George Will, if you're going to attack Senator-elect Jim Webb of being "a pompous poseur and an abuser of the English language," study the English language yourself.
Let's take on the easiest criticism first -- that of Webb's alleged imprecise use of the English language. Will says:"The most important -- and unfortunately the least debated -- issue in politics today is our society's steady drift toward a class-based system, the likes of which we have not seen since the 19th century. America's top tier has grown infinitely richer and more removed over the past 25 years. It is not unfair to say that they are literally living in a different country."
In his novels and his political commentary, Webb has been a writer of genuine distinction, using language with care and precision. But just days after winning an election, he was turning out slapdash prose that would be rejected by a reasonably demanding high school teacher.
Never mind Webb's careless and absurd assertion that the nation's incessantly discussed wealth gap is "the least debated" issue in American politics.
And never mind his use of the word "literally," although even with private schools and a large share of the nation's wealth, the "top tier" -- whatever cohort he intends to denote by that phrase; he is suddenly too inflamed by social injustice to tarry over the task of defining his terms -- does not "literally" live in another country.Dictionary.com defines the word "literally"
thus:1. in the literal or strict sense: What does the word mean literally?
2. in a literal manner; word for word: to translate literally.
3. actually; without exaggeration or inaccuracy: The city was literally destroyed.
4. in effect; in substance; very nearly; virtually.
I think it's clear that definition #4 fits Webb's context very neatly. Does anyone not actually a member of the "top-tier" (and I think it's reasonable to count George Will among that class) really doubt that the wealthiest and best-connected of American society inhabit, IN EFFECT, a very different America, with a privileged experience unlike that of the rest of us?
As to whether "our society's steady drift toward a class-based system, the likes of which we have not seen since the 19th century" is "the least debated -- issue in politics today," is a "careless and absurd" assertion, as Will characterizes it, where's the proof that it's not? It's an ASSERTION. Again, let's resort to the dictionary:1. a positive statement or declaration, often without support or reason: a mere assertion; an unwarranted assertion.
2. an act of asserting.
[Origin: 1375–1425; late ME assercion < L assertiōn- (s. of assertiō). See assert, -ion]
—Synonyms 1. claim, contention, allegation.
Now let's take Will's third charge of misuse of language.But notice, in the second sentence of Webb's column, the word "infinitely." Earth to Webb: Words have meanings that not even senators can alter.
notes:Main Entry: greatly
Part of Speech: adverb
Synonyms: abundantly, by much, conspicuously, eminently, emphatically, enormously, exceedingly, exceptionally, extremely, famously, glaringly, highly, hugely, immeasurably, immensely, incalculably, incomparably, incredibly, indeed, infinitely, inimitably, intensely, largely, markedly, mightily, most, much, notably, powerfully, remarkably, strikingly, superlatively, supremely, surpassingly, tremendously, vastly, very, very much
Antonyms: not at all, slightly
That takes care of the "imprecise language" charge, I think.
Now let's take a look at Webb's "absurd assertion": "America's top tier has grown infinitely richer and more removed over the past 25 years."The Economist
appears to give some support to Webb's allegation. Note this chart:
Jim Webb appears to best George Will on all counts, no?
Now finally, a word about the "incivility" of Webb's encounter with the pResident.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 told The Post:
"I'm not particularly interested in having a picture of me and George W. Bush on my wall. No offense to the institution of the presidency, and I'm certainly looking forward to working with him and his administration. [But] leaders do some symbolic things to try to convey who they are and what the message is."
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.
What, precisely, has George W. Bush done to earn the respect of Jim Webb? Be president? Shades of the imperial presidency! Holy smoke, Webb didn't flip the man off, he merely declined to have his picture taken with him and reserved the right to discuss his son, a Marine serving in Iraq, with someone he believes honestly has that son's welfare at heart. I'm impressed with Webb, who refused to pose for a photo op with the pResident and thereby avoided any possibility that such a photo could be used to imply any endorsement of his foreign policy.
As for Bush "ask[ing] a civil and caring question, as one parent to another," as Will characterizes it -- if I were a parent whose child was placed in extreme danger by the decisions of another parent, ESPECIALLY one whose own offspring were at the same time partying in Argentina in celebration of their 25th birthdays, and asked by that parent, "How's your son?" I think I would be hard put not to spit in his face, or at least ask, "Want to compare our kids' relative sacrifices?" I think Webb was restrained in his reaction. "Caring," George? I think the Senator-elect has concluded, as have the majority of Americans, that Dubya cares more about himself and his so-called "legacy" than he does about the tens of thousands of American sons and daughters who have been killed or maimed in the pResident's ill-fated adventure in Iraq.
Man, I love this guy! Webb rocks.
Tags: Jim Webb
, president Bush
, George Will