Wednesday, November 08, 2006

An Unbreakable Webb

The presumptive elevation of Jim Webb to the Senate seat in Virginia is perhaps the most gratifying thing, for this Virginia Democrat, to happen yet, during the unfolding elevation of this red state to Another Shade of Purple. The laconic, cheerily gruff Webb, for all his Reaganite background, is a radical centrist's dream: campaigning in all-out, hit-the-rural-counties Mark Warner fashion, Webb comes across like a butcher Bill Clinton: with an adorably slight pudge about the face, Webb exudes the positive energy that beaming crowds trust and adore, yet has a mental wireiness that made him the easy champ in his "Meet the Press" debate with Allen. That energy has been crucial to his campaign style, but more fundamentally, it informs his political vision, and will almost certainly make him a maverick Senator, and perhaps a highly visible one too, nationally. Certainly the Democrats owe him enormously. Toppling George Allen, a not-so-long-ago Presidential-hopeful frontrunner, spells the almost-certain doom of any repeat of the Bush presidency in the near future. The silky-rough contours of Allen's faux-populist persona, with its endless repetitions, both in person and in his ads, of moronic ad hominems about his "opponent's Washington allies" (before this election, where were allies to be found on Capitol Hill for a Democrat?) and about "how we do things in Virginia", had been carefully cultivated through a long political career to maximize his star-wattage with Red State voters. A governor and then senator, Allen was a bona fide star in Virginia, and the GOP groomed him vociferously for national leadership. Like Santorum, Allen is a cold customer, a well-oiled political machine fueled by expert and energetic fundraising, and, though perhaps more grinning a creature than Santorum (who, like Frist, comes across as an overzealous undertaker who has proceeded to embalm himself), may have been even more empty as a politician. Both have been dismissed, and the result is that the Republican Party is going to have to seriously shrift about for new leadership; and, though not a foregone conclusion, it makes sense that this should include new ideas as well.

As for new ideas for the Democrats, I don't necessarily feel we're bound for a more "conservative" party. The kneejerk brohaha about 'bipartisanship' and 'moderates' from the stuffed-shirts of broadcasting (yes, I mean you Tom Brokaw!) notwithstanding, these are not Reagan Democrats eager to bolt over to the GOP side. They're new Democrats by choice-- some of them, like Webb, Republicans who became eager to bolt over to the Democrats' side. Many of them have spoken against this war in terms that would make the McGovern campaign proud; almost all are signed on for the increase in the minimum wage. It stands to reason that a version of the McCain compromise on immigration can now move forward. Calculations will be made as to whether a Presidential veto (number two!) of a stem-cell provision can be overwhelmed. None of this means revolutionary change, so there is certainly promise of moderation, if you will. But our tv pundits are not helping us to figure out what 'left' and 'right' mean today, in an America with few committed leftists or overt Fascists. The Democrats seem, as a rule, willing to forgive gun-ownership as a matter of choice, and the fortunate outcome in South Dakota means that Western voters may be willing to begin to consider abortion as a matter of choice too. Perhaps the Democrats are heading for a reappraisal of the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt (not one of their actual ranks, I understand, but obviously a spiritual predecessor!) if not of FDR. David Brooks at least seems to sense that the electorate is craving another Carter '76 sort of figure. Perhaps the Dems can find executive material more suitable. As things stand, Howard Dean's strategy of full competition in all 50 states has paid off, even if many of the gains were won by solidifying the blue blocks of the Northeastern Congressional map. The "liberal" Pelosi will make compromises to keep her new flock faithful to a common agenda, certainly, but lets not forget that the "liberal" Dean-and-Pelosi team (the new Kennedys and Clintons of the Republicans smear-lexicon) won this thing, big, by their own smarts and toughs. They are (in the President's faintly underpraising rebuttals to John Kerry) "plenty smart and plenty brave" to have succeeded in this. And though Mark Warner-- perhaps the most likely, and most exciting, Jimmy Carter redux figure on the horizon-- has announced his certain abstention from '08, Jim Webb carries the Warner-Kaine revolution from the governor's mansion in Virginia up to Capitol Hill. Likely to get along with the silver fox John Warner (a fellow navy secretary of yore), Webb will give his homestate a genuinely centrist, forward-thinking direction from the Senate floor. Undoubtedly the most interesting of the new crop of Senators, Webb has a guaranteed six-year career ahead of him as one of Washington's most exciting and articulate voices.

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