Thursday, January 25, 2007

Jim Webb: Is A Star Born?

In the 2006 mid-term elections, six key victories by Democratic senatorial candidates helped change the face of Congress, including Whitehouse in Rhode Island, Casey in Pennsylvania, Brown in Ohio, McCaskill in Missouri and Tester in Montana. None, however, was as critical to the Democrat’s success as was Jim Webb’s unlikely victory over George Allen in Virginia. Webb’s triumph not only furthered the growing evidence that the changing demographics of northern Virginia will make the Old Dominion state a battleground in the 2008 presidential election, but it also destroyed any aspirations Allen had of becoming the Republican presidential nominee.

Less than three months following Webb’s win, he was chosen by his Party’s leadership to deliver the Democratic response to President Bush’s State of the Union address; not an insignificant honor for a freshman senator. Webb is not your typical freshman senator, however, and the tone and text of his response proved that he is not only going to be a serious, relevant politician, but also a powerful force within the Democratic Party for years to come.

Webb possesses an impressive background: United States Naval Academy graduate; highly decorated Marine Corps infantry officer in Vietnam; Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration. It was that background, and of course, Allen’s “macaca” moment, that turned the Virginia campaign into the close contest almost no one expected. Webb won by a margin of less than 8000 votes out of the almost 2.3 million votes cast.

In many ways, Webb was the logical choice to deliver the Democratic response, specifically because of the icy exchange he and President Bush shared at a White House reception for new members of Congress. It may be a while before the president asks “How’s your boy?” to anyone who has flesh and blood serving in Iraq. That moment was a defining one for Webb and the Democrats in that a man who has served his country in the military, whose son is serving, and who rode into his senate seat on the national wave of frustration with the Iraq war stood toe-to-toe with the Commander-In-Chief. Democrats were already feeling froggy after the election. This Bush versus Webb fight was enough to make them want to leap.

Webb kept the pressure on Tuesday night in his speech. “With respect to foreign policy, this country has patiently endured a mismanaged war for nearly four years,” Webb said. “Many, including myself, warned even before the war began that it was unnecessary, that it would take our energy and attention away from the larger war against terrorism, and that invading and occupying Iraq would leave us strategically vulnerable in the most violent and turbulent corner of the world.”

Unlike many of his respected senior colleagues in the Senate, including most of the ones running for president, Webb doesn’t carry the baggage of having voted to give Bush authorization to mismanage the war. And unlike Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama who, like Webb, was also not in the Senate at that time, Webb has the inherent toughness, the gravitas to call Bush on the carpet. What other Democrat can pull that off?

“The president took us into this war recklessly,” Webb stated. “He disregarded warnings from the national security adviser during the first Gulf War, the chief of staff of the army, two former commanding generals of the Central Command, whose jurisdiction includes Iraq, the director of operations on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many, many others with great integrity and long experience in national security affairs. We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable — and predicted — disarray that has followed.”

“The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought; nor does the majority of our military. We need a new direction. Not one step back from the war against international terrorism. Not a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos. But an immediate shift toward strong regionally-based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq¹s cities, and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq.”

Strong, certain words like those coming from a military man are critical if the Democrats are to seize and hold the higher ground on the issue of Iraq. Non-binding resolutions may be a good, safe start, but at some point, if Lt. Gen. David Petraeus isn’t able to pull off the miracle of miracles and bring some stability to Baghdad in the next six months, the calls will grow louder for lawmakers to take more urgent steps, like cutting off funding for the war. The majority of Americans are not in support of that action at the moment, and Webb has been vocal in his opposition to it as well, having lived through it when Congress cut funding during the Vietnam War. The country, however, grows more and more uneasy with the status quo.

Whatever actions Democrats take in the future regarding Iraq, you can be sure Senator Jim Webb will be front and center. If a young Democratic senator with only two years of experience can decide to run for the presidency, a freshman Democratic senator that possesses a resume like Jim Webb’s will be pressed to take on a leadership role in his Party. Four years from now, don’t be surprised to see Webb’s name mentioned as a potential presidential candidate if the Democrats don’t take back the White House in 2008. He’s mature, intelligent, and rugged. While those first two adjectives say much about any man, it’s been some time since a Democrat could lay claim to the last.


Post a Comment

<< Home