Tangled Webb

In a brilliant piece of reportage, Andrew Ferguson portrays the cognitive dissonance among Virginia Democrats to which James Webb and his Senate campaign have given rise. Ferguson warms up on the theme of the Democratic warrior:

What has made Webb acceptable to the Democrats of Arlington, however unevenly, is his furious opposition to the war in Iraq, which he declared early, before there was even a war to oppose, in an op-ed in the Washington Post in September 2002. And Webb’s opposition to the war is doubly valuable to Democrats because of his bona fides as a warrior. Democrats are so sick of being labeled the peace party–mostly because they are the peace party–that they grow faint at the first flash of a battle ribbon, in hopes of proving they too are just as recklessly bloodthirsty as their opponents.
This warrior romance has led them into numberless absurdities. It explains why, for example, they stuck that Snoopy helmet on poor Michael Dukakis and forced him to ride around in a tank. And it explains the entire national convention of 2004, in which desperate Democrats nominated an undistinguished career politician for no other reason than that he was a decorated war hero and then launched his campaign with ceremonies so martial they might have been borrowed from a Latin American coup: phalanxes of saluting veterans, crisscrossing color guards, brass bands pumping Sousa tunes–everything short of a firing squad to liquidate the opposition.
The embrace of Webb in Virginia has had the same effect. One “Webb for Senate” brochure shows what happens when the Mommy party tries to thump the hairy chest it doesn’t have. “Jim Webb has the courage to change Washington,” says the headline, over paragraphs that jump with words like “fight” and “threat” and “leadership” and “tough.” “Jim understands how to protect our men and women in uniform.” Hey thanks, Mom! Wait a sec. Aren’t they supposed to do the protecting?
There’s a large difference between Webb and John Kerry, however. A spokesman of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, whose hand Webb refused to shake for 20 years, Kerry is genuinely a man of the left–a centimillionaire of the wind-surfing left, to be sure, but still a man whose every political instinct made him feel right at home in the peace party of George McGovern (another war hero, about whom Webb once said: “I wouldn’t have voted for him if you put a gun to my head.”). Webb, by contrast, has a long history of right-wingery. He built a career from the revulsion he felt at the left wing’s failure to appreciate the Vietnam war or the men who fought it. One of his first public disputes, in 1981, involved his opposition to the minimalist design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which he called an insult to veterans.

Ferguson also makes good use of one of Webb’s books — the non-fictional Born Fighting, as well as one of Webb’s novels — to explore the high comedy of the Webb campaign. Here’s hoping the show closes on November 7.


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