February 14, 2006

Imagine This Guy as Senator

Mackubin Thomas Owens, contributing editor for the National Review, and a professor at the Naval War College, writes about his friend, Jim Webb, who has just announced that he is running for the Democratic nomination for Senate in Virginia to oppose Republican Senator George Allen in November. Owens warns the Republicans that this guy is one serious contender.

Owens starts with a short history of how, in the 1980s, significant numbers of Democrats, unhappy with the leftward drift of their party, voted Republican and began a political shift that culminated in an "electoral lock" on the House and Senate in 1994. He lays the blame for the Democratic loss, in part, on what he calls "the central idea of the Democrats" wanting to "adjudicate the distribution of resources among competing claimants." He uses the recent Alito hearings to elaborate on the Democratic Party's weaknesses saying: "Democrats have eschewed rhetoric as a means of persuading the electorate, preferring instead to grandstand in an effort to appease the left-wing interest-groups that constitute the base of the Democratic party. The party's only hope for returning to power is to throw off the shackles imposed by Moveon.org, the Daily Kos, People for the American Way, NARAL, and the like."

He believes the candidacy of Jim Webb may be the beginning of this hope.

Owens lists Webb's credentials which are truly impressive:

-- a 1968 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy;
-- a Marine officer in Vietnam, wounded twice, and awarded the Navy Cross and the Silver Star;
-- attended Georgetown Law School and later served as counsel to the House Veterans Committee;
-- author of six novels, including Fields of Fire, arguably the best novel there is about Vietnam;
-- during the Reagan administration, served as an assistant secretary of Defense and secretary of the Navy.

In a fit of propagandistic hyperbole, Owens characterizes Webb as a guy who stood on the front lines defending Vietnam war veterans against those who did not serve in Vietnam, all of whom are painted, by Owens, as slanderers who denigrated the veterans as dopeheads, baby-killers, and war criminals. Owens is perplexed that Webb would choose the Democratic Party as his affiliation since these slanders were most at home there.

His answer is, in part, because of the Iraq war. He believes Webb is angry at the Bush administration for its disregard for military service and its attacks on John Murtha. Owens also believes Webb is running as a Democrat because he believes the Iraq war has weakened us in the long run in our conflict with China.

He quotes a piece Webb wrote in the New York Times in January:

[I]n recent years extremist Republican operatives have inverted a longstanding principle: that our combat veterans be accorded a place of honor in political circles. This trend began with the ugly insinuations leveled at Senator John McCain during the 2000 Republican primaries and continued with the slurs against Senators Max Cleland and John Kerry, and now Mr. Murtha. The political tactic of playing up the soldiers on the battlefield while tearing down the reputations of veterans who oppose them could eventually cost the Republicans dearly. It may be one reason that a preponderance of the Iraq war veterans who have thus far decided to run for office are doing so as Democrats.

Owens basically portrays Webb as a tough guy who won't take any crap from anyone, Democratic or Republican. He quotes Webb after he resigned as secretary of the Navy in 1988 after clashes with Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci: "It's no secret that I'm not a person who wears a bridle well."

Owens worries that Webb is a harbinger of things to come. He worries about losing the Scots-Irish back to the Democrats. He cites Webb's 2005 book, Born Fighting. Webb wrote in his book:

[The Scots-Irish shape our culture] more in the abstract power of emotion than through the argumentative force of law. In their insistent individualism they are not likely to put an ethnic label on themselves when they debate societal issues. Some of them don't even know their ethnic label, and some who do know don't particularly care. They don't go for group-identity politics any more than they like to join a union. Two hundred years ago the mountains built a fierce and uncomplaining self-reliance into an already hardened people. To them, joining a group and putting themselves at the mercy of someone else's collectivist judgment makes about as much sense as letting the government take their guns. And nobody is going to get their guns.

Owens maintains that these are "red state" voters who are "family-oriented, take morality seriously, go to church, join the military, and listen to country music. They strongly believe that no man is obligated to obey the edicts of a government that violates his moral conscience. They once formed the bedrock of the Democratic party — from Andrew Jackson until Vietnam — but have been moving to the GOP ever since"

Owens ends on this note:

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Webb called the Scots-Irish in America the "the secret GOP weapon."

But the Republicans cannot take this group for granted. Commenting on a statement that Howard Dean made during the Democratic primaries, Charles Krauthammer opined that Dean was campaigning for the "white trash vote" by pandering to the "rebel-yelling racist redneck."
In the Wall Street Journal, Webb called this "the most vicious ethnic slur of the presidential campaign," noting dryly that Krauthammer "has never complained about this ethnic group when it has marched off to fight the wars he wishes upon us." Jim and I disagree on a number of topics — the Iraq war being an obvious instance — but the Republicans can't afford to lose such people.


After I read Owens' piece, I decided to visit the Webb for Senate website. I was not prepared at all for what I found there. In fact, I was ready for some kind of Republican in sheep's clothing. Apparently, Mackubin Thomas Owens has not read Jim Webb's website.

Here are the four major things Webb says he is going to concentrate on during his campaign:

1. Refocusing America's foreign and defense policies in a way that truly protects our national interests and seeks harmony where they are not threatened;

2. Repairing the country's basic infrastructure, which has eroded badly over the past decade, and developing more creative ways to assist disaster-stricken areas such as those in New Orleans and along the Gulf coast;

3. Reinstituting notions of true fairness in American society, including issues of race, class, and economic advantage; and

4. Restoring the Constitutional role of the Congress as an equal partner, reining in the unbridled power of the Presidency.

