November 20, 2010


The Next Fight: A conservative Democrat reassesses the political battlefield. (Zev Chafets, November 19, 2010, Newsweek)

What Webb does in two years will certainly affect Virginia politics. How he positions himself in the meantime may have broader significance as well: Webb could serve as a model for 10 other Democratic senators who face reelection battles in states like Virginia, where unstinting support of the Obama agenda could be a recipe for early retirement.

Republicans also are gaming how conservative Democrats like Webb will figure into the new calculus. “The big buzz in D.C. is whether Obama tacks to the left to appease his base or moves toward the center to appeal to moderates,” says Republican strategist Mark McKinnon. “The reality is he doesn’t have a choice. Not if he wants to actually get anything done in the next two years. There is a bloc of 11 [Democratic] senators who will be up for reelection from conservative states, and they are likely to establish a formidable group that will block any progressive legislation that is high on the liberal agenda.”

Webb’s Veterans Day remarks were brief and unadorned by the grandiosity displayed by the average political orator on patriotic occasions. Then again, Webb is not an average politician. He grew up as a peripatetic Air Force brat, aced Annapolis, and led a rifle platoon, and later a company, in Vietnam. In a year of combat, he was wounded twice, received a silver star, two bronze stars and the Navy Cross, a decoration second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor. There were brave men in the tent on Veterans Day that morning, but none—not even the rear admiral who preceded Webb on the dais—had a better war record. It gave him the authority to end his talk with a plea to the audience to remember that some of the Vietnamese refugees in Virginia also fought on the American side and deserve acknowledgment (Webb is married to a Vietnamese woman and speaks the language). “I’ve never heard a politician say something like that,” an American-born Vietnamese journalist covering the event told me.

After the final benediction, Webb spent some time shaking hands. He is a notoriously bad campaigner, impatient and reticent, but here he was in his element. I found myself standing next to a thin man named Steve who had an I SERVED: VIETNAM badge pinned to his V-neck sweater. Together we watched the senator work the tent. “What do you think of him?” I asked.

“Jim Webb is something else,” he replied.

“You think he’s going to run again?”

“Don’t know,” Steve said and paused for a moment. “Here’s the thing. I love Webb, but I vote Republican. And I think most of the guys here do, too.”

If Webb weren’t a Democratic senator, he might vote Republican himself. a congressional GOP that doesn't even pretend to care about coloreds. But he'll hate the presidential nominee.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at November 20, 2010 9:12 AM
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