tom brokaw james webb interview
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For now, Webb is happier than he expected to be in the Senate, because he believes the Democrats are finally getting a backbone. He sits with other like-minded freshmen – Tester, McCaskill, Sherrod Brown of Ohio – in what Webb calls "the redneck caucus, people who want to change things from the bottom up."

For the bad days, he has other companions he counts on: family members who, Webb says, have always been there, sitting on his shoulder. He calls them the truth tellers. One is his father, the Santini figure who had an air force officer's career without a college education but who never stopped trying to get a degree. After 26 years of night school and part-time courses squeezed into the demanding schedule of long military deployments, Colonel Webb graduated from the University of Omaha in 1962. When he stepped off the stage at the graduation ceremony, Webb remembers, the old pilot walked over to his son, pushed the diploma in his face, and said, "You can get anything you want in this country, and don't you forget it."

Then there's Uncle Tommy. The toughest of his father's brothers, a man Webb describes as a born leader who always stood on his own two feet, Tommy was complicated, largely uneducated, but a whiz at all things electrical and mechanical. Webb pays him what he calls "his ultimate compliment": "He would have made a hell of a marine."

To this day, when confronted by what he calls a crisis of honor, Webb is guided by a talk he had with Uncle Tommy as a teenager.

"I had a chance to ask him what he was proudest of in all the things he had done in his life," Webb writes in  'A Time to Fight.' Tommy didn't hesitate: "I've never kissed the ass of any man."