Call to affirmative action

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 If there’s one member of Virginia’s congressional delegation who intrigues us the most, it has to be James Henry Webb, Jr. Ever since he won his razor-thin senate victory over George “Boot in Mouth” Allen, we’ve be trying to figure out what makes him tick.

In his recent Wall Street Journal editorial, Senator Jim Webb says affirmative action programs have “expanded so far beyond their original purpose that they now favor anyone who does not happen to be white.”

And it’s not merely the fact that he’s a heat-packing ex-Marine who used to write novels with steamy passages like “he saw the invitation with every bouncing breast and curved hip” that intrigues us (although that is pretty good stuff). No, what really piques our interest is that, nearly four years into his six-year term, Webb remains an inscrutable cipher. Whereas other freshman senators usually work hard to maintain a high profile and focus on a pet issue to help define them politically (think of Al Franken working to assure that rape victims get their day in court), Webb generally keeps a low profile, and most of his legislative activity has involved laudable, but decidedly unsexy stuff like expanding benefits for military families.

Webb does, however, have one “signature” issue, which he describes as “a profound, deeply corrosive crisis that we have largely been ignoring at our peril.” Usually when politicians talk like this, they’re referring to crystal meth, or failing schools, or the second season of “Jersey Shore.” But surprisingly, Webb’s beef is with America’s criminal justice system, especially its stratospheric incarceration rates and rampant prisoner abuse.

We say “surprisingly” because, of all the issues that politicians usually pick to endear themselves to the voting public, it’s safe to say that decreasing the number of people sent to prison is pretty far down the list. And we have to admit, the fact that Webb was willing to tackle such an unpopular issue made us view him with a bit more respect.

Which is why we were saddened to read the man’s recent, poorly timed editorial in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Diversity and the Myth of White Privilege,” in which he argues that all affirmative action programs not targeted at African Americans should be abolished. This peculiar idea probably would have caused a ruckus no matter what, but after the White House fired rural development director Shirley Sherrod for anti-white racism (and then immediately apologized and offered her a new job after discovering that the whole thing was a vicious smear), Webb’s musings on race and privilege seemed especially tone-deaf.

Now, we’re not going to address the merits of his argument because, just like the Bush administration, the Odd Dominion doesn’t do policy. But we will say that, from a political perspective, the entire thing is bizarre. First of all, why now? Webb doesn’t really explain the impetus for the column, except to point out that the Tea Party and the NAACP are calling each other racist. Secondly, saying that you want to get rid of affirmative action for everybody who isn’t black seems like a position specifically designed to piss off every single segment of the political spectrum.

Hey, maybe that’s it! This could be the key to Webb’s personality that we’ve been looking for. He obviously hates his job, and yearns mightily to return to his one true passion: writing military-themed bodice-rippers. So he’s been secretly polling his constituents to find out exactly what they want, and then methodically doing the polar opposite. Genius!

Guess we might finally get to see Senator Macaca after all.

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