- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Sen. Jim Webb has written a thoughtful and provocative book on national politics. No surprise there; all of the books by Mr. Webb, Virginia Democrat, are thoughtful and provocative. This will be a positive review. Truth in advertising here, Mr. Webb remains one of my heroes. If it were not for him, I’d have not become an officer of Marines. In 1970, I showed up for my second summer of Marine Corps officer training in what the Marine Corps call the Platoon Leaders Class Program.

My first summer left me distinctly unimpressed by the callow young lieutenant who was our platoon commander. We were in a war and needed a lot of officers. He was assigned that duty straight out of basic officer training with no combat experience and it was evident; he later became a fine officer. I frankly showed up for the second summer out of a combination of idle curiosity and the fact that my father and all of my uncles had been Marines; I didn’t want to let the family down.

Our platoon commander was 1st Lt. Webb. He had just returned from Vietnam and was highly decorated. Even our platoon non-commissioned officers obviously respected him. He quietly led by example, and he tried to share his experiences in Vietnam with us as he fully expected us to be in combat the following year. By graduation, I was sold. I was a Webb-trained Marine, and like to think I am today.

Over the years our politics were similar; we were both moderate conservatives. Mr. Webb, like my Dad, left the Democratic Party because both felt that it had drifted from its Roosevelt roots. My Army colonel father-in-law had a rule that professional officers should be non-political, and I followed that until 1975.

The night Saigon fell after the post-Watergate Democratic Congress refused to fund one bomb in defense of a Saigon regime that we had pledged to support was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I swore that night that I would never vote for a Democratic candidate again; I never have.

Mr. Webb felt that as a moderate conservative who opposed both wars in Iraq, that he had no future in the Republican Party. Revenge is best served cold, and he got it in becoming a senator for the Democrats. Like Mr. Webb, as a moderate conservative, I feel about as welcome in the Republican Party as a lady of ill repute in a Baptist meeting house. Welcome to the club, Sen. John McCain, but I won’t be driven out.

In his book, Mr. Webb argues for a return to the populism of Andrew Jackson. He feels that the blue-collar and lower-echelon white-collar working classes who make the nation run deserve a better deal than they are getting. It is hard to argue there. He thinks that a sane immigration policy is a good idea lest crops rot on the vine for want of picking. Again, I have no argument.

Mr. Webb also feels that CEO salaries are out of control. Here, we differ slightly. If a CEO is creating wealth for America and my 401K, good for him; I don’t have a problem. Like Mr. Webb, I have a huge problem with giving failed and incompetent CEOs golden parachutes. That is criminal. Somebody ought to write a law; perhaps Mr. Webb?

In my view, the problem that Mr. Webb will have with his new buddies in the Democratic Party is the same one he had with the red-meat Republicans. There is not a comfortable place in either party for moderate conservatives. The red-meat Republicans think that we are chin-dribbling wimps, and the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” is a bunch of chin-dribbling wimps. At some point, the good senator will take a principled stand, as he always does, on some issue that upsets the Code Pinkos and MoveOn.Org, and they will turn on him like the rabid dogs they are.

The other problem that he will have in selling Jacksonian populism to his party is that Democrats have disenfranchised the voters in two major states because they had the nerve to violate party rules and exercise their first amendment rights by holding their primaries before the party said it was OK. Let’s forget the fact that the rules in the Democratic Party, such as they are, have always been considered to be polite suggestions.

Nevertheless, Mr. Webb’s book is a good one and worthy read.

Gary Anderson, a retired Marine Corps officer, lectures at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.

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