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January 25, 2007

Responses to Webb's Talk

Webb rocks!  We heard that over and over again these last two days.  He was a brilliant choice to provide the Democratic "rebuttal" to the SOTU.  And he did us all proud. 

From my point of view, he's a writer and that says a lot about his ability to convey information.  Crikey, he's a best-selling writer of both fiction and non-fiction, articles and PBS specials.  Much of his writing focuses on war and its consequences, according to Kristian Denny Todd, Webb's spokesperson during the campaign.   To me as a fellow writer, this means he thinks deeply about these issues over time, and then crafts what he says to communicate the message he wants to get across.  We haven't had someone able to do this for quite a while. 

Webb evidently saw this talk as an opportunity to deliver an op-ed to the country.  Todd again, as quoted in the WAPO on the day after Webb's post-SOTU speech:

"This is the opportunity he's wanted for four years," Todd said. "Like one of his Op-Eds, but broadcast to millions of Americans in his own voice."

Speaker Pelosi has both a video-clip and a transcript of the 8-minute talk that Webb wrote himself. 

He talked a lot about the war of course.  Who better?  With a family history of military service, including a son serving in Iraq now, Webb had the authority to say, "The [Iraq] war's costs to our nation have been staggering."  He talked about the years of mismanagement and said that he, among others, predicted that "it would take our energy and attention away from the larger war against terrorism, and that invading and occupying Iraq would leave us strategically vulnerable in the most violent and turbulent corner of the world".

Because of that history of serving, he could say:

Like so many other Americans, today and throughout our history, we serve and have served, not for political reasons, but because we love our country. On the political issues – those matters of war and peace, and in some cases of life and death – we trusted the judgment of our national leaders.  We hoped that they would be right, that they would measure with accuracy the value of our lives against the enormity of the national interest that might call upon us to go into harm's way.

We owed them our loyalty, as Americans, and we gave it.  But they owed us – sound judgment, clear thinking, concern for our welfare, a guarantee that the threat to our country was equal to the price we might be called upon to pay in defending it.

The President took us into this war recklessly.  He disregarded warnings from the national security adviser during the first Gulf War, the chief of staff of the army, two former commanding generals of the Central Command, whose jurisdiction includes Iraq,  the director of operations on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many, many others with great integrity and long experience in national security affairs.  We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable – and predicted – disarray that has followed.

And:

The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought; nor does the majority of our military.  We need a new direction.  Not one step back from the war against international terrorism.  Not a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos.  But an immediate shift toward strong regionally-based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq's cities, and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq.

But Webb talked about more than the war.  He talked about another of his key issues: the economic divide in this country:

When one looks at the health of our economy, it's almost as if we are living in two different countries.  Some say that things have never been better. The stock market is at an all-time high, and so are corporate profits. But these benefits are not being fairly shared.  When I graduated from college, the average corporate CEO made 20 times what the average worker did; today, it's nearly 400 times.  In other words, it takes the average worker more than a year to make the money that his or her boss makes in one day.

Wages and salaries for our workers are at all-time lows as a percentage of national wealth, even though the productivity of American workers is the highest in the world.  Medical costs have skyrocketed.  College tuition rates are off the charts. Our manufacturing base is being dismantled and sent overseas.  Good American jobs are being sent along with them.

In short, the middle class of this country, our historic backbone and our best hope for a strong society in the future, is losing its place at the table.  Our workers know this, through painful experience.  Our white-collar professionals are beginning to understand it, as their jobs start disappearing also. And they expect, rightly, that in this age of globalization, their government has a duty to insist that their concerns be dealt with fairly in the international marketplace.

Webb threw in some history, reminding us that real leaders deal with the issues that matter and deal with them as President of all the people.  He talked about two Republicans of the last century, Teddy Roosevelt who took a stand against the robber barons of his time and Dwight Eisenhower, who got us out of Korea. 

He ended brilliantly, building on what he'd said about these previous presidents:

These Presidents took the right kind of action, for the benefit of the American people and for the health of our relations around the world.  Tonight we are calling on this President to take similar action, in both areas.  If he does, we will join him.  If he does not, we will be showing him the way.

A diaryist over at DailyKos, writing about Webb's speech and the commentary on it over at PBS, said:

With a quick cut away from Senator Jim Webb, it was immediately apparent that Jim Lehrer was starstruck.  His doe eyes appeared somewhat misty.  His expression was one of true admiration.  As the consummate professional, he turned to the inimitable Mark Shields and asked, "Your thoughts?"  Shields, shocked himself, uttered, "A star is born."

Indeed.

Posted by Lynn Allen on January 25, 2007 at 12:12 AM in National and International Politics | Permalink

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