All four of these sound remarkably like the kinds of issues MoveOn.Org focuses on. I read about these issues all the time on progressive and liberal blogs, and on websites like AlterNet, CommonDreams, Buzzflash, People for the American Way, Common Cause, and others.

When was the last time you heard a Republican talk about "race, class, and economic advantage"? How about a Democrat? Race? Didn't we take care of that in the 1960s? We have a classless society, don't we? Economic advantage? What the hell is that? "Reining in the unbridled power of the Presidency?" Who does this guy think he is, the ACLU?

And most astonishingly, he seems to believe that we Americans can do alot better by fighting the real war against terror while we seek (oh my god, I can't believe he actually used the word) "harmony" where our national interests are not threatened.

His website actually uses the word ethnography and he quotes Tom Wolfe.

Here is how his website sums him up, and how I will conclude:

Imagine a Senator who has made a point never to take money for lobbying the government, and who has declined to sit on corporate boards, other than in a pro bono status for non-profit enterprises. Someone who has given thousands of hours pro bono on behalf of America's veterans and those Vietnamese who fled their homeland after the Communist takeover in 1975. Indeed, imagine a Senator who writes his own books.


enigma4ever said...

Imagine....such a senator...I am in shock...a real breathing real person...I may never ever be the same...
thank you for that post....

Dicky Neely said...

I have real doubts about Jim Webb. My recollections of his tenure as Navy Secretary is of a right wing zealot, cold warrior who pushed hard for WWII battleships, Iowa class, to be refurbished at a cost of many billions each, only to be mothballed a few years later.
He also pushed for a "400 ship" navy and accomplished this, even though the actual need was dubious and has since been far reduced. He also pushed and got two main carrier battle groups, a new missle attack sub and a host of expensive weapons systems, all of which have been scaled back. His efforts, along with the ill fated Star Wars programs help create the massive Reagan era defiit and began the decline of working class wages and the growing class disparities which only continue to worsen.
I am not ready ro embrace him.
He was higly partisan then, as a Republican right winger.

Stephen McArthur said...

I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt. You can't talk about all the things he does on his website, commit to campaign on those issues, and then turn around and be a DOD spendthrift.

Besides, Navy Secretary's are inclined to work for a bigger Navy. It's their job.

But people change, too.

In 1966, when I was in college, I once positively contemplated dropping a small nuke in Haiphong harbor to help end the Vietnam war. That doesn't mean I am a wild-eyed jingoist now. Based on what this guy is campaigning on, I would certainly rather have him than George Allen.

But I understand your concerns about his history.

Dicky Neely said...

Well, in 1968 I joined the Marines with a buddy, on the buddy system.
Turns out I was tunrned down because I couldn't salute! I had an injury in the eighth grade that screwed up my right hand a bit, I didn't think that was enough to cause this though!
So my buddy went to Vietnam and I didn't. So frankly, I feel fortunate!

Daedalus said...

I was not prepared at all for what I found there. In fact, I was ready for some kind of Republican in sheep's clothing.

You know, this statement perfectly demonstrates how "left-wing special interests" like kos and Moveon are not as fringe as the myth says. I like to use Dean's term and call it the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. The right has succeeded in labelling this faction of the Dems as virtually Communist, which makes absolutely no sense to me, seeing as how no one is advocating the abolition of private property. They can't tell the difference between wanting to end corporate abuse of capitalism and despising capitalism itself.

The problem with the Democratic Party now is that the leadership has succumbed to this same mentality. We are not the fringe. We are the new generation of Democrats who actually believe in the principles of the Democratic, and we are much more mainstream than than the corporate controlled DLC believes.

People did not vote Republican because they believe everything that party stands for (anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-peace, etc.) The gops keep winning because people don't know what the Dems stand for, as the leadership stands for whatever is trendy at the time.

All my opinion, of course. What do you think?

Daedalus said...

Sorry, one other thing. By saying your statement demonstrates the myth, I meant that Owen's view of Webb as an old school Dem is the same as what his "fringe" Dems are in reality makes the fringe not so fringe. Make sense? (It's late.)

enigma4ever said...

I read this and I came back and read it again..maybe it is like Murtha- some of the older Military over in such a furious state at what this Regime has done to this country- I had a long talk with my doorman last night about this - he was a Marine- and he said nothing makes him madder than seeing an injured limping vet scrounging for a meal and sleeping on a bench- "It Ain't right "....

( in the 06 there are I think 9 or 10 VETS running?)

Stephen McArthur said...

Daedalus. You make a very good point. It is like the word "liberal." The Gops have taken that away and made it into a curse word. I use the word liberal proudly because it is the entire basis of liberty, of freedom, of what theis country really stands for. Without liberals and liberal thinking we stagnate, never change, and ossify into something only greed and authoritarianism can love.

The "old guard" of the DNC and the DLC are desparately holding on to outdated concepts, watering down any kind of possible convincing argument, shortcutting any appeal a Democratic Party image might offer the American people. They invite denigration and dismissal by the Republicans and it sticks.

Oddly, they need to take a lesson from the evangelicals who just announced their opposition to government policies (Bush policies, to boot) which fly in the face of good stewardship of our earth. And what's more revealing, is that they have made the leap from the enviroment and its ill-effects on the poor all over the world. Now that is a dramatic shift for a significant segment of the evangelical world that has remained silent. The delusional right will now be thinking about and talking about these people as if they are liberals. I don't think they will stand for it. The Democrats need to learn from this kind of brave stance.