I’m pleased to report that I’ve begun receiving semi-regular emails from the Jim Webb for Senate campaign. For those not paying attention, Webb is the Vietnam War hero who went on to become Secretary of the Navy (he briefly served under the Gipper before resigning over planned military budget cuts) and then a successful novelist (his “Fields of Fire” is considered quite good), and who is now running as a Democrat to unseat Republican Sen. George Allen in Virginia. (For a taste of Webb’s military years check out Robert Timberg’s celebrated “The Nightingale’s Song.”)
At this point, Allen enjoys a fat lead--20-plus points according to the last poll I saw. But the race is still young and Webb could prove a formidable opponent. For starters, the guy is a military legend with a record on which it will be tough for the GOP to work its increasingly popular trash-the-veteran strategy.
Just as importantly, Webb has a strong, clearly articulated foreign policy vision that just so happens to clash with the current administration’s. Namely, Webb fits into Walter Russell Mead’s Jacksonian school, while the Bushies are currently of a Wilsonian bent. (In summarizing the four schools of thought laid out in Mead’s “Special Providence,” allow me to swipe a graph from tnr colleague Peter Beinart, for whom this issue has become an obsession: “Wilsonians believe America must make the world safe for liberty. Hamiltonians believe America must make the world safe for commerce. Jeffersonians fear that both of these crusades threaten liberty at home. And Jacksonians believe in destroying America's enemies and defending America 's sovereignty, no matter what the rest of the world thinks.”)
Anyway, as a proud Jacksonian, Webb won't be vulnerable to the usual criticism that Democrats don’t have a foreign policy position other than “Bush bad.” You may not agree with Webb’s vision, but the man clearly has one and is unafraid to talk about it. (Check out his site for recent articles and speeches.) So while it may be that the colorful, outspoken Webb is ultimately unelectable--this is the guy, after all, who penned a 1979 piece for The Washingtonian entitled, “Women Can’t Fight"--at the very least, Rove, Mehlman, and the rest of the GOP smear hounds will have to find a fresh line of assault.