James Webb, who served in the Reagan Administration as secretary of the Navy and under-secretary of Defense, has announced his intent to run in the Democratic senate primary in Virginia. If Webb gets the nomination, he will be up against Sen. George Allen, who is presumed to be a 2008 GOP candidate for president.
Webb’s decision — prompted as much by his dissatisfaction with the Bush coterie’s below-the-belt attacks on veterans opposed to its war policies as by his opposition to the war itself — represents a huge, much-needed stroke of good fortune for the Democratic party nationally. If Webb wins, it will mean nothing less than the restoration of the two-party system in America.
For the past five years or so, the weird, conspiracy-nut rhetoric of many leading Democratic officials and its most out-front champions has forced a lot of serious people to embrace the execrable Bush at least part-way, as the one-eyed man in the land of the blind.
Bush policies on homeland security and fighting the jihad war have not been seriously challenged by any political leader who we can trust to share his Administration’s accurate understanding of the real peril we face. There is plenty of room for criticism of how Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the homeland security bureaucrats have managed every facet of this war. But the Republicans have lined up in lock step behind them, even “mavericks” like John McCain, with Karl Rove playing the enforcer.
There would seem to have been a huge opening for a centrist Democrat, but for the most part, Democrats seem to be living in a fantasy-land, in which they cannot even acknowledge that our country is at war without thinking they’re helping Bush politically. Whether it’s because of Bush-hatred, misguided political opportunism, or genuine ignorance, most leading Democrats don’t seem to get what it’s about, or what this country is being called upon to do to safeguard the targeted populations of the world. This lack of depth applies especially to our last two presidential candidates, John Kerry and Al Gore, and to the Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean.
I don’t throw a fit on this site every time one of those three says something idiotic or irresponsible — I don’t need to repeat what 1,000 other bloggers say — but I will say this: After his outrageous performance in Saudi Arabia this week, I am one Democrat who never needs to hear another word from former Vice President Gore on any subject. If there was a way to defrock him as a party member, or to strip off his party stripes, I would favor that. He sold out his country this week in Saudi Arabia. It was genuinely disgusting to read what he had to say.
There is no reason to fear James Webb will ever remind you of Gore, Dean or Kerry. He is a brave, brilliant, experienced leader and thinker in whose capable hands we could comfortably place the destiny of this nation. His disagreement with Bush about the strategic value of winning the war in Iraq is honorable and intellectually coherent; if he’s successful, it will prompt the kind of debate we really need during the next few years — and needed since 9/11.
Smart Republicans know that, politically, they’ve been leading a charmed life lately due only to Democratic cluelessness. The incoherence of the GOP on domestic issues, combined with the poor management of the war from the White House and Defese Department, has been unforgiveably forgiven — but I blame the Democrats for depriving us of real choice.
Not only does the GOP recognize that Webb is a real threat to their primacy, I think many of them are quietly rooting for his success. Check out what National Review Online Contributing Editor Mackubin Thomas Owens said today at the conservative website:
Republicans should worry. 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.
Jim will be a formidable candidate. I already know a number of Virginia Republicans who are inclined to vote for him because of what they (rightly) perceive as his sterling character. It will be interesting to see what happens if he wins (assuredly not a foregone conclusion, given Allen’s real strengths). Somehow I can’t see him hanging out with Teddy Kennedy, Barbara Boxer, Chuck Schumer, or John Kerry, whose hand Jim once refused to shake. And the idea of Harry Reid bending Jim to conform to his will makes me laugh. When Webb abruptly resigned as secretary of the Navy in 1988 after clashes with Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, he remarked to reporters, “It’s no secret that I’m not a person who wears a bridle well.”
This has been a miserable, rotten time in American politics — another “low, dishonest decade” to quote W.H. Auden’s line about the 1930s. However, this country has been fortunate many times when the right leader appeared at the right time, just when it seemed like we’d run out of luck. I’m hopeful that this pattern is about to repeat itself with the emergence of James Webb in the Democratic Party in 2006.