Swift-boat this

Democratic Senate candidate Jim Webb shows some of his would-be colleagues what it means to fight.

Published June 29, 2006 1:42PM (EDT)

Fourteen Senate Democrats got in line with the GOP and voted in favor of a constitutional amendment on flag burning this week. More Democrats, including Dick Durbin and Hillary Clinton, tried to kind of, sort of, get on board by backing a bill that would have outlawed some flag burning without amending the Constitution.

There is another way.

As we reported yesterday, the campaign for Republican Sen. George Allen of Virginia has gone on the attack against Democratic challenger Jim Webb for saying that he would have voted against the constitutional amendment. But rather than taking it quietly in the mode of John Kerry in 2004, Webb's campaign is giving Allen -- and a lot of timid Democrats -- a lesson in how you fight back.

The Allen campaign said that Webb's position on flag burning exposed him as "liberal" and put him in the same camp as "John Kerry, Ted Kennedy and Charles Schumer." Those are fighting words in the Commonwealth, and Webb isn't taking them sitting down. Returning fire, Webb's camp said Wednesday that "George Felix Allen Jr. and his bush-league lapdog, [campaign manager] Dick Wadhams, have not earned the right to challenge Jim Webb's position on free speech and flag burning." They noted that Webb, the secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan, served in Vietnam and "fought for our flag and what it stands for," while "George Felix Allen Jr. chose to cut and run."

Allen turned 18 in 1970, but he did not serve in Vietnam, staying in college and spending summers at what the Webb campaign calls a "dude ranch in Nevada."

"When he and his disrespectful campaign puppets attack Jim Webb they are attacking every man and woman who served," the Webb campaign press release continued. "Their comments are nothing more than weak-kneed attacks by cowards."

The Allen campaign responded by saying that it never meant to question Webb's patriotism.

Webb's approach was plainly designed to get under Allen's skin. Among other things, the senator is said to hate his middle name; apparently, "Felix" doesn't really fit the cowboy-boots-and-Confederate-flag style Allen has adopted for himself. But as the National Journal's Hotline explains, the blowback may have been a preemptive strike against further attacks on Webb's patriotism or military service. Allen strategist Chris Lacivita served as a media advisor for the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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