The Jim Webb I Met
The columnist George Will, who would probably stand out for prissy pomposity at a nudist colony, with or without his bow tie, is not, shall we say, crippled by a sense of irony about himself. He has accused Virginias senator-elect, Jim Webb, of being a pompous poseur and an abuser of the English language, as well as a boor.
Will points out that Webb has used the word literally when he meant figuratively. True, and certainly deplorable; but Wills own habitual confusion of the auxiliary verbs may and might would have provoked Samuel Johnson to give him a good bitch-slap, if I know Dr. Johnson.
And, in one incoherent cheap shot worthy of a first-year philosophy student after a couple of Budweisers, Will recently charged Thomas Aquinas with intellectual hijacking for the crime of quoting Aristotle. He might as well have accused Aquinas of copyright violation or identity theft. I guess nobody had explained to Will that medieval Christian thinkers often turned to ancient pagan philosophers in their attempts to formulate the presuppositions of Christian doctrine, as
So how did Webb get under Wills skin? Well, Webb is a boor, it seems, because he was slightly rude to President Bush at a recent White House reception. This moved Will, his sense of irony failing him yet again, to complain about people who are insufferably full of themselves. Well, Webb considers it boorish to invade countries without justification, an act for which Will has never faulted Bushs manners, just as he has never singled out Bush, despite many opportunities, as an egregious abuser of the English language. In fact, methinks Will would like his readers to forget that he himself originally favored war on Iraq, back when he was hard to distinguish from the neoconservative hawks from whom he is now eager to distinguish himself.
Will has another good point, however, when he faults Webb for finding todays America insufficiently egalitarian. A country where George W. Bush can graduate from an Ivy League university has surely taken equality plenty far enough. Even nudist colonies have lowered their admissions standards, I suspect, but this is a question I leave for another day. Right now it would take us too far afield.
Webb got elected because, whatever his offenses against the English language, he opposed Bushs war and, unlike his opponent, avoided outraging the macaca community. I had lunch with him once, about 15 years ago, when we both opposed the senior Bushs Iraq war, and I liked him enormously. I especially remember his candid remarks about Colin (Powell), perceptive, respectful, almost affectionate, but without illusion. Everything Ive learned about Powell since has confirmed them. And, incidentally, confirmed my respect for Jim Webb.
Webb was a real conservative who didnt follow any party line. Now that he is a Democrat, he may have made some regrettable compromises, but he remains a real maverick, a breed Washington is in no imminent danger of being overrun by.
In Washington, everyone covets the reputation of being a maverick, precisely because the genuine article is so rare. George Will thinks of himself as a maverick, though it is hard to imagine him taking any position that might jeopardize his hard-won status among our Olympian talking heads. Naturally, honest mavericks like Webb shame and annoy him by refusing to play it safe by playing ball with the powers that be. I only hope Webb will have the strength to remain a free spirit under all the capitals pressures to conform.
Washington is not a city to which martyrs flock in large numbers, and even most of the pundits are politicians at heart. But there are honorable exceptions, such as Mark Shields. Though we arent chums, I have known Shields for many years and observed him closely; and though he is discreet about sensitive topics (a man must live, after all), I cant imagine him saying anything pompous, hypocritical, or insincere.
Regardless of our differences, I would trust Shields or Webb to be honest if my life were at stake. What more can you ask of a man in this town?
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