Virginia’s Senior Senator spoke frankly this morning about what is necessary to shore up Democratic fortunes this fall. He is attempting to right a fumbled message about what the Party has accomplished; to awaken the electorate to the facts about in whose hands they really want their futures to lie.
Yesterday he was in Wytheville for Congressman Boucher’s campaign kickoff and today he followed this event with an appearance with Tom Perriello; later scheduled in Hampton Roads for a function with Bobby Scott. After an introduction by Creigh Deeds, the large crowd at the Buena Vista Democratic Committee’s 32nd Annual Labor Day breakfast was provided Webb’s take on the message. Webb began by assessing that a year is a long time in politics and we found that out last year in the gubernatorial race.
“I want to say, those of us who have been working for you in Washington, we let Creigh down…He ran against the same person that he lost to by 360 ? … 360 votes and look what happened last year. Creigh Deeds didn’t change; Bob McDonnell didn’t change; some of the issues in the country perhaps changed. But we let Creigh down by the way we put issues forward.” – Senator Jim Webb
Senator Webb was as at ease as he can be at a political event. He explained that his own people had history in the area and that he has been working with Ulster TV and the Smithsonian channel on a telling for television of his book Born Fighting. It is, he indicated, maybe a better narrative of the nature of the migration of many an American’s ancestors whose journey went from Scotland through Northern Ireland and down these mountains to this, then, wilderness. These are the people who built the concept of frontier style democracy; American populist democracy; Andrew Jackson’s form of democracy; the basis for the modern Democratic Party.
Then he dove into the message that he believes must be conveyed by the Democratic Party.
One thing we can do is to figure out how to explain the dynamic of what has happened in this country as it affects the political process. Here’s a starting point. You can’t go back and say “Bush did this.” But here’s what you can say and it needs to be said: We had eight years of governance that drove our economy into the trash bin.
We had a war in Iraq, an unnecessary war, a war with no strategic sense…and I say this as someone who will take the back seat to nobody in terms of my love for the United States military. I grew up in the military; my dad was a B-17, B-29 bomber pilot in World War II, he flew in the Berlin Airlift, I am very proud to have served as a Marine infantry rifle platoon, company commander in Viet Nam, very proud of my son who served in Iraq, but this is a war that’s gonna cost us two trillion dollars…
The economic policies that went along with the Bush administration, people here know, made the people at the top a lot of money, particularly people in the financial sector on Wall Street. I was talking about this in my campaign four years ago; that the divide between top and bottom has never been greater; never been greater in recorded American history. When I graduated from college, the average corporate CEO made 40 times what the average worker made. Today it’s about 400 times what the average worker makes. And that’s not globalism; that’s the way the American economic system broke down. You look at Germany…Germany has the most productive economy in the world. You talk about China, we worry about China, Germany has the highest positive balance of trade of any country in the world. The average corporate CEO made 10 times what the average worker makes. They have a system that’s based on taking care of people and being fair.
So, we got eight years of this and just as they were going out the door, all of you well remember this, August and September of 08, the economy crashed. We got called on September the 19th of 08. Hank Paulsen, Secretary of the Treasury – long time Goldman Sachs guy, made tens of millions of dollars with Goldman Sachs and you’ve seen Goldman Sachs in the newspapers fairly recently – Chairman Bernanke, got all the Democratic Senators on one phone call and they said, “You have to give us 700 billion dollars; you have to appropriate 700 billion dollars to remove the toxic assets from our banking system, these assets we can’t value, or the world economy is going to crash.”
We had 11 days to make up our minds about that. I called people from all over…different areas of the economic system…including friends of mine that made money on Wall Street, I’m saying “Can this really be true? We’re going to hand over 700 billion dollars. And the message I got back was “Yes, it is true. If you don’t put the money out there, the world economic system is going to go into a cataclysmic freefall.” A lot of people had a lot of adjectives to put onto that about what these corporate CEOs had been doing and what the deregulation had been doing. One of my most trusted economic advisors was a gentleman who worked for a long time at Morgan Stanley, made a lot of money, a guy named Barton Biggs who writes a column people may have read, written some books, this is a Wall Street guy. And I asked him, this is the last guy I called, “Is this true?” And he said “Yes it’s true, but you have to punish these people.” He said the people who did this have ripped this country off. “You have got to go into executive compensation. You need to re-regulate the economy.” …etcetera, etcetera…We had 11 days to make up our mind, we voted 700 billion dollars to try to free up our economic system and then they didn’t use the money that way.
