At the recent Mason District (Fairfax County) Crab Feast, I observed, among the usual parade of politicians, two who stood out from the crowd.
Jim Webb and Tim Kaine demonstrated a level of class, earthiness and sincerity that we ought to expect from everyone we elect to public office. While Webb will be missed, his impending departure makes all the more critical that we replace him with someone real, like Kaine — and not a dime store cowboy.
Webb spoke of his experiences on September 11th, when he happened to be in the Pentagon speaking with Corporal Jim Jones. Jones was called away by the news of a plane hitting the World Trade Center — and Webb was driving away on Route 110 when he heard and felt the thud of the plane hitting the Pentagon.
The experiences of that day, and the irresponsible reaction of the Bush administration — particularly the egregious, destructive War in Iraq — led Webb to leave the Republican party, seek office as a Democrat, and become our Senator in ’06. And Webb has used his office not for grandstanding or stuffed-shirt nonsense but to pursue serious, meaningful causes like the new GI Bill, reducing our massive prison population, and decreasing income inequality.
Have I agreed with every stand Webb has taken or not taken? No — on clean energy, for example, he’s been consistently AWOL.
But I have never doubted that Jim Webb means what he says and acts with conviction. He carries himself with a kind of military honor and even after 5 years in office, does not act like a politician, to the point that the hosts of the Crab Feast had to coax him to come on stage with all the other “electeds”.
Webb noted with fondness how Tim Kaine helped him get elected and that he would go anywhere Kaine asks him to return the favor — to help him succeed Webb in office.
At this point, Kaine took the stage and said that he hadn’t thought of it as “succeeding”
Webb, but that it would be an honor to do so. And it came across sincerely, like most of what these two gentlemen say, as their genuine affection for one another was palpable.
I talked with Kaine before he spoke, and was struck, as I have been in the past, by his atypical humility. “Hi, I’m Tim” is how he introduces himself, with the comfortable familiarity of your long lost cousin at the family reunion.
When Kaine spoke, he wove together all the themes of the Democratic platform, from preserving Social Security to protecting the environment, into a unified theme of responsibility for one another. The message was in perfect harmony with its messenger, squaring with his background as a former Catholic missionary and civil rights lawyer. He comes across as inspired by the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount, as opposed to the harsh Crusader Christianity that so many on the right try to force upon us. Kaine understands what humility is and why it’s such an essential quality for our leaders to have.
In public office, Kaine has sometimes fallen short, not pushing as hard as needed to get things done. But he is in politics for all the right reasons, and you can usually count on him taking the side of compassion and justice.
While pundits often focus on all the cosmic factors affecting who gets elected, they sometimes slight the importance of politicians simply being likable, good guys. There’s something to be said for electing real people, not phonies. In 2012, Virginians will have a choice to have one genuine human being succeed another in the Senate — or else to go back to the right-wing robot we worked so hard, and successfully, to evict last time.