Back in the spring, when Jim Webb was running in the primary, his opponents’ supporters hit me with a lot of questions about his authenticity. These were fair questions too. In fact, after the Northern Virginia Central Labor Council’s COPE Dinner, I was sitting in the bar of the Hilton Hotel where the dinner had taken place. I was with a group of Democrats and one of them told me that she opposed Webb because she didn’t trust his claim that he was a Democrat. She said that she did not want to witness the next Zell Miller in 2008 – that is a Democrat supporting a Republican presidential candidate and trashing his own party, which had happened at the 2004 Republican Convention.
Fair point. And it did give me a queasy moment. How could I guarantee that it wouldn’t happen? At that point, Webb was more of an unknown quantity. I liked his resume. I liked what he had to say about economic fairness and economic justice and I certainly liked what he was saying about the Iraqi war. Also his experience in the military and as a former secretary of the Navy gave legitimacy to his criticism of this Administration’s handling of the fight against terrorism. He was the one Democrat, I thought, who could make Virginians feel safe on national security issues.
But was he actually a Democrat?
Tonight’s debate laid that question to rest. While Allen spoke in tired platitudes and tried to raise fears about tax increases (in a state that has one of the lowest tax rates in the nation and that also has been voted one of the best run in fiscal managment while under a Democratic governor), Webb time and again showed his commitment to economic justice for ordinary middle class citizens.
Allen constantly tried to link Webb to Hillary Clinton and to tax increases. Webb meanwhile spoke eloquently about issues of fairness, the problem of the deficit, and the need for genuine economic fairness. When Allen tried to use the typical Republican claim about how good the economy is, Webb bluntly said how good it looks depends on where you sit.
Businesses are making record profits. The stock market is healthy and is benefiting wealthy investors. But the wages of the average worker are flat. And their wages are not keeping up with inflation. And Allen voted against raising the minimum wage.
Allen has voted with the Administration 97% of the time and 100% of the time on foreign policy issues.
Webb said that he favors targeted tax credits that would help the middle class. He stressed that under the current Administration's tax structure some of the largest, wealthiest and most successful corporations pay no taxes. And he said that we can't keep spending at the current rate without a source of revenue. It was clear that he was not in favor of raising taxes for working people but simply making large and rich corporations pay their fair share.
He also favors the U.S. making an unequivocal statement that it does not want to occupy Iraq indefinitely. He also would like to see Iraq’s neighbors in the Middle East get involved in the peace process while the U.S. withdraws to bases outside of Iraq, close enough to monitor dangers in that region but without appearing to be an occupying force. He pointed out that in recent days James Baker III and John Warner have both said that the Administration needs to take a new course in that region because we are failing there.
Webb, of course, has been saying that for three years.
Webb also spoke up, without equivocating, and expressed his opposition to the so-called marriage amendment. He said clearly that he was a Christian and believed that marriage was between a man and a woman. But he said that he, like Governor Tim Kaine, would vote against the marriage amendment because it was too broad and would take rights away from both gays and hetrosexuals. Webb showed the courage of his convictions and spoke up to take a stand that is unpopular in Virginia but is the right thing to do. And that is oppose an amendment that takes rights away from citizens.
But the most important thing Webb did was invite others like him to come home to the Democratic Party. As he said, those like him – the so-called Reagan Democrats – who left the party because of their concern over national security issues but who never felt at home with the Republicans’ economic policies, can come back to the party that now has a better solution than the Republicans. These are the working class and middle class people who care about economic justice. Tonight, Webb reassured them that the Democrats get it. The Democrats can be strong on defense, fighting terrorism, national security and foreign policy without sacrificing economic fairness.
Oh yeah. Webb also won the debate!