Webb 2.0

Webb 2.0

You remember Jim Webb, right? Hard-charging ex-marine, occasional writer of slightly salacious war fiction, and general issue hard-ass who stomped into the U.S. Senate wearing his Iraq-stationed son’s combat boots, a look of pissed-off determination etched into his squinting face. You know, the guy who told friends he wanted to pop George W. Bush in the kisser (after Bush smirked “How’s your boy?” at a White House reception) and cheerfully admitted that he packs heat whenever and wherever it’s legal to do so (and maybe even some places where it’s not).

Well, forget everything you think you know, Chico, because there’s a new Senator Webb in town, and he wants to take your kids to the Build-a-Bear Workshop while regaling you with tips about which hardy perennials are best suited to Virginia’s muggy climate.

Senator Jim Webb is playing a bit more nice these days.

All right, we’re exaggerating a bit, we admit it. But it certainly hasn’t escaped our notice that Senator Webb has undergone a bit of a personality transfer as of late, and seems to be mellowing into a slightly-less-combative, slightly-more-effective version of the tough-talking SOB that we’ve come to know and…well, maybe not love, but at least regard with brotherly affection. (Even though he’d probably be the kind of brother who’d give us atomic wedgies and belittle us in front of our prom dates.)

The most visible signs of this new, low-octane Webb have been on display during the dozens of interviews he’s done to promote his new work of erotically charged “Golden Girls” fan fiction, A Time to Fight. (What? It’s not? Sorry, we’re being informed by our editor that Webb’s new book does not revolve around an extended Bea Arthur-Estelle Getty pillow fight, but is actually an impassioned treatise on how to create a “fair and just America.” We apologize for the misunderstanding.)

Even when doing battle with The New York Times Magazine’s fearsome Deborah Solomon (who has reduced lesser men to tears), Webb simply could not be goaded into blowing his top, no matter how asinine the questioning. (Sample exchange: “Do you think you’re a good campaigner? You’re a little intense.” “I’ve been accused of being intense.”)

This newly nonchalant Senator Webb has been having more success in his day job, as well. His recent bill to increase college aid to veterans passed the Senate by a huge 75-22 margin, despite strong opposition from Republican presidential candidate John McCain. (Support for the measure is so strong, in fact, that Webb might actually get to tweak his old nemesis President Bush by overriding a promised veto.) Just compare that with the sad fate of Webb’s previous legislative effort, which sought to increase the amount of “dwell time” soldiers get between deployments. That bill not only went down to defeat, but was helped into the execution chamber by Webb’s senatorial colleague John Warner, previously something of a mentor to his brash, young, gun-totin’ junior member.

The real question, of course, is “why now?” Well, we’re not saying that the recent clinching of a certain party’s presidential nomination by a fellow senator has anything to do with it, but…

Oh, who are we kidding? Jim Webb wants to be vice president like Justin Timberlake yearns to be Timbaland, no matter how many times he might deny it. And since Governor Tim Kaine’s star isn’t shining so brightly these days, and Virginia is high on the list of swing-state prizes this electoral cycle, Webb knows as well as anyone that he’s got to be on the short list.

So sure, it’s got to be tough for a take-no-prisoners ex-jarhead to plaster a silly smile on his face, act all nice and polite to people he doesn’t particularly like, and (the horror!) actually leave his handgun at home once in a while, but hey—these are the sacrifices an ambitious politician makes (for the good of his party, of course).

But if he makes it to the White House, watch out! He might seem like a big cuddly bear right now, but don’t say we didn’t warn you if Vice President Webb begins his term by installing gun turrets on the front lawn and randomly slapping visitors for wearing flip-flops in the Roosevelt Room.

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