They did not use it to buy out the toxic assets that were clogging up our banking system. They used it to rehabilitate the corporations and to give themselves bonuses. And, folks that is not a Democratic ideological comment. That’s a fact. And Mr. Paulsen waved goodbye, back up to New York, the Bush administration went out, and there we were.
People talk about the stimulus package. The stimulus package was worked on by Democrats and Republicans. You need to have this ammunition when you go out to talk to people about these two appropriations of a lot of money. We have a conservative economist, not liberal economist, who said we should have had twice the amount of money in the stimulus package in order to really re-gun the engines of this economy. We’ve got conservative economists right now who are saying we need another stimulus, another trillion dollars.
What I am trying to say here is that we had to pull ourselves away from the brink of disaster. That’s the hand that we were dealt in the Democratic Party, that’s the hand this new administration was dealt. We’re doing what we can to turn this thing around. It’s not something you can do overnight. We haven’t gotten any cooperation from the other side. They’re betting on the 10 elections. You know that, we know that; they filibuster every single thing that comes to the Senate floor.
Now we’ve made mistakes and this is what has complicated the problem. I will say to you what I said to the President 16 months ago on this health care bill. I think we made a huge mistake. I think that the President lost a lot of credibility by the way they moved that bill forward. You know I was a committee counsel in the House of Representatives 1977 to 1981, right after I got out of law school. I put 25 bills a year through the House floor. I am very familiar with what I think is the best way to move legislation.
If they wanted to move a piece of legislation that complex – and I’m saying exactly to you what I said to them – the President, the administration should have had a very clear plan. “These are the unassailable principles that I want in this bill.” You can’t turn the United States Congress loose with that complex a program. They were afraid they were going to have a situation from the Clinton administration where they came forward with a thousand page bill and all got ripped up. Instead they said, oh, no, we’ll let the Congress do it. Five different Congressional Committees had their own bill. We had 7000 pages of contradictory information out there. People got scared. People in this country got scared; they’re still scared and they’re mad.
So, we’ve made mistakes, but in terms of where the concerns are for the working people of America, we’ve got to reinforce this notion, the truth that this comes from the Democratic Party. We put Wall Street reform out there this year. We got it through. None of the Republicans wanted Wall Street reform. I put in a bill to give a windfall profits tax for these corporate executives that were able to get more than five billion dollars out of the TARP program. We can’t get that to the floor to get voted on.
So there’s plenty of questions to ask the Republican Party about where their loyalties are. Now for me, my great political hero is Andrew Jackson. I think many of you know that. Andrew Jackson was a very underrated President when it comes to the true notions of economic fairness in our society. He put the policy on the table. He brought the American people, the common American person into the political system. His belief was that you measure the health of a society not at the apex but at its base. Not from what’s going on with these people who are making money out of pushing paper up there in the financial sector but how many people are working, how are they being compensated, how are you taking care of pensioners? He once said, “The powerful can protect themselves. But the farmers and mechanics and the laborers require the arm and the shield of the law.
You ask yourselves, “Which party it is that is going to put its arm and its shield out there to protect working people of America?” It’s the Democratic Party. We’ve got to get that message through. We’ve got two months. I think people are starting to pay attention a little more closely to candidates and to the long term future of our country.
Even though you got nobody to go out to yell for here during the (6th District) Congressional race, please help us get that word out.
Well, this is a little help. But the Senator’s explanation does not have the background narrative that a more adept handling of this administration’s messaging might have provided. That is why it is so long. This is a complicated, convoluted story and difficult to tell without appearing to resort to finger pointing. Meanwhile, the drums beating the message of the opposition have been steady, turning the angst of the fight to do right on its head. But in the end, you should acknowledge, the hand left to the Obama administration was worse than bad; it was dealt from the sleeve. And maybe they did the best that could have been done by anyone under the circumstances.