I am becoming more and more convinced that supporting James Webb for the Senate this year could be the smartest thing Virginia Democrats could do. And backing Harris Miller, by contrast, might be one of the dumbest things they could do.
I don’t mean to trash Miller. I really don’t, and it bothers me greatly that Democrats are getting into a nasty brawl over this because the one thing we are going to need to beat Allen, whoever wins the primary, is unity. And this is getting very personal. And very passionate. And, unfortunately, very nasty. But strong emotions bring out unkindness in all of us, including me.
But there are real and pragmatic reasons to consider Webb the stronger candidate this time. Let me admit that Miller may be a great human being. He’s inspired the loyalty of many of the Democratic leaders that I’ve admired and whose victories I’ve worked for and even whose defeats have made me cry long into the night. So, the strong feelings, the criticism, even the nastiness should be seen as the result of intense zeal and an even stronger desire to win. And here’s the reason why I feel so strongly that this is the Democrats' year.
This election season, there is a series of convergences all speeding together to create the perfect storm. For the first time in years pundits and politicos are seriously thinking the Democrats could take back one of the houses of Congress. Or both.
It’s not a sure thing. The races are competitive and if the Democrats succeed it will be by a hairbreadth victory. And it’s a very big IF.
But that it’s even being dreamed of, let alone talked about out loud, is something.
And if it’s really that close – the difference of a seat or two – right here in Virginia, we could make a difference and have a national impact.
Here are the elements of the perfect storm that are rushing together to create the momentum for a Democratic takeover.
This is the year of the disgruntled veteran disillusioned with the Republican Party. When, for years, has that ever been the case? Democrats had all but ceded the military vote to the Republicans and with good reason: the military is a very conservative and traditional culture. Even women in the military frequently identify more with Republican values such as traditional and orthodox religious beliefs and a strong defense policy. If anybody believes in spending a lot on the military, including fighter jets, missile shields and other hardware, it’s military men and women. They’ve often viewed the Democrats as soft on national security and not sympathetic to their concerns and values.
But this is the year that a bunch of veterans have returned from Iraq, where they endured having to fight a guerrilla war with inadequate armor, an arrogant civilian government that ignored their concerns, and the sight of the cronies and buddies of that same arrogant government making literal blood money off the war with their lucrative contracts. Indeed, Iraq is the war that has been contracted out like never before – it’s not so much a war, in fact, as it is a business opportunity for Halliburton and its subsidiaries.
All this has led to a profound disillusionment in the military. As if to underscore this, according the New York Times and Washington Post, an all-star cast of generals has come out against the Bush Administration’s handling of the war. Not all of these commanders are opposed to the war in Iraq. Some do feel that it was unnecessary to invade Iraq in order to fight against terrorism. But others still believe that it was right to go in and take out Hussein. All, however, are united in their opinion that Donald Rumsfeld has botched the war effort with his arrogant and incompetent theories and his refusal to listen to any dissenting voices. These are not second string malcontents. These commanders were the major players and the recognized heroes of the war effort. And they represent the tip of the iceberg. The reason they are coming forward is because those still serving cannot speak up. Basically, they are confirming John Murtha’s contentions about the demoralization of the military.
That is just one of the elements of the convergence of forces that could signal that this is the Democrats’ year to take back one or both of the houses of Congress.
Another is on the home front. America has anguished while watching jobs being deported to China and India. Outsourcing is the background music to America’s discontent and angst. And if there is background music, then the main event on the movie screen is the Jack Abramoff lobbying and corruption scandal that is reaching into the highest levels of Congress and even the White House. Abramoff’s and DeLay’s pay to play schemes have confirmed the worst suspicions of the average American that the deck is truly stacked against them and there really is a class war waging just as surely at home as the military war is raging in the streets of Baghdad. Corporatism has taken over a government composed of privileged frat brothers and sorority sisters dedicated to the idea that the economy is a game with winners and losers. And they believe the winners are entitled to take all.
