from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Jim Webb - unmuzzled and undeterred 

this diary was originally posted on 12/16 at dailykos and at RaisingKaine. It was on the recommended list at dailykos for more than 12 hours, and I have posted in text from that version

crossposted at RaisingKaine

One aspect of Jim Webb that I do not expect to change once he is sworn in on January 4th is that he will say what is on his mind.Certainly this has bee true of him in the past, as he was reminded during the campaign of some of the things he had said in the past about people whose support he sought in the campaign, people like John Kerry and Bill Clinton.

Last night I heard a story that I think illustrates this characteristic of Jim Webb, as well as his determination when he sets his mind to something. By the way, both are things I admire about him. I will explain why, but first I have to set the scene for you. It was at a gathering of VFW at a VFW: Vets for Webb at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in Falls Church Virginia.

There were perhaps 30 vets whose service ranged from beginning in 1944 to one person still on active duty in the Navy. The event was to honor Jim, to thank him and congratulate him. He was not able to be with us - he has a new daughter who was due on December 21 but was born on the 11th, and he is moving to have an easier commute to Capitol Hill. Many of the vets were like me of the Vietnam Era, and most of us were not VFW members. We had contributed for a gift for Jim. The Post fed us dinner, entertained us with a dance band from a local high school. This was also a fundraiser on behalf of the charitable work of the Post,which includes assisting working poor families at Christmas (this year a group of 50).

We talked before and during dinner, and then we had some brief ceremonies. One man had suggested a gift. He had obtained an exact replica of the map used by the Marines at Iwo Jima, and gotten it nicely frames. One of Jim’s fathers-in-law had served at Iwo, and Jim had given a notable speech at an Iwo reunion in 2000. Those of us there signed the back of the map, and we hope and believe he will have it in his Senate office.

But the most important moment was from our senior veteran. He had first enlisted in 1944 at 15, and was in California about to be shipped out to Iwo when the Marine Corps discovered he was underaged and discharged him. And he told the story about Jim.

When Captain Webb served on the staff of Secretary of the Navy John Warner, one of his jobs was to give speeches supporting the Vietnam War effort. After he had been doing it for a while he began, as our speaker pointed out, to go of the plantation. He would depart from his assigned script and freely speak his mind about the conflict, criticizing some aspects of how the war was being wage. This got him into trouble. He was called into the Secretary’s office and warned to stick to his assigned script. But Jim is outspoken as i think anyone who has been around him knows. And he went off the plantation again. Secretary Warner went ballistic, and told a top aide to court-martial Webb for having disobeyed a direct order.

Now that aide was a Marine. So he called our speaker, then at the EPA, and asked if he could hide a Marine there for a while? Our speaker did, and everytime Warner inquired about the court martial he was told that they were working on it. After a few weeks they got paperwork together and walked into Warner’s office with a set of discharge paperwork - honorable - for Jim. Warner was at first quite upset, pointing out that he wanted to court-martial the captain. His aide and others explained that politically it might not look too good to be court-martialing a highly decorated veteran of the Vietnam conflict for speaking what he believed to be the truth about the conflict. Jim was honorably discharged.

Meanwhile he had worked out very well at EPA, and our speaker tried to encourage him to continue to work there. Jim said he had decided to go to law school that fall. This was August. He had not yet applied. Our contact asked if he had taken the LSATs. Jim had not. But when our speaker said that he would have to wait a year Jim made clear that he was determined to go that Fall. So here is a former Marine at an executive position in the EPA, our speaker. He calls up a good friend who is a senior partner at a major Washington firm, who is also a former Marine. The two of them conspire, and go visit the head of admissions at Georgetown Law, who - yep - is also a former Marine, and without having taken the LSATs Jim Webb was admitted to Georgetown Law.

Let me tell you what the story of refusing to be muzzled reminded me of. In Russian church history there is the tradition of the iurodivny, the Holy Fool. These were truthtellers, who because they were fools and thus considered touched by God were given a freedom to speak out not available to others. The most famous of these was a man after whom the iconic image of Red Square is nicknamed. St. Basil lived at the time of Ivan the Terrible, and he was the one person who could speak blunt truth to the Tsar without being immediately executed.

This is something that has its roots in Biblical prophecy. The Nevi’im were less foretellers of the future than they were speakers of truth, often from a condition of ‘ecstasy’ - there is the tale of Saul falling in with a company of prophets and rolling around and prophesying. But the most famous example was the Court prophet Nathan, who inquired of King David what he would do with a wealthy man with many cattle who took away from a poor man his only cow,and David expressed with righteous rage how he would punish the man. Nathan then confronted him with “you are that man” and David was stricken, realizing that his prophet had challenged him on how he had gotten Bathsheba. Of course the biblical tradition is that this is the inspiration for the Psalm 51.

I think the two aspects of Jim Webb described in the anecdote are important to remember as he is about to embark upon his senatorial career. He has never been afraid to speak out, to speak the truth as he sees it. I will not be surprised to find that what he says can be described with the title of the Al Gore movie on the environment, because Jim WILL speak the truth and it will not always be either convenient or comfortable for those who hear it. There have already been some stories about Senate staffers that worry about how different this will make Jim, that he won’t play by the traditional rules, which I think is good. We already saw this to some degree in the incident at the White House with the President.

And as his entire life should demonstrate, Jim does not get deterred by serious challenges. The entry into law school is but one piece of a consistent pattern. When he was considering getting into the race, he had lunch with Steve Jarding, who had run Mark Warner’s campaign for governor as the crowning jewel in a career that included work for Bob Kerrey and Tom Daschle. Jim pushed Steve to tell him what the odds were of winning the seat. Steve was reluctant to be specific, telling him that it would be difficult. Jim was insistent on hearing the truth, as insistent as he has been in telling it. Finally Steve told him probably no better than 15%. Jim responded that he liked those odds. The man does not shy away from a serious challenge.

I sensed part of this from reading Jim’s writings, from seeing him on TV several times over his literary career. I realized it when i first met him at a local Democracy for America event at Attila’s near Courthouse in Arlington back last winter. Since deciding to run in February Jim has consistently demonstrated both his honesty and his courage. I expect nothing less than a continuing demonstration of this high character in the next years as he embarks on this latest period of service to the people of the nation.

Semper Fi!

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