Saying Goodbye to Senator Jim Webb: An Unusual Democrat


The Washington Post  describes Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) as a “poet-warrior,” and today he announced his retirement. The Senator was confronted with dismal poll results, a demoralized party, the opposition of organized labor and high negative ratings.

He was a liberal heart throb in 2006, but the national left wing money he received back then was unlikely to reappear in 2012.  The Senator raised little money for a re-election campaign, and had been keeping a low profile. The last time he narrowly defeated incumbent Senator George Allen (R) who has already announed a comeback.

Webb’s 2006 slogan was “born fighting,” and soon after the election he wrote a book entitled A Time to Fight. He is a Vietnam veteran who served as Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy. He switched parties to challenge Allen, and the focal point of his campaign was his strong opposition to the Iraq War. Throughout the campaign he wore the combat boots of his son who was then serving as a Marine in Iraq.

On election night he won a 900 vote victory and for the first time took off the boots. He held them over his head in front of cheering supporters. Webb then accepted President George W. Bush’s invitation to a White House reception in honor of new Members of Congress.  The President greeted the new Senator by saying, “How’s your boy?”

“I’d like to get them out of Iraq,” Webb responded. “That’s not what I asked you,” Bush said, “How’s your boy?” Webb broke off the conversation by saying, “That’s between me and my boy.”

In 2006, Webb claimed the Iraq war could never be won, and spoke favorably of splitting the nation into three sections. Webb’s anti-Iraq War rhetoric continued on Capitol Hill, but he toned down his comments when the surge succeeded. Webb said Sunni Iraqi Arabs would never fight alongside Americans to defeat al-Qaeda, but that is exactly what happened. Webb’s plan to dismember the nation would have been a disaster.

The Senator does deserve credit for voting in favor of every military appropriations bill. As the Daily Kos has noted, the liberal donors who vigorously embraced him last time were unlikely to return.

Now President Obama has endorsed all of Bush’s war on terror policies, and Webb has moved significantly to the right. Webb says his party should not be rejecting Reagan Democrats.

The Senator also believes Democrats were rejected in large part in 2010 because of ObamaCare. His comments are welcome, but he voted for it and never participated in any effort which would have led to a compromise.

He did not join the Wyden-Bennett discussions because he was afraid of the backlash. The Senator deserves credit for taking a lead role in favor of extending all the Bush tax cuts, and the Obama administration finally took his advice.

Webb’s greatest moment was union card check, but it also doomed his re-election. Democrats had a supermajority in 2009 and the GOP filibuster appeared to have failed.

The only reason we were able to stop the legislation was because of Webb and Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA). Specter had been in favor of card check, against it, and then in 2010 he once again supported it.

It no longer mattered because the election of Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) changed everything. George Allen must now be considered the frontrunner, but he could be damaged by a divise GOP primary. The Republican website Red State has already come out against him, and his principle opponent has been successful in raising money.

While Republicans are battling each other I hope they will remember why Webb won in 2006, and why Obama easily carried Virginia in 2008. They were successful with independent voters.

Obama received 53%, but since then the state has elected a Republican Governor and three new GOP Congressmen. Virginia and Florida will be top Democratic battleground states in 2012. Obama has to focus on these states because it is highly doubtful he will once again be able to carry Indiana, North Carolina and Ohio.

Former Gov. Tim Kaine (D-VA) is now Chairman of the Democratic National Committee and has emphasized the importance of Virginia to the Obama campaign.

Jim Webb was definitely our opponent, but today it is best to remember his good points. They were reflected in his comments regarding the recent celebration of Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday:

As someone who held three different positions in the Reagan administration, I am thinking of a lot of very fine people with whom I had the opportunity to serve. Cap Weinberger, whom I met and worked with every day, was one of the finest people I ever worked with. John Herrington, the director of White House personnel, brought me into the Reagan administration and later served our country as secretary of energy.

I had three different positions in the Reagan administration, first as a member of the National Advisory Committee and then spending four years to the day in the Pentagon as assistant secretary of defense and then as secretary of the Navy.

It was truly an inspiring time in my life to have worked for an individual who had the leadership qualities that Ronald Reagan demonstrated. He knew how to inspire our countrymen. He knew how to bring strong personalities together to work toward the good of the country and for its future.

He knew how to make hard decisions. One of the great qualities that he had was that he was never afraid to take responsibility for the consequences of any of those decisions. That motivated everyone who served in his administration.

If we go back to that time period — 1980 — our country was in tremendous turmoil. We were demoralized in the wake of the fall of South Vietnam and the bitterness that affected so many of us along class lines, particularly among those who opposed the Vietnam War and those who had fought it and what we were going to do in terms of resolving those issues here in the country and the impact it had on our reputation internationally.

Inflation was rampant, sometimes in the high teens. People were saying that the presidency was too big of a job for any one person. Our military was overworked, underpaid and dramatically underappreciated.

The Navy had gone precipitously from 930 combatant ships during the Vietnam War down to 479 at the same time our country assumed obligations in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf.

The Soviet Union was in a state of high activity, diplomatically and militarily. It had invadedAfghanistan, threatening instability in that part of the world. It had a massive naval build-up in the Pacific. Our national self-image was in a crisis state. Who were we as a country? Did we really have a future?

Ronald Reagan campaigned based on our national greatness, on the intrinsic good of our society and on restoring our place at the top of the world community. I can vividly remember in the summer of 1980 when Ronald Reagan made a speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention and just mentioned, as he was so wont to do with symbolic phrases, that Vietnam had been a noble cause.

He had the media following him around the country mocking the comment, only five years after the fall of South Vietnam. But for those of us who had stepped forward and served in order to attempt to bring democracy to South Vietnam, that was a great moment of inspiration.

Once he was elected, Ronald Reagan governed with the same sense of certainty about the greatness of our system and the goodness of our people. He convinced strong, talented people to join his administration.

With George Shultz as secretary of state and Cap Weinberger as secretary of defense, he brought two lions into his Cabinet who didn’t always agree but who were able to combine fierce, competitive intellects with decades of valuable experience.

When Ronald Reagan left the White House, our military had been rebuilt, our people had regained their pride in our country and in their optimism for its future. The United States was again recognized as the leading nation in the world community.

The failed governmental concept that had produced the Soviet Union was on the verge of imploding, not because of external attack but at the hands of its own citizens who could look to the West and see a better way of life.

To paraphrase an old saying, you never know when you’re making history. You only know when you did. Ronald Reagan did make history, and I was proud to be a small part of it.

TRIVIA: Webb was defeated in a 1967 USMC Brigade Welterweight Boxing Championship Fight by Ollie North.