Webb of Mystery

I have to say, I am totally fascinated (at times repulsed) by the new senator-elect from Virginia, Jim Webb. He’s a mess of contradictions, or perhaps he’s only a contradiction because the categories we have for ideology are insufficient. Everyone should read this incredible Weekly Standard article that makes a convincing case that Webb is a reactionary of the highest order. But then what does he do after he’s elected? He writes the most stridently economically populist op-ed I’ve ever seen from a sitting member of the US senate:

This ever-widening divide is too often ignored or downplayed by its beneficiaries. A sense of entitlement has set in among elites, bordering on hubris. When I raised this issue with corporate leaders during the recent political campaign, I was met repeatedly with denials, and, from some, an overt lack of concern for those who are falling behind. A troubling arrogance is in the air among the nation's most fortunate. Some shrug off large-scale economic and social dislocations as the inevitable byproducts of the "rough road of capitalism." Others claim that it's the fault of the worker or the public education system, that the average American is simply not up to the international challenge, that our education system fails us, or that our workers have become spoiled by old notions of corporate paternalism.

Now, comes word that things got testy between him and the president at a reception at the White House:

At a recent White House reception for freshman members of Congress, Virginia’s newest senator tried to avoid President Bush. Democrat James Webb declined to stand in a presidential receiving line or to have his picture taken with the man he had often criticized on the stump this fall. But it wasn’t long before Bush found him.

"How's your boy?" Bush asked, referring to Webb's son, a Marine serving in Iraq.

"I'd like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President," Webb responded, echoing a campaign theme.

"That's not what I asked you," Bush said. "How's your boy?"

"That's between me and my boy, Mr. President," Webb said coldly, ending the conversation on the State Floor of the East Wing of the White House.

There’s a tendency these days to value rhetorical combativeness over substantive, principled resistance to injustice. That’s why Webb makes such a fascinating case. It’s going to be hard to get this guy to go along with anything he doesn’t want. The senate is a collegial body by nature, it’s going to be interesting to see if the senate changes Mr. Webb or he changes the senate.

Chris Hayes is the host of All In with Chris Hayes on MSNBC.

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