Steve has commented on Jim Webb’s decision to launch an “exploratory committee” for a possible presidential campaign. But what is the case for a Webb presidency?
According to the Washington Post, Webb is pitching himself as someone who can shake up Washington’s partisan gridlock. Webb argues that, through him, America can “return to a leadership environment where people from both political parties and from all philosophical points of view would feel compelled to work the common good.” In this scenario people would “sort out their disagreements in a way that moves our country forward rather than tearing the fabric of the nation apart.”
Unfortunately, Jim Webb is as unlikely as almost any public figure in America to build consensus among those with differing points of views. Stated differently, he is a nasty piece of work.
In November 2006, the Washington Post reported:
At a recent White House reception for freshman members of Congress, Virginia’s newest senator tried to avoid President Bush. Democrat James Webb declined to stand in a presidential receiving line or to have his picture taken with the man he had often criticized on the stump this fall. But it wasn’t long before Bush found him.
“How’s your boy?” Bush asked, referring to Webb’s son, a Marine serving in Iraq.
“I’d like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President,” Webb responded, echoing a campaign theme.
“That’s not what I asked you,” Bush said. “How’s your boy?”
“That’s between me and my boy, Mr. President,” Webb said coldly, ending the conversation on the State Floor of the East Wing of the White House.
Henry Clay strongly opposed going to war with Mexico. James Polk defeated him for president in 1844 and the U.S. went to war. Clay became a leading anti-war critic. His favorite son was killed in action.
Yet Clay maintained good personal relations with Polk. In fact, their relations are said to have been warm during the latter days of Polk’s presidency.
Clay, a gentleman, rarely put a wrong foot forward in public. The the notable exception was a tirade in a bar when he learned that the Whigs had rejected him in favor of William Henry Harrison at their 1840 convention (in those days presidential aspirants didn’t attend their party’s convention).
Webb cannot be held to Clay’s standard. But one should expect minimal civility from someone seeking the presidency on the theory that he can break gridlock by getting people to “sort out their disagreements in a way” that doesn’t strain “the fabric of the nation.” That’s not a job for a jerk like Webb.
Nor is there any other rationale, beyond personal ambition, that militates in favor of a presidential run by the former Senator, who is now on his third marriage. Webb is hardly a political dynamo. His only electoral victory was against George Allen in 2006. It came in a state that has trended Democratic, and in the context of a pro-Democrat wave election.
Even so, Webb’s margin of victory was extremely small. And but for Allen’s use of the word “macaca,” Webb certainly would have lost.
Webb served six years in the Senate without distinction. His biggest contribution was his vote for Obamacare, without which the legislation would not have passed.
Webb declined to stand for reelection in 2012. Perhaps he doubted he would win. Perhaps he was bored with public policy.
Neither explanation commends him for the presidency. As former Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder told the Post, “A lot of people will be asking, ‘Is this the reason you didn’t run for reelection, because you were still so concerned with the direction of the country?’”
Webb fancies himself a populist and at times has talked a pretty good game. This distinguishes him from Hillary Clinton, but not from a host of possible entrants with more credibility with the left. Bernie Sanders, Jerry Brown, and Elizabeth Warren come to mind.
Moreover, Webb can’t have it both ways. He can’t appeal as a populist to the rabid Democratic left while claiming that he will heal the partisan divide. After all, Webb is no Barack Obama. Even President Obama is no Barack Obama.
That’s why Steve is probably right in saying that Webb, although ideologically at home with the Democrats, better fits the independent/third part mold when it comes to presidential politics.