Keep an eye out for the June 2 issue of The American Conservative, which went to press today. It includes my article on the battle for Virginia’s Eighth Congressional District, which pits Ron Paul-inspired Republican Amit Singh against Mark Ellmore, a candidate sometimes compared to Mike Huckabee. In Singh’s case, the race puts to the test the ability of a new generation of limited-government conservative to appeal to voters in a difficult (read: Democratic-leaning) district. After its recent special election losses in Mississippi, Illinois, and Louisiana, the GOP is in desperate need of a new brand. The Eighth District candidates offer two possibilities.
My old American Conservative colleague Jim Antle takes a few shots at Sen. James Webb, the paleo set’s favorite Democrat, over at Taki’s Magazine. But Jim (Antle that is) is mostly firing blanks.
Webb may be a disappointment to those who hoped he would take a firm stand for restricting immigration, but I didn’t have any expectation that he’d do that. During his 2006 campaign, Webb made it clear to anyone who was paying attention that he supported abortion and repudiated his former objections to affirmative action, so nobody can be too surprised by his record in those areas.
Antle shows that Senator Webb is neither an economic nor a social conservative. But again, none of that is surprising, and none of it speaks to why some conservatives and libertarians, myself included, supported him. Our support boiled down to Webb’s opposition to the Iraq War and support for civil liberties, including the right to keep and bear arms. The senator hasn’t disappointed on those scores, even if he hasn’t shined the way we might have wished.
I find Antle’s article rather strange. He’s criticizing Webb for not getting good grades from the Club for Growth and Family Research Council. But Walter Jones, whom Jim still likes and suggests is “more valuable to traditional conservatives” than Webb (and I agree), also gets poor grades from the Club for Growth and is one of that group’s prime targets for 2008. As for the Family Research Council, I’m sure that Rick Santorum got pretty good grades from them while he was still around. Would Jim, or other paleocons, rather see more Santorums and fewer Webbs?
There are plenty of things to object to in Webb’s record. If Pat Buchanan ran for the Senate against Webb, sure, I’d support Buchanan. In fact, depending on whether Webb gets better or worse over time, I might well vote for a third party against him in 2012. But if it comes down to Jim Webb vs. a Bush Republican again, which was the 2006 match-up, I’ll gladly vote for Webb.
Two other points to keep in mind about Webb: a vote for him in 2006 was a vote for divided government, giving Congress some teeth to go after the Bush administration. In 2012, there might be just as pressing a need to vote for a Republican, assuming they can find someone better than a Bush-Allen type, to stop the abuses of a Democratic administration. The other point is that sometimes cultural conservatism is just that — about culture, rather than politics. It doesn’t compensate for his policy flaws, of course, but as one of Daniel Larison’s posts about Webb in 2006 indicated, Webb seems much more like a real person and a real Virginian than George Allen ever did. That’s why many paleos *like* Webb even more than they support him politically.
Finally, just for nostalgia’s sake, here’ s a link to an old post of mine from ’06 about Webb and the race in Virginia. Jim links to it as well, so I figure I have some excuse for dredging it up.