The Corner

Webb for Veep

I’ve been enjoying the discussion of the possibility that Barack Obama will choose James Webb as his running mate.  One small thing to add.  If Webb is chosen, it will give everyone a chance to revisit some issues that came up during Webb’s rather ugly Senate race against George Allen, or, as Webb was fond of calling him, George Felix Allen Jr.  I looked back at some of my Corner entries from that time, and there were several interesting ones, beginning with this on Webb’s considerable pride in his Confederate forebears (hint: Webb’s son isn’t named Robert for nothing):

In all the controversy over George Allen’s use of the M-word, commentators and news reports are bringing up the senator’s alleged fondness for all things Confederate.  That’s not surprising, but it’s useful to remember that the Confederate issue, stirred up a few months by a long New Republic article, mostly disappeared after the Richmond Time-Dispatch, looking into why Democrat James Webb had not criticized Allen over the New Republic piece, reported that Webb himself has often expressed deep reverence for the Confederacy.   In May, the Times-Dispatch published an article, “Webb speech praised Confederate army; In 1990, the Senate hopeful spoke of forebears’ sacrifices,” that discussed a speech Webb gave at the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery on June 3, 1990.  The entire text of the speech is available at Webb’s website, and it is worth reading.  Here are some excerpts:

This is by no means my first visit to this spot.

The Confederate Memorial has had a special place in my life for many years. During the bitter turbulence of the early and mid 1970′s I used to come here quite often. I had recently left the Marine Corps and was struggling to come to grips with my service in Vietnam, and with the misperceptions that seemed rampant about the people with whom I had served and what, exactly we had attempted to accomplish. And there were many, many times that I found myself drawn to this deeply inspiring memorial, to contemplate the sacrifices of others, several of whom were my ancestors, whose enormous suffering and collective gallantry are to this day still misunderstood by most Americans…

I am not here to apologize for why they fought, although modern historians might contemplate that there truly were different perceptions in the North and South about those reasons, and that most Southern soldiers viewed the driving issue to be sovereignty rather than slavery. In 1860 fewer than five percent of the people in the South owned slaves, and fewer than twenty percent were involved with slavery in any capacity. Love of the Union was palpably stronger in the South than in the North before the war — just as overt patriotism is today — but it was tempered by a strong belief that state sovereignty existed prior to the Constitution, and that it had never been surrendered. Nor had Abraham Lincoln ended slavery in Kentucky and Missouri when those border states did not secede. Perhaps all of us might reread the writings of Alexander Stephens, a brilliant attorney who opposed secession but then became Vice President of the Confederacy, making a convincing legal argument that the constitutional compact was terminable…

And so those of us who carry in our veins the living legacy of those times have also inherited a special burden. These men, like all soldiers, made painful choices and often paid for their loyalty with their lives. It is up to us to ensure that this ever-changing nation remembers the complexity of the issues they faced, and the incredible conditions under which they performed their duty, as they understood it…

I am compelled today to remember a number of ancestors who lie in graves far away from Arlington. Two died fighting for the Confederacy — one in Virginia and the other in a prisoner camp in Illinois, after having been captured in Tennessee. Another served three years in the Virginia cavalry and survived, naming the next child to spring from his loins Robert E. Lee Webb, a name that my grandfather also held and which has passed along in bits and pieces through many others, such as my cousin, Roger Lee Webb, present today, and my son, James Robert, also present…

Then there was this entry about the whole George Felix Allen Jr. thing:

In June, the lefty blogger Ezra Klein approvingly cited a James Webb statement for its references to George Allen:

Notice anything funny about Jim Webb’s press release responding to George Allen’s attacks? I’ll give you a hint: George Allen is never mentioned. Instead, George Felix Allen Jr. makes a series of appearances. From a masculine, almost movie star-ish name to a silly, four worder that ends with a diminutive, the more Webb blasts “George Felix Allen Jr.” the more Allen’s much vaunted masculine authenticity will look like the show it is.

By the way, Allen’s father was George Herbert Allen.  He’s not a junior.

And then there was the whole N-word thing:

In the nation’s ugliest campaign, the witch hunt that James Webb’s supporters began against George Allen begins to turn on Webb himself.  From the Associated Press:

Also Tuesday, Allen’s Democratic opponent, Jim Webb, declined to say definitively whether he had ever used a racial slur to describe blacks.

“I don’t think that there’s anyone who grew up around the South that hasn’t had the word pass through their lips at one time or another in their life,” Webb told reporters.

Webb referred to his novel, “Fields of Fire,” which aides said includes passages using the N-word as part of character dialogue. But he added: “I have never issued a racial or ethnic slur.”

Asked for clarification of his original answer, spokeswoman Jessica Smith quoted Webb as saying, “I have never used that word in my general vocabulary or in any derogatory way.”

She declined to say whether he had ever used the word apart from when he wrote his book.

Just to make my own views clear: I don’t see anything wrong with what Webb has said about his ancestors, but I think some liberal bloggers who have said some pretty negative things about the South might have a hard time with it.  In addition, I don’t know of any persuasive evidence that Webb, outside of his fiction-writing, has used the N-word.  As far as the George Felix Allen Jr. stuff is concerned, Webb richly deserves to be in the hot seat if someone asks why he doesn’t refer to the Democratic candidate as Barack Hussein Obama.  In any event, if Webb becomes the vice-presidential pick, we’ll get to see all this stuff rehashed.  Will it hurt Webb?  It might, but who knows?  Perhaps some in the commentariat will find the idea of the first African-American nominee teamed with a true son of the Confederacy to be irresistible.

Byron York is a former White House correspondent for National Review.

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