Webb presented some excellent ideas for concrete policies, such as a 5% tax break for military people, as well as a goal of attracting volunteers across class boundaries. He deftly deflected any need for a draft, argued for withdrawal from Iraq asap but without an inflexible date, and listed several very sensible steps for withdrawing prudently from Iraq. After Allen refused to express any regrets at all over all the billions poured into Iraq, Webb sparkled (while Allen smirked). But wait.
But then Russert pulled out a grenade-- Webb's 1979 "Women can't fight" article, with its sexist remarks about women in the military. Were you wrong? Russert asked. And then Webb started to squirm. It was painful to watch. They ran a clip of Kathleen Murry, who testified that Webb's remarks were actually used by her academy classmates and instructors to justify mistreating women cadets further. But after even this dramatic clip, Webb refused to apologize; he hemmed and hawed about perspectives, the times, etc. etc. and spoke about what he has done for women since then. His locutions became Kerryesque at this point.
Why oh why couldn't he just come out and say: I was a product of the times, of my military culture; I am truly sorry that the remarks I made and the positions I took hurt the cause of our brave women in the military. Now I am among their biggest supporters, and I will do everything possible to redress the harm of previous years. Why?? I think this is what he meant, but believe me, it wasn't pretty as Russert asked again again: Were you wrong? Were you wrong? and the bleeding just continued. Russert asked whether he now believed that military women could lead men; Webb quite confidently said yes, but then refused to acknowledge that this represented any sort of change on his part.
Why can't politicians admit to making mistakes? It need not be interpreted as flip-flopping when the change of heart spans a couple of decades. Even Allen has figured this out; when it was his turn for an embarrassing question, he told Russert that his attachment to the Confederate flag was something he now regretted. This was the best possible answer he could give.
Aaargh. Were not for Webb's fumbling of the women-in-the-military segment, I would be thrilled to be reporting that he won this debate. To my mind, he missed a great opportunity to present himself as someone who could evolve and grow, who could abandon a rotten sexist perspective and learn from the experience. Did anyone else find this frustrating? What do women who have served in the military think of this?