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Can Webb Avoid the SOTU Curse?

Sen. Jim Webb (Va.) is surely hoping for a brighter future in the Democratic Party than Christine Todd Whitman had in the GOP.

Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia
Webb, center, appears Tuesday with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (Getty Images)

Whitman, the former director of the Environmental Protection Agency, was the moderate, made-for-suburban-soccer-moms governor of New Jersey when she was picked by Republican congressional leaders to deliver the response to President Clinton's 1995 State of the Union -- the first time the GOP was in control of Congress in 40 years.

Fast forward 12 years and newly empowered congressional Democrats have chosen to go with someone outside of the party's mainstream to present their response to President Bush, the first time a Democratically controlled Congress will be reacting to a GOP president since 1992.

"We couldn't find anyone to better deliver the response," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in a Tuesday morning briefing alongside Webb and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Hinting at his remarks tonight after Bush speaks, Webb ripped the latest White House's proposal to "surge" 21,500 troops into Baghdad. "If you cannot articulate clearly the endpoint of a strategy, you don't have one," Webb told reporters in Reid's conference room off the Senate floor. (Read the prepared text of Webb's response.)

Webb, a former Navy Secretary and military officer, has been one of the most articulate anti-war voices since before the 2003 Iraq invasion, which paid off with the huge buzz factor among the netroots crowd for his 2006 Senate campaign. And yes, his son is in Iraq on active duty for the Marines, a fact that played out again and again on the campaign trail as he wore his son's boots -- culminating in the defiant pose of him hoisting the boots in the air above his head after Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) conceded defeat two days after the election.

But Webb, like Whitman, isn't a natural fit with his national party. He's got a rural background, has made many statements in the past that are anti-affirmative action and against sexually integrating the military. His views on social policy are undefined, as his past public service record is entirely rooted in his career in the Navy.

Now Webb, who has fashioned an intellectual career as an author, has to fit in with a Democratic caucus that is much more reflexively liberal than he is. Reid noted that Webb is already showing some independence from his caucus.


Christine Todd Whitman gave Republicans' response to President Clinton's 1995 State of the Union. Her moderate views on some issues ultimately hobbled her rising-star status in the GOP. (Getty Images)

"As a person, I have found him to be someone who listens and doesn't always tell me what I want to hear," Reid said, calling Webb a valued member of their party.

Republicans thought the same thing 12 years ago. The photogenic Whitman delivered a short, crisp 10-minute response to what had been a typically lengthy Clinton address. Her political horizon seemed limitless, as some moderate Republicans even trumpeted her as a potential vice presidential nominee in 1996 and 2000.

But Whitman became increasingly unpopular in the Garden State, opted against a difficult 2000 Senate race and became the Bush administration's first EPA chief in 2001. She never won over Washington conservatives and found herself relegated to the sidelines of real decision-making on environmental issues; she left the administration before the first term concluded.

Now, she's the disgruntled author of "It's My Party, Too", which also serves as the name of her political action committee.

Webb's campaign mantra was "Born Fighting."

Reid and Democrats hope those fights are with Republicans in the future, not Democrats.

By Paul Kane  |  January 23, 2007; 5:17 PM ET
Categories:  Dem. Leaders  
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Next: The Night the Lights Went Down in Statuary Hall

Comments

Can a 'curse' affect one person and be a curse? Is a 'streak' one game long? Not the best literary device under the circumstances; more data on other individuals chosen to deliver rebuttals of past SOTU's would've been interesting.

As others have commented, the characterization of the Dems as vegans with long hair and rose-colored Elton John glasses passing out flowers on the street corner while they tote "legalize hemp!" signs is getting very old and tired. Data, please.

In fact, entire columns of countering data have been written. Ignoring this plays right into the hands of mindlessly partisan hacks like Cantor (R-Va).

BTW, inferring that Webb's statements in the past against "sexually integrating the military" characterize his current position merely repeats GOP smears. The election is over; Allen lost. Get over it.

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | January 23, 2007 5:51 PM | Report abuse

"If you cannot articulate clearly the endpoint of a strategy, you don't have one," Webb told reporters in Reid's conference room off the Senate floor

Sorta sums it up nicely I'd say

Posted by: Anonymous | January 23, 2007 6:37 PM | Report abuse

Thought that Webb did a nice job. I didn't see it as either 'blistering' or 'blunt.' Perhaps an honest, thoughtful, truthful analysis seems that way to people who haven't seen that kind of presentation in a long while.

Can't say I'd vote for him for President any time soon but Webb seems like a solid leader.

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | January 23, 2007 11:59 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Judge C. You took the words right out of my mouth. Terrible analogy by the Post on one isolated event representing a "curse." I think most persons would perceive a curse or streak needing 2, or probably more, occurrences to qualify as such.

Unless it was a voodoo or gypsy curse that a practitioner placed on an individual. But I digress.

Posted by: bigeugene | January 24, 2007 10:55 AM | Report abuse

What Is The Democrats REAL Challenge ?

What's increasingly clear is that U.S. leaders today are not equipped with the skills needed to handle accelerating global challenges. The fact is, routine mismanagement of governing agencies, censorship, hidden / restricted information and many other symptoms of are increasingly prevalent throughout daily life. The democrats' challenge is to modernize both the skills of our leaders and the agencies that govern us.

I've prepared a website logging national news clips published during the past four months. As a group these events are stunning, displaying clear traits and underlying causes important for policymakers and media professionals to understand. Take a few minutes to visit www.IndustrialAgeGovernance dot com and scroll to the bottom of the page.

DW, Author

Posted by: DW - Author | January 24, 2007 11:44 AM | Report abuse

What on earth does Christine Todd Whitman have a PAC for these days? And does she call her PAC "It's My Party Too PAC"? If she really wants to get some interest, she should just shorten it to "TooPAC", and see if she can get some gangsta money to spread around.

Posted by: Ryan | January 24, 2007 6:32 PM | Report abuse

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