George Allen's Zen Ad: Can You Be Misquoted If You Were Never Quoted?
Sen. George Allen's latest TV ad features yet another woman who says Jim Webb is a bad man who doesn't like women. This time, we're introduced to Janice Buxbaum, a member of the first class of women to attend the Naval Academy. Buxbaum, like the women in an earlier Allen ad, purports to be upset even all these years later about a 1979 article that Democratic challenger Webb wrote in Washingtonian magazine.
In the Allen ad, Buxbaum claims she is misquoted in Webb's piece. Which is odd, because if you read the story, you'll see she's actually not quoted at all. Her name does not appear in the article.
Perhaps Buxbaum believes she is quoted without her name. In fact, one woman student is quoted blindly in the Webb piece. Here is the entirety of that passage:
Another woman, tall and reserved, commented that men she does not know frequently come up to her and tell her, "You don't belong here, did you know that? Why don't you leave?" "I tell them, 'That's tough. I'm here.' " In her next breath she speaks of wanting to wear the same hat that males wear. "I'm a midshipman, not a midshipwoman. I am the same. I'm tired of sticking out."
Clearly, if this is Buxbaum, this is hardly a quotation being used to bolster Webb's argument that women can't fight. To the contrary, this midshipwoman's voice presents the view that reality trumps Webb's notions about what women can't do. Women are here, she's saying, deal with it.
This can't possibly be the quotation Buxbaum would have us believe still offends her a quarter of a century later.
So we're left with this: The Allen campaign has put out an ad and is spending $650,000 in TV buys--mostly in the D.C. market--to spread the word that Webb, as Buxbaum says in the spot, is "just not an honest man." And the ad that's supposed to send that message is, well, just a tad short on honesty.
Buxbaum, on examination, appears to be a whole lot less certain about things than the ad makes her out to be. In an interview with The Post, she concedes that she can't recall what the quotes were that Webb supposedly was going to use in his Washingtonian story, and she concedes that whatever the offensive quotes were, Webb never used them.
The ad labels Buxbaum like this: "Democrat." She says in the spot that "I don't want him in my party. And I don't want him in my Senate." It's a powerful moment. Except that Buxbaum--like, ahem, Webb himself--appears to have switched teams at some point. Virginia doesn't have party registration, but state election records show that Buxbaum voted in the Virginia Republican primary in 2000, and, as the Associated Press reported, she gave $500 to the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2003. (She also donated $1,000 to Democrat John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004, so quite possibly she's a party-neutral moderate, which is truly a lovely thing to be.)
In the article, Webb argued that women are not fit to see combat. Like much of Webb's journalism of that period, the piece is mainly about how tough a guy Webb is and how manly his pals are. The piece feels quaint and a little childish from this remove. Webb's main point is that "men fight better." Men, he says, reasonably enough, are generally more violent; men commit far more homicides, men commit rape, etc. Therefore, he argues, men are suited for combat; women are not.
"There is a place for women in our military, but not in combat. And their presence at institutions dedicated to the preparation of men for combat command is poisoning that preparation. By attempting to sexually sterilize the Naval Academy environment in the name of equality, this country has sterilized the whole process of combat leadership training, and our military forces are doomed to suffer the consequences."
But if Webb's whole shtick is that he's a manly man, then where's the aggressive campaign? Wouldn't a tough guy present his own perspective on what the last few weeks' various George Allen stories-- macaca, Jewish heritage, racial slurs--really mean about his opponent's character?
Allen's campaign against Webb has focused almost wholly on the idea that the challenger is anti-woman. Allen's first TV spot on the issue is powerful and makes you want to demand answers from Webb. Webb's response ad is also compelling, if not exactly a direct answer to the allegations about Webb's personal beliefs.
In the end, both candidates are trying to send the same message: Judge me by what I've done in office (as Navy Secretary promoting women, or as governor and senator working for black farmers and black colleges), not by what boneheaded stuff I've said in the past.
And both of these guys love to wear boots. And both are really Republicans (Webb's transformation into a Dem is recent and rather thin.) Both candidates like to be thought of as men's men. Both chew tobacco. Such similar gents: Why don't they just kiss and make up?
Candidates love to slash at the news media for ignoring the "issues." But if the candidates themselves are barely touching those matters of policy, and voters are busy trying to figure out which candidate is suitable for office, what is the real story of this Senate race? One thing it isn't about: Whether Webb is anti-woman. Surely George Allen can come up with something better.
By Marc Fisher |
October 9, 2006; 7:33 AM ET
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