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.Webb, Will whispers, said that the rich are "literally living in a different country." The loathsome "literally" lapse!
I haven't read Webb's books, so I'm in no position to say whether they are written in such excellent style, and I don't know whether the language Webb wields in his new senatorial guise is all that different from his novelist's approach. But I suspect that what we're seeing is not a man who has instantly succumbed to Washington's ways but a man with a novelist's mentality in a new setting. One way to explain his awkward behavior with respect to the presidential receiving line is that he thought through that scene like a novelist. If you were writing a novel about a character like him going through a receiving line with a President like Bush, wouldn't that be exactly the sort of scene you'd want to think up?
Ordinarily, in all sorts of social and political situations, people try to figure out how other people usually act and to stick to the convention and proceed smoothly along. This is nice enough, but rather boring. In a novel, a conventional social situation tends to be a set up for our hero to do something that shakes things up. The ordinary characters are aghast. They condemn the bad behavior of the protaganist, and we readers, in our armchairs, know how right he is. Of course, a novelist who concocts scenes like that is himself utterly conventional.
I don't think Webb has quickly picked up the Washington style. I think he's got the novelist's style, and he's his own hero Senator in a novel about Washington. And, what immense fun this is going to be! It looks like a great read:
Democrat James Webb declined to stand in a presidential receiving line or to have his picture taken with the man he had often criticized on the stump this fall. But it wasn't long before Bush found him.I can't put it down.
"How's your boy?" Bush asked, referring to Webb's son, a Marine serving in Iraq.
"I'd like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President," Webb responded, echoing a campaign theme.
"That's not what I asked you," Bush said. "How's your boy?"
"That's between me and my boy, Mr. President," Webb said coldly, ending the conversation on the State Floor of the East Wing of the White House.