Jim Webb: Mr. Smith goes to Washington

The Thinker by Rodin

As regular readers know, I have been keeping my ears close to the ground these days. I still hear a political earthquake coming tomorrow. Of course, I could be wrong. I certainly was wrong calling the 2004 election. As I ponder political earthquakes closer to where I live in Northern Virginia, I hear another one coming: tomorrow Jim Webb, who was virtually unknown at the beginning of this year, will defeat George Allen in his bid for reelection to the U.S. Senate. Virginia will wake up Wednesday and find it has wisely chosen a person of substance over a man of image.

Recent polls have been saying this race is too close to call. Very recent polls give hope to both George Allen and challenger Jim Webb. I think Webb will win though because he is the real deal, whereas George Allen is just another George W. Bush clone.

Really, it is eerie how much George Allen imitates President Bush. Bush pretends to be a Texan, even though he is a New Englander. Allen pretends to be a Virginian, even though he is a Californian. Both go out of their ways to be perceived as Southerners. Both were governors of very red Southern states who touted dubious achievements in education. Bush claimed to have turned around the Texas public schools. Allen promoted the now institutionalized Virginia Standards of Learning. These tests, like those in Texas, have become so dumbed down that my senior age high school daughter informs me, “You have to be really stupid not to pass a SOL exam.” Both belong to mainstream Protestant denominations: United Methodist in Bush’s case, Presbyterian in Allen’s case. Both avoided serving in war but at least Bush served in the Texas Air National Guard. Perhaps the closest identification to Bush is seen in Allen’s votes. He voted for virtually whatever Bush promoted, including our failed war in Iraq. He was one of the last Republicans to stop insisting the way to win in Iraq was to stay the course.

Until a few months ago, many Republicans considered Allen to be a leading contender for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2008. No one thought Webb had a snowball’s chance in hell at defeating this popular ex-Governor and senator. You know what happened since then to bring Allen down, so I will not repeat these incidents. Suffice to say that George Allen was one of many Republicans who were not agile enough to respond to changing political winds. Moreover, he, like our president, was headstrong enough to think he could do things like put Confederate Flags and nooses in his office and it did not matter or speak to his true character.

For a politician like Allen, his worst nightmare is a challenger who seems tailored to expose all his personal deficiencies. Jim Webb seemed to come out of nowhere. He did not even start running for the Senate until February. A successful Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan, U.S. Naval Academy graduate and decorated marine, Webb was awarded the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts while a Marine platoon leader in Vietnam. A successful author of eight books, self-described Reagan Democrat and former follower of Ross Perot’s Reform Party, he was moved to become a Democrat and run against George Allen because Allen supported Bush’s disastrous war in Iraq. While not totally without his share of controversy, Webb comes across as a clear-eyed and sober patriot while Allen comes across as George W. Bush lite: handsome, giving the appearance of being a family values man, but headstrong and with obvious vindictive and prejudicial sides. His real constituency was white Protestant Republicans, and everyone knew it.

Webb is something of a political oddity. In many ways he is who I would be if I were to be a politician. Unfortunately, I could never begin to match his credentials. He is the genuine reluctant candidate, motivated by conviction rather than ego. Webb is a man who refuses to pick up the phone and schmooze donors for campaign contributions. He may be the last of his kind. In spite of this, he has pulled in impressive campaign contributions, including huge amounts of relatively small donations from the Netroots and from ordinary Joes like me.

I was one of the 3% or so of Virginia Democrats who voted in the primary. Despite Webb’s previously Republican leanings, I was enthusiastic about voting for Webb. He won that election narrowly, and he may well win tomorrow’s election narrowly too. This time though I expect we will see something close to record turnout for a midterm election. His election will send a powerful signal that genuine character matters again in politicians. Voters will reward honest accomplishments rather than empty rhetoric. Webb is authentic and genuine. He is perhaps the last of the Mr. Smiths to go to Washington. He will probably be the only politician in Congress who will not be influenced by special interests. It may doom him to a single term. Still, it will be a refreshing six-year term.

I expect big things from Jim Webb. Should he choose to seek even higher office some day, I think he will find an enthusiastic group of supporters from both sides of the political spectrum, as long as he remains true to his values. His campaign says he was born fighting. He has some huge fights ahead in the Senate on behalf of not just Virginians, but the vast majority of us disenfranchised Americans. Virginians: let us establish a beachhead for him by voting for Jim Webb tomorrow.

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