Jim Webb proved party labels mean more than biography or rhetoric

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Jim Antle has written a terrific column on outgoing Virginia Sen. Jim Webb.

For those who don’t know, Webb was once a pretty conservative, if iconoclastic, man. “For over 20 years,” Antle recounts, “Webb said he wouldn’t shake John Kerry’s hand over the Massachusetts senator’s anti-Vietnam activities.”

Despite this orneriness, after being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006, “Webb was — with just a handful of defections — pretty much a party-line Democrat. He made his peace with political correctness, supporters of racial preferences, and a permissive immigration policy.”

One obvious lesson to learn is that rhetoric and voting records are not equal. (This is why smart groups that endorse and fund candidates for office typically prefer candidates who have a strong voting record.)

“It has been said,” Antle notes, “that Daniel Patrick Moynihan talked like Irving Kristol but voted like Walter Mondale. Jim Webb wrote like Pat Buchanan but votes like Harry Reid.”

Partisanship is a powerful force.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan was brave enough to issue The Moynihan Report, which argued the “fundamental problem” for blacks “is that of family structure.”

Yet being yoked to the senate seemed to turn him into a mere politician.

Jim Webb is a tough guy. He was a combat Marine in Vietnam. His campaign slogan was “born fighting.”  As Antle notes, Webb even “resigned as Ronald Reagan’s secretary of the navy because the Gipper wasn’t spending enough on national defense.”

If men like Moynihan and Webb can’t stand up to the party bosses — how can we expect anyone else to?

Think about that the next time someone tells you, “I vote for the man, not the party.”

Matt K. Lewis