Monday, August 07, 2006

Webb, still a contender?

“Born Fighting” was a good title for a book about an embattled people, whose history it describes. Now Jim Webb’s paid campaign experts have apparently figured out that as a slogan/theme for a run for a US Senate seat in 2006, it was not helping the cause.

Well, here’s more news for that set -- it never was a good slogan/theme for this campaign. But to a pack of frustrated anti-war Democrats, who were tired of being cast as wimps, perhaps back in the winter its swagger was just too seductive. Webb was a war hero, he was even a boxer at Annapolis, so they just couldn’t resist it.

It makes George Allen look like a sissy, they chanted, between gulps of Kool-Aid. Then it turned out it only worked on people who already thought George Allen was a sissy. So, nothing much was being gained. Maybe something was lost?

Now, four weeks from Labor Day, it’s disappointing to admit that all I can see Webb’s camp has accomplished for the candidate I’m pulling for this year is to convince some people to call James Webb, the author, “Jim,” as a candidate. Beyond that, as far as issues go, they have asserted that Webb is no longer a supporter of Sen. George Allen, and that he opposed the invasion of Iraq.

What else?

No alternatives. No clear vision of what should be, or should not be. In the spring Jim Webb had a chance of beating George Allen. It never was a good chance, but on the heels of Tim Kaine’s gubernatorial win, it was possible. Now, it will take a miracle.

Still, miracles happen. Allen may stumble. Events overseas may shift radically. Three months can be a long time in politics. If James Webb, the much-lauded military strategist, keeps listening to the same sort of lame advice he’s relied upon so far, he won’t even be in position to take advantage of such an opportunity, if it presents itself.

Getting rid of the Born Fighting thing was good, but what replaces it? Born Slightly Disagreeing? Born Begging for Money from People Not Listening? Born to Lose?

Unless, he’s already quit and just playing out the string, Webb needs to show the bold leadership his avid supporters have touted, by taking charge of affairs. He needs to stop speaking through surrogates, pronto, and make some news with his own words. He probably needs to fire some people, too.

Like the ex-boxer Terry Malloy (played by Marlon Brando) in “On the Waterfront” (1954), it seems Webb has been betrayed by bad advice from those closest to him. Still, I’ll always believe the guy who wrote “Born Fighting” coulda been a contender ...
Art: F.T. Rea


JPTERP said...

It's no secret what Webb needs to do--raise money and meet voters.

At least from an outsider's view, I don't think anyone would dispute the fact that the campaign appeared to meander from June 14th until the end of July.

As someone who has committed some volunteer hours and money, I'm glad to see the changes that are being made in advance of Labor Day. No one is paying attention right now, but they will be very soon.

As far as the campaign supporters motivations goes, your characterization is way too reductive.

Based on my first-hand observations, the best description of Jim Webb's core supporters fall into three categories:
1. People who know him personally.
2. People who know him by reputation.
3. People who have read his books.

In the truest sense of the word this has been a word of mouth grass roots campaign--during the primary at least, there wasn't a lot of centralized control and there weren't a lot of political pros crafting a message and the candidate's image. I expect there may be a little more packaging in the Fall.

Your characterization of the "Kool-Aid" gulping ceremonies is hilarious, but completely baseless.

There may be a little bit of groupthink involved, but I think the bigger motivation is that people see the direction that the country is headed and are deeply concerned.

Iraq is certainly part of this--it has had consequences for our national security and economy--but there are other issues such as the doubling of the national debt in 6 years, a disengaged legislative branch (one that didn't ask tough questions in advance of the Iraq War and hasn't served as a sufficient check on executive power), and a congress that seems more interested in divisive wedge issues than more pressing concerns.

I think George Allen has been a failure as a legislator. I don't believe he's shown leadership, made wise choices--and I don't think he's been particularly engaged. I suspect we'll probably have more of the same for another 2 to 6 years if he's re-elected. Jim Webb, on the other hand, has a very strong resume and seems to have the raw tools to be a great legislator. His background is very similar to John Warner--who is a legislator who I have been generally very happy with.

I should also underline that I whole-heartedly support the war in Afghanistan, and I support the War in Iraq--although I've lost a lot of confidence in this congress and this administration to lead on this issue.

I think Webb deserves a chance to represent Virginia, and I'm doing what I can to give him that chance. If that makes me a Kool-Aid drinking anti-War Democrat, then so be it.

The Richmond Democrat said...

Sometimes I think you get caught up in a rhetorical thread and just let yourself be carried along.

Kool-Aid drinking? Please.

The Webb campaign has many problems: the presence of the phrase "Born Fighting" on some of its yard signs, bumper stickers and literature is the very least of its troubles.

The Webb campaign's real problem is management, execution, getting things done on the ground.

F.T. Rea said...

jpterp, J.C.,

Thanks for your comments.

OK, I must admit my Kool-Aid comment was based mostly on my observation of the RaisingKaine/Netroots methodology and off-putting know-it-all attitude. What I see from that crowd is that they are far better at punishing Democrats, such as Joe Lieberman, than they are at defeating Republicans.

So my brush stroke was too broad to be more than an impressionistic picture of the campaign staff and Webb’s volunteer supporters. I wasn’t going for photo-realism.

But as I am most certainly not an insider that also means I have no axe to grind, personality-wise. Therefore, I wouldn’t know Lowell Feld if he walked into the room.

My picture of the Webb camp is from the outside. But it is a picture drawn by a person who has covered Virginia politics for over 20 years. It’s a picture drawn by someone who has followed politics closely for over 40 years. I was raising money and designing a campaign button for George McGovern 34 years ago. I’ll skip the rest of my history, but please know I care very much about defeating George Allen, and I’m not new at the political game.

But anybody who still thinks calling Allen “Felix” was/is smart politics needs to kick the Kool-Aid habit. Moreover, I’m absolutely certain that the pretending everything is just fine, when it isn’t, the preening, the raw anger, etc., that I’ve seen from bloggers closely associated with the Webb camp has not helped the candidate’s cause. To the extent that the public has noticed it at all, I’m sure it has hurt.

In my estimation all that monkey business has had little to do with putting candidate Webb over, and a lot to do with some utmost insiders in his camp promoting their own agenda, and covering their own “exposure.”

So, I’m a Webb supporter who refuses to be a groupie. I’m trying to show Webb and some of his passionate supporters, just what his campaign looks like to a trained-but-friendly eye that is on the outside.

Sorry, if my picture of the truth hurts. The good thing is there’s still time to change it.