Thursday, February 08, 2007

What a tangled Webb we weave

Regarding the blog's ongoing Jim Webb controversy: What I am concerned with is not so much Webb's history, though much in it is disturbing. Obamarama has noted his past statement that he would have voted for Margaret Thatcher and his resistance to efforts to allow women into the Naval Academy. And then of course was his statement that the "Tailhook debacle has been seized upon and used by feminists to attack the military culture and bring about major concessions."

My more primary concern with Webb, which extends also to the mania surrounding Barack Obama (sorry, Obamarama) is the tendency in our political culture to gravitate to the nearest "great man" (rarely does our political obsession surround a woman, but we have the potential for "great woman" obsessions too, once we get past some of our deep sexism.)

A politics that transforms America from a deeply individualistic country to one that is based on ideals of community and of the common good cannot happen by some single "great man" sweeping in to the rescue. This is a matter of being the change we want to see in the world.

But even more relevant in the short-term, what is this particular man - Senator Webb - going to do that will actually make America a better place? When I was at the anti-war march in Washington about two weeks ago, I saw a fair share of pretty radical signs - but I also saw more than a few "Webb for President" signs. Our eternally hopeful (yet shallow) political culture allows us to believe that the new flavor of the month is going to do something that will actually end this disgraceful, illegal, wasteful, ugly, and immoral war - and yet, and yet. This is the kind of lite politics that allows the Congressional Democrats pacify us with non-binding resolutions - which only aim to show disapproval with the surge, not the war itself.

Then there's the Democrats' resistance to allowing Sen. Judd Gregg's resolution to be heard, which is what caused the weak John Warner resolution to not even get to debate this week. Gregg's resolution
says that Congress should not take "any action that will endanger United States military forces in the field, including the elimination or reduction of funds for troops in the field, as such an action with respect to funding would undermine their safety or harm their effectiveness in pursuing their assigned missions" - and Democrats don't want to allow a vote on it, because they don't want to have to vote for it, but many would not be able to bring themselves to vote against it.

But you know what action will "endanger United States military forces in the field"? A hint: it's already happened. The fact that many Democrats will not stand up and say this - that we have made an enormous mistake, and have to get out now - means that whatever rhetorical anti-war flourishes we get short of that seem impressive.

Which leads me back to Webb's speechifying after the State of the Union. There were some compelling elements to the speech, sure - I was glad in particular to hear him hold forth on inequality. But the level of urgency that the need to end this war demands is not something that Jim Webb - a career military man, and a Secretary of the Navy under Reagan - is going to acknowledge.

This anti-war hero is the same person who explained his self-definition as a "Reagan Democrat" explicitly in terms of being uncomfortable with Democratic opposition to Vietnam:

“These were people who had been the backbone of the traditional Democratic Party and who grew very uncomfortable particularly on the issue of the (Vietnam) war — I was one of them — and who were never comfortable with the Republicans on social issues.”

I am deeply aggrieved to predict that, a year from now, we will be at least as deeply engaged in this war as we are now. This means the Democrats will have approved the $245 billion in spending for Iraq and Afghanistan that the President has just requested - $800 for every man, woman, and child in America that we can use to "support the troops" by leaving another thousand or so of them to die.

Sleep tight, America.

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