Thirty years ago, when I was in my mid-20s, I joined Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign and eventually worked for two years in his White House, as a speechwriter. My theory was: it’s good for journalists to work in politics once, so they know about it first hand—but not more than once, so no one thinks they are angling to get back in.
Since then I’ve played no active party-political role nor even given money to candidates, though it wouldn’t be hard to guess whom I supported—rather, opposed—in the last presidential election. I’ve made the first exception this year, for a candidate I actively support.
This is James Webb, running as a Democrat for the Senate in Virginia, against the incumbent, George Allen Jr. Everything about Allen’s record and persona suggests that he is in the model of our current president, with all that that implies. But that alone wouldn’t motivate me to get involved—there are more objectionable people running this year.
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I have known Webb for more than 25 years, since we were first brought together in arguments about our very different experiences during the Vietnam years. He was a Naval Academy graduate and, as is well known, a wounded and decorated Marine combat leader. I was still in college when he was in Vietnam, but I strongly opposed that war and, as I described more than thirty years ago in “What Did You Do In the Class War Daddy?” I deliberately failed a draft physical to avoid being inducted. We have disagreed intensely over some issues in the past. But over the last ten to fifteen years we have seen many more issues the same way—above all the reckless folly of America’s gamble in choosing to invade Iraq. Beyond his positions on issues, I view him as a thoroughly honest and principled person.
From a partisan perspective, Webb (who served in Ronald Reagan’s administration) is just the kind of candidate the Democrats need: a culturally-conservative populist whose personal and policy toughness no one can possibly doubt. More broadly I think he is the kind of politician the country needs more of: someone getting into politics because he feels so strongly about the issues of the day. Nothing about him suggests the amiable, well-born frat boy—a type we’re familiar with in the White House, and which George Allen’s famous “macaca tape” also captures. I mildly hope Allen loses, but what I really hope is that James Webb wins