Mr. Webb Goes To Washington

Jim Antle has an interesting piece on the disappointment many paleocons and other anti-Bush conservatives feel over Jim Webb's voting record in the Senate. They were hoping for a Pat Buchanan in Democratic clothing; what they ended up with, so far at least, is a reliably party-line liberal. I think Antle takes the piece in the right directions, raising the parallel to Daniel Patrick Moynihan's career, as well as the plausible possibility that paleocons were deceived from the beginning, and that "Webb's cultural conservatism never had any policy or ideological content, but was simply a manifestation of his personal loyalties and affections." But while considering Webb's fate and future, it's also worth noting just how hard it's become for any Senator or Representative to play a truly independent role these days, now that the parties have sorted ideologically and the whole legislative system has begun to function more like a parliamentary system than the Congress of mid-century. This change is, to my mind, one of the strongest case for third (or fourth, or fifth) parties going - not that they'd be good for Presidential politics, but that they'd bring some much-needed diversity to Congress. I tend to agree with Matt's argument that there are real advantages to a more polarized political system, with the biggest one being that voters know what they're getting when they pull the lever for a party. But polarization and parliamentarization makes it awfully hard for constituencies that find themselves at odds with both party lines to find effective representation. If Webb were one of seven Senators in a "Populist Party," say, which aligned sometimes with the GOP and sometimes with the Democrats, it would be an awful lot easier for him to make a distinctive contribution to the Senate than it is when you're one of the fifty-five Democratic Senators being herded around by Harry Reid.

Meanwhile, the disappointment paleos feel over Webb doesn't change the fact that the case for making him Barack Obama's running mate seems to grow stronger with every new controversy the Democratic frontrunner stumbles into.

Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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