Jim Antle responds at 4Pundits to my critique of his article on Sen. James Webb. A few quick replies of my own: Antle says that I “concede” and “agree with” him that Webb isn’t an economic or social conservative. That’s true in the same sense that I concede and agree with him that the sky is blue. Webb campaigned as a social and economic liberal; he’s voted as a social and economic liberal. The point of my original rejoinder was that there’s nothing surprising here. Antle argues that Webb is like the Daniel Patrick Moynihan of the Right. Yes, ok. But we knew that in 2006.
Jim raises several valid new points in his reply to me: why all the paleo emphasis on Webb when certain other Democrats elected in 2006 are also, like Webb, antiwar and pro-2nd amendment? Jim and I agree (or am I “conceding”?) about the answer: as Jim writes, “Webb’s past political incorrectness, stated and implied, on some of these cultural issues is a big part of the answer.” Or as I said last time, we found the “cultural” conservatism of Jim Webb appealing — understanding, as I took pains to point out, that this “cultural” conservatism actually is about culture and not politics. And in general, as Jim might agree (or concede), Webb is a more colorful, interesting figure than Tester.
Now we get into some points of disagreement. Jim writes, “After agreeing with my argument that Webb is neither an economic or social conservative, Dan finds it ‘strange’ that I would bother to cite evidence for this claim.” Specifically, what I found strange was that Jim would cite the Club for Growth and Family Research Council congressional ratings as his evidence. Jim’s well aware of the defects of both groups. And again, you don’t need to consult a James Dobson scorecard to know that Jim Webb is not a social conservative: Webb told us that himself in the ’06 campaign. Where’s the story here?
To my question, “Would Jim, or other paleocons, rather see more Santorums and fewer Webbs?” he replies, “On some issues, yes. On other issues, no.” That’s not an option we get to choose, unfortunately. As I said last time, if Pat Buchanan were running against Jim Webb, I’d vote for Buchanan. Instead, it was George Allen running against him. Did paleos makes the right choice in rooting for or voting for Webb? I think so. And I would guess that Jim still thinks so, too. There was no antiwar social conservative candidate in that 2006 race, and, unfortunately, there probably won’t be in 2012 either.
Jim makes a few accurate criticisms of Webb on the points where Webb is supposed to be strong: on the Iraq War (Webb hasn’t voted to defund it) and civil liberties (Webb supported FISA). “I don’t want to be too hard on Webb,” Jim writes, “even in those cases he tried to make the best of a bad situation and these are all complicated matters on which his predecessor would have been much worse.” That’s all fair enough; this is where Webb has not performed the way paleos might have expected. But then Jim asks, “wouldn’t it be better for paleos to focus on electing more people like Ron Paul and Jimmy Duncan … ?” I wasn’t aware that Jim Webb was running against Paul or Duncan in the 2006 senate race. Jim knows, on the basis of what he’s written himself, that one can root for Webb in a Virginia Senate race while rooting for the much better Ron Paul and somewhat better Jimmy Duncan (who has his own FISA problems) in Texas and Tennessee. There’s no conflict there. Jim hasn’t shown, or even tried to show, that paleo support for Webb detracts from support for Paul or Duncan.
(That argument can be made: paleos surely do cost themselves credibility among conventional conservatives who may not be die-hard Bushies when they support guys like Webb. Trouble is, conventional conservatives haven’t been listening to paleos in the first place.)
Jim concludes by asserting “the Democratic Congress has mostly been a disaster” (true) and “The fact that Bush and the Republican Congress were no great shakes either is no argument for us to be positively supporting these people.” But paleos were not positively supporting “these people” — we were supporting Jim Webb, who was better than George Allen on the most important issue of the day. We were hoping for divided government, but that’s not the same thing as “positively supporting” Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, except in the roundabout sense that a vote for Webb was an indirect vote for making Reid senate majority leader. Jim concludes, “If the best we can come up with in politics are people we sort of like personally, think are authentic, and have made conservative contributions to the culture until we distracted them by putting them in office, then maybe there are better things for us to be doing with our time. Like stamp collecting.” But that’s not the best we can do, and Webb was better than that in 2006, since he was right on a few issues, including the crucial issue of the war.
Jim knows as well as I do that you can’t get everything you want in real-life politics. If you get mixed up in politics at all, unless you happen to be able to vote for Ron Paul every time, you’re sooner or later going to have to make some tough choices between candidates on both sides with whom you disagree on key issues. Then the question becomes, do you vote for the Family Research Council and Club for Growth candidate or do you vote for the antiwar candidate? Paleos made their choice in 2006. Jim’s article and his response to my feedback don’t convince me that they made the wrong choice.
Is Jim Webb our Daniel Patrick Moynihan? Well, so what if he is: the neocons were right to support Moynihan, who gave them what they wanted on some of their key issues. Paleos who support Webb are making a prudential judgment, too. That’s politics.