October 28, 2006


Tangled Webb: Cognitive dissonance in Virginia (Andrew Ferguson, 11/06/2006, Weekly Standard)

The culture so dramatically symbolized by the Southern redneck [is] the greatest inhibitor of the plans of the activist Left and the cultural Marxists for a new kind of society altogether.

From the perspective of the activist Left, [rednecks] are the greatest obstacles to what might be called the collectivist taming of America, symbolized by the edicts of political correctness. And for the last fifty years the Left has been doing everything in its power to sue them, legislate against their interests, mock them in the media, isolate them as idiosyncratic, and publicly humiliate their traditions in order to make them, at best, irrelevant to America's future growth.

--from Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America,
by James Webb (2004)

Yowie. We don't often hear rude talk like that up here in Arlington, Virginia, straight across the river from Washington, D.C. Here the leafy, winding streets are lined with Priuses and Volvos and the bumper stickers say "Visualize World Peace" and "Goddess Power." We especially don't hear such rude talk during Sunday afternoon house parties like the one Pat Langley hosted two weeks ago. Mrs. Langley is a Democratic party activist in this most liberal of suburbs in this most conservative of states. She'd invited friends, fellow activists, and neighbors over for punch and coffee and finger food. She wanted them to watch a campaign video and listen to a conference call over a speaker phone, and then give as much money as they could to her favorite candidate, James Webb.

That's the same James Webb--the staunch defender of the right to bear arms who's warned his countrymen about collectivist taming by the Left, its war on salt-of-the-earth "Joe Sixpack" through such programs as affirmative action, also known (to Webb, among others) as "state-sponsored racism." The same Jim Webb whose war novels bristle with contempt for the professional liberals, mollycoddlers, and antimilitary cultural Marxists who constitute society's decadent elite and who have made their home in the Democratic party ever since their treacherous betrayal of our fighting men in Vietnam.

Something's not right with this picture, obviously, but then so many pictures seem out of whack this election year, and nowhere more so than in Virginia. Here George Allen--former governor, favorite of the conservative movement, and one-term Republican senator of no particular distinction--is being challenged by the most sophisticated right-wing reactionary to run on a Democratic ticket since Grover Cleveland.

It turned out that not many people at Mrs. Langley's knew much about Webb. As committed activists, they were just happy he's a Democrat who's been running even in the polls with Allen and has a fair chance at an upset. [...]

Webb's views of immigration, like many of his positions on questions of domestic policy, are unformed. It's not hard to imagine where his populism and ethnic allegiance would lead him, though. One thing that all economists agree on--those who favor the present influx of immigrants and those who don't--is that mass immigration lowers the wages of unskilled, uneducated native-born workers; "my people," as Webb calls them. A quick way to raise those wages would be to cut off the future flow of unskilled immigration. Yet this step toward "economic fairness" is not available to a Democratic candidate these days (or to many Republicans either).

In a brief and uncomfortable stump speech, Webb told the Hispanic crowd that he was against a guest-worker program. "We must first define our borders," he said. "And then we must ensure corporate responsibility, because a lot of this is going to come down to the employers."

The crowd seemed puzzled. Later reporters asked Webb to clarify his position. With Tejada next to him, he said he favored some path to legalization and citizenship for the illegals already here. Tejada nodded solemnly. But what about the future? a reporter asked. Would Webb favor tough economic sanctions against businesses that employ illegals, as a way of drying up the tide of immigrants?

"Yes," Webb said, "there needs to be corporate enforcement. We've had no corporate enforcement for six years! There's got to be employer sanctions, otherwise you're going to keep wages down. We have got to get a handle on this."

Tejada glanced at the ceiling. Punishing employers who hire illegals is not, needless to say, part of the game plan for the community, or for Arlington Democrats.

After Webb was gone, I asked Tejada about this. "Does Webb really want to punish employers who hire members of the community?"

"The devil is in the details," Tejada said. "Jim is a very complex thinker. We as a country need to have a long debate about these things."

"But wouldn't punishing employers reduce the opportunities for workers coming across the border?" I said.

"We will continue to work with Jim on this," Tejada said. "We will consult with him, advise him going forward. Educate him."

Let's assume he's not going to ask for a seat next to Senator Obama.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 28, 2006 2:49 PM

I particularly enjoyed seeing someone named "Andrew Ferguson" taking on Jim Webb's Scotch-Irish ethnic grievance mongering.

For the record, I do know who Andrew Ferguson is. He has written yet another fantastic essay.

Posted by: James Haney at October 28, 2006 3:07 PM

I loved his description of the 2004 Democratic National Convention: in which desperate Democrats nominated an undistinguished career politician for no other reason than that he was a decorated war hero and then launched his campaign with ceremonies so martial they might have been borrowed from a Latin American coup: phalanxes of saluting veterans, crisscrossing color guards, brass bands pumping Sousa tunes--everything short of a firing squad to liquidate the opposition.

Posted by: Mike Morley at October 28, 2006 3:13 PM

A seat next to Obama??? He's not going to have the opportunity after Nov. 7 - unless they're boarding the same flight.

Posted by: obc at October 28, 2006 3:31 PM

I think Webb will probably win even if Steele and Corker pull it out and the Republicans keep the Senate.

Allen is running an awful campaign. He seems to be trying to win on a theme that Webb is disrespectful towards women. However, in doing so, he is attacking Webb for his initial skepticism regarding women in the military. Skepticism that many retired and active duty folks in the state shared with Webb. The whole discussion leads to Webb's well regarded military service and participation in the Reagan administration.

I live in Arlington, btw. Ferguson nails it. None of these people have anything in common with Webb circa 2005. However, Tejada is correct to believe that Webb has proven himself quite malleable. I think he'll be a reliable lefty vote by the time the next congress neds, though maybe he'll be ok on judges.

Posted by: JAB at October 28, 2006 5:06 PM

I nominate Webb as "most likely to grow in office", should he be elected.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 28, 2006 5:10 PM


He's much more likely to go all John East.

Posted by: oj at October 28, 2006 5:17 PM

Heck, we're Scottish, but we've known Webb was a cretin since he back-stabbed Reagan in a snit fit.

Posted by: oj at October 28, 2006 5:27 PM

There is nothing wrong with the Democrat Party getting pushed to the right. It's keeps the other party from sliding to the left.

The discussion of the immigration issue illustrates this. As the article points out, there is really no question that the "open borders" approach depresses the price of un- or low-skilled labor. Nor should there be any question that the solution to the illegal immigration problem is to reduce the demand for illegal labor by increasing its cost. The way to increase the cost of illegal labor is to impose penalties on the employers of illegal labor.

Because not every criminal is caught, the penalties on those who are caught must be high enough to deter those who are not. We should hardly deter bank robbery if the penalty for getting caught could be borne as a cost of doing business. So too, if we really wanted to deter employment of illegal labor, the penalties must be so severe as to make it not worth the risk.

Returning to the article, the wetback question, being a coalition-buster for both parties, is an occasion for profound hypocracy on the part of both parties. Candidate Webb is put forth as a stealth Democrat, who talks a conservative line but is to be "educated" back to the party line once he might be elected. Republicans can talk about building fences, but never about moving the demand curve.

Posted by: Lou Gots at October 29, 2006 6:01 AM


Racism oughtn't be the Right, it's Darwinist and naturally Left.

Posted by: oj at October 29, 2006 8:54 AM