Falls Church’s own freshman U.S. Senator Jim Webb reminded a standing-room-only crowd crammed into a Northwest Washington bookstore Tuesday that he was “primarily a writer” before the Katrina disaster of September 2005 stirred him to run for public office.
Webb was on hand to sign copies of his new book, “A Time to Fight: Reclaiming a Fair and Just America,” at the Politics and Prose Bookstore on upper Connecticut Avenue, and to answer a half-hour of questions, including why he ruled himself out as a prospective Democratic vice-presidential candidate in a Monday announcement.
Unlike perhaps some high profile figures, “I write my own books,” Webb noted, citing his nine previously-published works, including his best seller, “Fields of Fire,” about the Vietnam war. “I have been in office for 18 months now, and I still don’t have a speechwriter.”
Shortly after being sworn in to give Democrats the majority in the Senate in January 2007, Sen. Webb was invited to give the Democratic response to President Bush’s State of the Union message, generally regarded as one of the most concise and illustrative digests of the fundamental issues that separate Democrats from Republicans.
Webb said he was approached by his publisher with an idea to write a book expanding on the themes in his nationally-televised Democratic response.
Expecting he’d have plenty of time to do it, despite serving as a U.S. Senator, Webb readily agreed. But then seven months went by and he found that, despite his ease with writing, he hadn’t penned a word. Faced with a deadline to get it done by the end of the year, he spent all his vacation time in August, and during the Thanksgiving and December recesses putting his thoughts on paper. He said he finished at 10:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.
“To those who listened to my Democratic response, or have been following what I have been doing on the Hill, there should be no big surprises in this book,” he said.
The basic themes are the same as those he developed when he first decided to run in early 2006. His initial impulse to seek public office came following Hurricane Katrina in September 2005, he said, motivating him to visit with his friend, Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, on the nuts and bolts of running. But he didn’t actually decide for almost six months.
“I vowed from Day One of running that I would not change what I believe for a dollar or a vote,” Webb said. “I was gravely concerned that after 9/11, there was no U.S. national strategy to define where to go as a nation. It is something that would have prevented the strategic error of invading Iraq. We needed a plan for how to deal with our allies and our adversaries. We needed a way to achieve economic fairness, to reverse the greatest migration of wealth away from the poor and middle class to the most privileged since the days of Teddy Roosevelt. We needed accountability in government. Finally, we need to address the nation’s terribly high incarceration rate.”
All these themes are addressed in his new book, he said, under the general themes of, “Who we are, what went wrong, and how do we fix it.”
The nation, he added, now faces the “greatest dual challenge since the Depression and World War II.” He cited his own role in getting his G.I. bill passed as an example of how to get things done with good leadership. “I started with one co-sponsor, and in 16 months had 58 co-sponsors in the Senate and 302 in the House. Bush, Sen. McCain and others in the Republican leadership did not want this, but we developed a strong bi-partisan support.”
This fall, Webb said, he will “put his teeth” into the development of a “comprehensive energy policy for the U.S.” His G.I. bill achievement, and his focus on energy policy are reasons why, he said, he feels he can be more effective remaining in the Senate than become a vice presidential candidate.
Although he now has a home in Arlington, closer to Capital Hill, Webb still retains his long-time residence in the Lake Barcroft area of Falls Church, where his children attended J.E.B. Stuart High School.