With Reporting By Bolu Adeyeye
At an event to promote his book on Tuesday evening, Sen. Jim Webb restated his decision to remove his name from Barack Obama's vice presidential search, offering no suggestion that he might reconsider.
"Like I've said previously," Webb remarked with a grin on his face, "I am committed to what I am doing in the United States Senate and serving the people of Virginia and of the country... But thank you for your question."
The remark, which was received by an amiable audience of more than 100 at D.C.'s Politics and Prose, was the second firm denial to VP overtures that the Virginia Democrat has issued in as many days. The former Navy Secretary had been considered a strong choice for the post but claimed that an obligation to the Senate and legislative work outweighed the allure of the Old Executive Office Building.
And yet, the fact that Webb had ostensibly removed himself from the V.P. running did not preclude him from broaching hot-button political issues. At several points in the discussion he made statements that, while not instigated by a campaign-related question, went to the heart of the contest between Obama and John McCain.
Take, for instance, remarks Webb made on the cultural divisions that had infected American politics - which ended up sounding like a defense of Obama's now notorious "bitter" comments.
"[Let's say] you're somebody who's a working person in this country, trying to make a living, trying to put your kids through school," he said. "And you look at the people from both parties, and on the key issue--you really don't see a difference... This is where the Karl Rove era moved in. They've taken this group that you're talking about, they go after their fears. They go after the abortion issues. And what happens is because people don't see the difference on the issues that are really going to take care of them, then they decide alright, I'm going to vote on who's burning my flag and who's going to let gay people get married. We know all the issues: God, guns, guts, gays, abortion, flag."
Earlier, Webb was asked about his experiences and perceptions of the Vietnam War. His response was a detailed explanation for his enlistment, punctuated by a statement that, whether intentional or not, touched on the recent flurry over McCain's military service and its relevance to the presidential campaign.
"What I've said to military leaders and people in the Republican Party who tend to politicize our military is that people don't join the military for political reasons. Very few do, and my view when I was twenty two years old was that I was going to serve my country. The Vietnam War was not going to go away..."
Much of the conversation, however, dealt with the Senator's book, "A Time to Fight," as well as the underlying thesis of that work: the need to refocus political energies on the plight of the working class. And by-and-large the crowd obliged, not querying Webb on his V.P. decision save for that one question.
Only later in the Q&A session did the Senator offer a sliver of insight into what, exactly, persuaded his mind. Asked about the benefits and downsides of the growth of political blogs, Webb delivered an answer that seemed very much a reflection on the wounds he endured during his 2006 run for the Senate.
"There is good news and bad news about blogs," he said. "Anybody can say anything about someone and they don't even have to put their name on it. And the anonymity encourages irresponsibility. And it's pretty frustrating, I'll be honest with you."
But, he added, "I wasn't [initially] sure I was going to run for office... [But] there were people in the blogging community who heard that I was thinking about running and on their own, the started a draft Webb for Senate campaign. They got a thousand signatures on it. They came over and told me and I spent an hour and a half talking with them. That was a big part in terms of convincing me, I ought to step forward and do this."