussions of war and life and death did not justify suspending the rules. “On the contrary, diplomacy is what’s supposed to stave off wars and other violence,” she said.
This isn’t diplomacy. This is two politicians from the same country.
On criticizing the president in his own house, [Letitia] Baldrige quotes the French: ça ne se fait pas — “it is not done.”
Bull. It’s not “his own house.” It’s the people’s house.
This is why I think etiquette rules are crap.