As a candidate for U.S. Senate from Virginia, former secretary of the Navy, best-selling novelist and Hollywood filmmaker James Webb initially garnered national attention because of who he is. Now his views and temperament are grabbing the spotlight.
In an unusual move, Democratic senators John Kerry, Harry Reid, and and Charles Schumer, who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, endorsed Webb over Harris Miller in the state’s primary election.
But does Webb’s ideology reconcile with Senate Democrats? And what do these endorsements of Webb say about the direction of the Democratic Party?
Wearing combat boots, Webb represents himself as a warrior. His motto is “Born Fighting,” and he’s got a long list of distinguished military credentials from the Vietnam era to back up his image.
In 1987-88, he served 10 months as secretary of the Navy under President Reagan. Then, he abruptly resigned in what The New York Times termed a “petulant resignation,” a columnist from The Washington Post calleda “tantrum” — descriptions that could be used today to illustrate Webb’s behavior during a primary debate when he told Harris Miller to “shut your mouth.”
Webb has a history of getting mad and quitting. He’s twice quit the Republican Party and once quit the Democratic Party. But now he’s back in the political game, which in itself is confusing, as he’s professed to have quit government service.
Bradly Hanner wrote a thesis in March, 2000, about Webb’s resignation as Navy secretary. In it, Webb claimed he was through with government service, that he didn’t “wear a bridle well,” and “he was ‘not a good bureaucrat in [that] the tedium of the bureaucracy does get to me.’”
But what’s most puzzling about Webb as a Democrat lies in his writing. In an article titled “Women Can’t Fight,” Webb argues that women should not be allowed to attend military academies. Published by The Washingtonian in 1979, Webb claimed the presence of women at the academies was poisoning the preparation of men for military command.
“I have never met a woman,” Webb wrote, “including the dozens of female midshipmen [at the Naval Academy] … whom I would trust to provide those men with combat leadership.”
In this same article, Webb insisted that “sex is commonplace in Bancroft Hall [a Naval Academy residence hall]. The Hall … is a horny woman’s dream.”
Sharon Hanley Disher was among the first women to graduate from the Naval Academy, in her final year when Webb published this article. “We were seniors,” she said, “we thought we’d made it, that we’d proven ourselves, and now we were part of the leadership. Webb’s article pulled the rug out from under us. It was very devastating.”
Webb has yet to recant or apologize for his article. Could it still reflect his views on equality? He’s on record insisting that affirmative action should apply only to African- Americans. Yes, you read correctly, this Democrat is against affirmative action for women, Latinos or any other minority.
Still, Webb seems to have embraced the lifestyle of other Hollywood Democrats. At age 60, he’s remarried for the third time and expecting his fifth child in December.
Regardless, one has to wonder whether Webb actually embraces Democratic ideology, or whether he and the Democratic leadership are distorting Democratic ideology to fit James Webb.
(Note: I attempted four times to contact the Webb campaign, but it was unresponsive.)
Kathleen Antrim is a columnist for the San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Examiner newspapers. As an author and political commentator she can be heard on “The Lee Rodgers and Melanie Morgan Show” on Hot Talk 560 KSFO in San Francisco and the nationally syndicated “Battle Line with Alan Nathan.” For more information go to: www.KathleenAntrim.com