So here we have the intersection of a botched war effort, a depressed job market and stagnating wages fueled by outsourcing, and corruption and cronyism among the privileged. Nothing rings more true today than John Edwards’ populist message of two America’s. There’s the America of the wealthy investor and the well-connected CEO, both enjoying record wealth. And there’s the America of the average wage earner, who is battling to preserve his job and his middle class status.
For a Democrat, this would be a good time to be a former military man who can credibly criticize the Republicans for weakening American security. It would also be a very good time for a populist candidate, in the Edwards mold, who can speak to the yearnings and aspirations of ordinary Americans about saving the American Dream by stemming the tide of outsourcing through policies that reward and encourage greater job development at home. Here, I’m not talking about draconian, punitive measures against corporations but innovative ways to encourage cooperation in the U.S. to grow jobs and provide decent health care and pension plans – maybe through tax breaks and other incentives. Perhaps instead of giving huge tax breaks to millionaires, who don’t need them and who don’t really plow the money back into the economy, it would be better to take the same tax break and provide it as an incentive to businesses to keep industry in the U.S. There are many carrots the government can use but the people who make up the government have to be willing and creative. I think Jim Webb, a credible critic of Rumsfeld's policies, also has the creativity and willingness to look for ways to fight to get jobs back to Virginia. At least, he realizes there's a problem here. And we can't just educate ourselves out of it. The jobs being lost are the high tech ones that people went back to school and retrained for. What else is there on the horizon?
On the other hand, this would not be a good time, for either the Democratic or Republican Party, to have a former lobbyist at the top of the ticket this November. In fact there’s a reason that most people become lobbyists after leaving Congress rather than before they run for elected office. Not many people, even in the best of times, actually trust lobbyists to be their representatives. And believe me, these aren’t the best of times for the reputation of lobbyists, whether it’s fair or not. And to be the lobbyist who worked for greater outsourcing and guest worker programs is really about as big a deal breaker as it gets.
In fact, this statement from the AFL-CIO, about the former lobbyist, Harris Miller, running in Virginia, about says it all. They have labeled him anti-worker.
This is an especially bad time – if ever there would be a good time for it – to kick the major part of your base in its collective teeth. It’s a mistake that Karl Rove would never make. Republicans may be lousy at governing but they have been successful at winning elections. And they do it by catering to their base not bludgeoning it. And compared to James Dobson and Jerry Falwell, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney is a voice of reason and moderation. And Virginia labor is far more moderate than Sweeney. Danny LeBlanc, Virginia AFL-CIO President, was a staunch supporter of both Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. And while Virginia's labor movement isn’t about to back Allen; if Miller gets the Democratic nomination, they could and probably will unofficially sit this one out. And it will be a signal to other Virginia progressives to do the same.
But even more than organized labor, the base and other activists, a race between Miller and Allen would be a yawner. Miller’s major platform position appears to be that Allen is really interested in running for president in 2008, while he, Miller, just wants to be a humble senator. Believe it or not, that’s not a platform that’s ever been successful. Americans viscerally don’t begrudge people having ambition and higher aspirations. And some Virginians might actually be tickled that a fellow Virginian might become a presidential candidate. It’s called hometown pride. It could actually help Allen to keep his Senate seat and get the citizens of Virginia rooting for him in a primary rather than making them resent him. In other words, criticizing somebody from Virginia for wanting to be president isn’t a platform, it’s a dumb strategy.
So, why on earth would Fairfax County's Democratic insiders tie both hands behind their backs and run a lobbyist whose major effort was encouraging outsourcing against a former military hero with great national security credentials who doesn't have that other baggage? I don’t know, maybe because they haven’t gotten the memo yet. You know, the one that says beating George Allen is actually a good thing and it’s possible.
Until they do, I’ll keep nagging. It’s still James Webb. He’s the one who can beat Allen this November, not Miller. Miller has baggage. Webb has the perfect storm at his back, pushing the momentum his way.