Local Commentary

Editorial: Living on World-Changing Soil

It was right about now a year ago that Jim Webb stepped out of his Falls Church home into a bright spring morning and took up in earnest for the first time a citizen-candidate effort to change the course of the nation. His was in the time-honored American tradition of the ancient Roman Cincinnatus, who out of a sense of civic duty, when begged to do so, left a pastoral life as a farmer to assume the political and military leadership of his country. In the minds of the founding fathers of the U.S., the Cincinnatus model animated enthusiasm for the young nation’s new institutions. George Washington cited him when he was called out of private life, following his military career, to serve as the young republic’s first president. It was not the professional politician, but the virtuous citizen who was the key to making democracy work.

What’s happened with and to the life of Jim Webb in the last 12 months has been breathtaking, and as a result of his efforts, to the nation and the world. He was elected to the U.S. Senate only a few months ago by the narrowest of margins. Many went to bed in the wee hours after the polls closed thinking he’d come close, but hadn’t quite overcome the incumbent power of Republican Sen. George Allen, who at the same time one year ago was basking in the glow of having won a trend-setting presidential straw poll victory among influential GOP conservatives at a major meeting in Washington.

But on Nov. 8, the morning after the November election, Webb pulled ahead in the vote count with late vote reports from Richmond coming in. That grey morning the world changed. The GOP was postured not to concede, to howl for a recount and the same kind of shenanigans it pulled off in Florida in the presidential election of 2000. The media, despite all the votes being counted, would not declare a victor. It took Webb, himself, to do that. Early that afternoon, his campaign issued a press release referring to him as “Senator-elect.” A stunned media began to report, “He’s claiming he won!”

It stuck. Within a day, the GOP conceded, and with Webb’s victory, the Democrats gained a one-vote margin in the U.S. Senate in an election that was one of the most poignant votes of “no confidence” for a sitting U.S. president in history. All this happened in just one year.

It’s exciting to be in the Northern Virginia epicenter of the shift in Virginia from a “red” to a “blue” state. This small region has set the trend for the entire state for two consecutive statewide elections and the work of every progressive and fair-minded activist and citizen has been instrumental. Seldom in this world of multi-million dollar campaigns do citizens of a particular region have the historic opportunity to affect such a difference on a national scale by their efforts. We’ve already seen that we live on ground remarkably fertile for change of a kind that can favorably alter the direction of the entire globe.