Black is white

Black is white

O.K., kids, pop quiz: In the last few weeks one member of Virginia’s U.S. Senate delegation issued a statement condemning the homophobic views of General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Pace had publicly opined that homosexual acts are immoral). He then proceeded to pile on embattled U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (“we can and we shall really grill him hard and, unless he is able to give an explanation…Bush is going to have to sit down and make a tough decision whether to keep him or not”), and enthusiastically endorsed Governor Tim Kaine’s proposed restaurant smoking ban. The other senator apparently packed a loaded handgun into a briefcase, left it behind while boarding an airplane, and then—when one of his aides was arrested trying to enter the Senate Office Building with said briefcase—held an unapologetic news conference where he proclaimed, “I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. It’s important for me personally and a lot of people in the situation that I’m in to be able to defend myself and my family.”

Quick: Which one’s the Democrat and which one’s the Republican?

The answer, of course, is that the pro-gay, anti-smoking Alberto basher is none other than Virginia’s Republican senator, John Warner, while the heat-packin’ political outlaw is our newly minted Democratic senator, James H. Webb. Now, anyone who has followed Senator Warner’s idiosyncratic career shouldn’t be particularly surprised by his latest maverick moves (this is, after all, the guy who voted against Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, for the Brady Bill, and championed independent Marshall Coleman over Oliver North in Virginia’s 1994 Senate race), but Senator Webb’s more liberal supporters must be feeling a bit slack-jawed over his recent high-caliber escapades.

Packin’ heat: Senator James Webb may be in hot water with his more liberal supporters.

It’s not just that Webb’s hapless aide, Phillip Thompson, was snagged trying to smuggle a loaded weapon with two extra clips into the nation’s capital (what kind of trouble is Webb expecting, anyway?), it’s how oddly cavalier the senator seemed while his employee (and, by all accounts, close friend) was sitting in lock-up, being fitted for leg irons in anticipation of his appearance before a D.C. Superior Court judge.

And what makes the entire situation even more intriguing, for us incorrigible political junkies, is that Senator Webb seemed completely unwilling (or unable) to affirm that he never carried a firearm inside the District of Columbia.

“I have had a permit to carry a weapon in Virginia for a long time,” he told reporters at the March 27 press conference, “…and if you look at people in the executive branch, look at the number of people who are defending the President and other members of the executive branch, there is not that kind of protection available to people in the legislative branch. We are required to defend ourselves, and I choose to do so.”

The problem with Webb’s self-defense strategy is that it’s illegal for anyone but a policeman to possess a handgun in D.C. (unless you registered your piece before 1976, when the gun ban was enacted), a fact that Webb is surely aware of. But when a reporter sought to clarify the senator’s pistol-packin’ philosophy (“Do you, senator, feel that you are above Washington, D.C.’s gun law?”), Webb refused to take the bait.

“I’m not going to comment in any level in terms of how I provide for my own security,” he shot back.

Yowza! Well, at least Webb was willing to admit that he’s “never carried a gun in the Capitol complex,” so we don’t have to worry about a wild shootout erupting during a contentious appropriations debate. But still—a high-level elected official flouting the very laws he’s sworn to uphold? Looks like Webb might have more in common with the Bush Administration than he thought.