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Published: Saturday, 12/9/2006

Respect the office

JAMES Webb, a graduate of the Naval Academy, decorated Vietnam war veteran, former secretary of the Navy, acclaimed novelist, and senator-elect from Virginia, should know how to be an officer and a gentleman.

Apparently not. According to the Washington Post, the Democrat attended a recent White House reception where he went out of his way to avoid his host, President Bush, declining to stand in a receiving line or have his picture taken with the President. But Mr. Bush found him anyway.

According to the Post, Mr. Bush asked him, "How's your boy?" Mr. Webb's son is a Marine in Iraq.

"I'd like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President," Mr. Webb responded.

"That's not what I asked you, " Mr. Bush said. "How's your boy?"

"That's between me and my boy, Mr. President," Mr. Webb said, ending the conversation.

Plenty of people criticize George W. Bush and poke fun at him in public arenas - that's called democracy. But to meet a president, any president, and show cold contempt - that's called rudeness.

The discourtesy was compounded by the fact that Mr. Bush was asking a friendly question about the welfare of Mr. Webb's son, a fair and decent inquiry. It would have been better had the senator-elect not attended the reception than behave in such a manner.

Mr. Webb is a man of strong convictions and it's true that feelings about Iraq are running high. As Americans showed on Nov. 7, they want an end to the debacle there. But it is a fair bet that they also want an end to the political rancor that infects Washington, D.C. This was just more of the same.

Anyone with a military background should know that you salute the rank, not the man. While Mr. Webb was at a social function, and not on a parade ground, the same principle applied. In the future, we hope Mr. Webb's sense of duty and honor also include old-fashioned courtesy.

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