Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Webb of Intrigue

If there's a "must-read" article out right now, it's Mackubin Thomas Owens' piece on Jim Webb and the VA Senate race.

Owens is a rock-solid Republican, strong supporter of the Iraq War and regular contributor to National Review Online. However, he is also a good friend of former Secretary of the Navy James Webb (under Ronald Reagan), who's decided to challenge incumbent Sen. George Allen -- as a Democrat.

Webb announced last week that he is seeking the Democratic nomination.
Owens suggests that some of the hardball tactics used on behalf of George W. Bush in both the 2000 and 2004 campaigns (where, to win the presidency, he had to steamroll over a decorated Vietnam War veteran) may be creating some domestic blowback:

Why does a man who served in the Reagan administration now embrace the very party that, since Vietnam, has denigrated the martial virtues he epitomizes? Part of it is his opposition to the war in Iraq. Webb is no knee-jerk Bush hater, and his opposition to the Iraq war is based on strategic considerations -- he is concerned that by committing such a large force there for an extended period of time we have weakened ourselves in the long run against a rising China.

More to the point, though, is his growing anger at the Bush administration for what he sees as a McNamara-like disregard for military advice, and even worse, a tendency on the part of too many Republicans and conservatives who did not serve in the military to attack the service of veterans like Jack Murtha who oppose the war. Webb's New York Times op-ed of January 18, 'Purple Heartbreakers,' was a clear harbinger of his break with the Republican party. There he wrote:

"[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.

Both Jim and I have taken Kerry to task for what he said after the war (readers of National Review and NRO may have noticed that I wrote some 14 articles on Kerry's antics after the war), but both of us were troubled by the attack on his service. I cringed during the Republican convention in 2004 when some genius came up with the idea of mocking John Kerry by circulating band-aids in the shape of Purple Hearts. This seemed to me to be a real case of tonedeafness.
Indeed, one could almost argue that Owens' article is a preemptive strike against the possibility of "Swift Boating" Webb, with its extended encomia to his military service:

Webb is an impressive man. He is a 1968 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. As a Marine officer in Vietnam, he led an infantry platoon and company, was wounded twice, and was awarded the Navy Cross (second only to the Medal of Honor as a recognition of valor) and the Silver Star. After he was medically retired from the Marine Corps, he attended Georgetown Law School and later served as counsel to the House Veterans Committee. He is the author of six novels, including Fields of Fire, the best novel there is about Vietnam. During the Reagan administration, he served as an assistant secretary of Defense and secretary of the Navy. Combine his virtues with the fact that Virginia is one of the few states where a conservative Democrat might win, and, if Webb prevails in the Democratic primary, Senator Allen is likely to be in for the fight of his life.
There's already one announced candidate in the Senate field, but Webb would almost immediately draw money on the Democratic side. He would never be the darling of the Daily Kos folks. However, Democrats have had an acute skill this election season for getting behind candidates who can win in certain districts and state. Robert Casey in Pennsylvania would be a perfect example of that.

Could Jim Webb be the next?

I asked a Virginia Republican how a possible Allen-Webb scenario might play out:

I think Webb is a serious threat to Allen starting from the Norfolk area and moving west, right into the heart of Allen's heartland. When Webb was in the Pentagon he was the lead prophet touting the ambitious 1,000 ship Navy during the ideologue Weinberger days.
That is music to the ears of those in Norfolk (not to mention naval bases from the Norfolk to Galveston Bay -- all Red States, mind you -- so key to a certain lock). Webb will run against Rumsfeld's Pentagon budget, Rumsfeld's "transformation"/ downsizing and base closings, which Allen will not be able to defend.
Webb will play up the threat of China and the necessary need to beef up Naval operations which means jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs to northern Virginia (Pentagon) and Norfolk. Naval families will see a new savior in Webb and will put Virginia's other Senator John Warner, a former naval man and former Sec. of Navy -- like Webb in a tough position.

It will be interesting to see if Webb can overcome the local Democrat organiztion who want a liberal. However; seeing how Lynn Swann took over the state party in Pennsylvania, I'll bet Webb can do so in Virginia. Imagine if Allen and Santorum both lose this fall. The Far Right will be squealing like a stuck pig on the set of "Deliverance," and George Bush will be blamed. The Far Right will be left with Brownback (or Condi Rice) for 2008. If Webb wins, he will be a national Dem star and a serious VP candidate for any Democrat challenger -- especially a northern candidate with no military experience.
Keep in mind, of course that military types -- especially in recent memory -- have a spotty record in their first political campaigns (Oliver North, Wesley Clark, to name a couple). Still, Webb can't be completely underestimated.

More later.

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