Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Defining A Real Democrat Just Got Easier With Jim Webb

Defeated and somewhat demoralized Republicans, like Mason Conservative, are consoling themselves with a new narrative about Jim Webb. According to their new meme, Jim Webb is going to be a big disappointment to the Democrats who worked so hard for his election because Webb is really a "Pat Buchanan Conservative."

I think that's a stretch. They're misreading Webb and fooling themselves, probably because right now they need to in order to avoid admitting that Americans really did repudiate them for their handling of the war and the economy.

Their main argument, though, for comparing the two men is that Webb has an independent and sometimes conservative streak. Especially, they point out gleefully, where Second Amendment rights are concerned. Webb, like Buchanan, is against gun control and is comfortable around people who like guns. MC and other conservatives believe this will cause Democrats to become disillusioned with Webb.

The problem with that line of reasoning is that most Democrats knew Webb's position going in. In fact, one district chair said to me that although, as a part of leadership, he was publicly supporting Webb, his wife could never vote for Webb precisely because of Webb's stand on gun control. That was a minority reaction but it proves that Democrats knew exactly what they were getting in Jim Webb. And by the way, both Mark Warner and Tim Kaine also had "Sportsman for (Warner or Kaine)" bumper stickers, which was virtually an admission of being pro-gun ownership. However worthy their cause, most of the proponents of gun control have given up that fight in Virginia as unwinnable at this time.

But other than on the gun control issue, there are significant differences between Webb and Buchanan.

The most obvious is that Buchanan is a real wedge issue social conservative. Webb is not. Even during his Reagan years, Webb was considered moderate when it came to social issues like abortion. Webb is pro-choice, in favor of stem cell research, and opposed the so-called marriage amendment. So he's much more in step with Democrats than with Pat Buchanan Conservatives.
As for his opposition to Iraq, every Democrat who won last week was anti-Iraq. It's Buchanan who is marching in step with us on that one, not visa versa. Likewise, on the economy, Buchanan's populism puts him out of synch with free traders in his own party as well as Harris Miller style Democrats. But plenty of Democrats, including Brian Dorgan and Carl Levin, are also economic populists. If you're a Democrat, it's called being pro-union, something Buchanan actually isn't, but Jim Webb is.

And Webb showed his true colors today in this Wall Street Journal op-ed. Webb nails it in this piece, which is brilliantly written and literally hammers home the inequities that are bothering people.

There’s a popular misconception among the mainstream media and political pundits that populism doesn’t work in American elections because most voters don’t resent rich people. Indeed, they aspire to be rich themselves. No matter how far fetched the reality, most Americans appear to believe that the ability to achieve great wealth is within their grasp, so they support laws that favor the rich even if that appears contrary to their real economic interests.

That’s only a partial truth, though. Most Americans don’t resent the rich because most Americans are generous of spirit and kind of heart. As long as they are economically comfortable, prosperous, and secure, they are not envious. And as long as they perceive that the system is basically fair and provides equitable opportunity they are not resentful.

But too many people have been affected by downsizing, outsourcing and automation or have seen neighbors and family members affected by these forces to feel really secure. And too many have either experienced, seen, or read about the erosion of pensions and health benefits. At the same time, they’ve also read about golden parachutes, fabulous wealth and perks awarded to CEOs and corporate executives, even while their companies are performing poorly.

Most people are aware that “it’s not what you know but who you know” nowadays that determines economic well-being. Americans aren’t resentful and aren’t natural populists. But too many of them are getting fed up with the unfairness they are seeing around them. Indeed, inequity seems to run like a seam through the rock of the American economy and it's causing a crack in the surface of our civil society. Jim Webb just exposed the fault line and proved he’s a real Democrat who holds our core values. He's not a Pat Buchanan Conservative, as MC and others would have you think. Jim Webb is a Jefferson-Jackson-style Democrat.

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