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Jim Webb: “I’ve been warning” Democrats

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Ignore the article itself, which is typical claptrap posing as “analysis” by the right-wingnut (although they disingenuously claim not to be) Real Clear Politics website. The author himself, David Paul Kuhn, has been called “a noted analyst of and sometimes advocate for the political views of white men.”  Believe it or not, Kuhn actually wrote a column for Politico in May 2008, postulating a John McCain “blowout” win over Barack Obama, “by a margin exceeding President Bush’s Electoral College victory in 2004.”  Uh huh.

Anyway, putting all that aside, Jim Webb  actually has some interesting points to make in this article, although the title (“Why Reagan Dems Still Matter”) is a bit jarring.  First off, I strongly agree with Webb that the Democratic Party needs to get back to its “Jacksonian democracy” roots (side note: the author of this piece mistakenly wrote “Jeffersonian democracy” in his first draft, then fixed it), a party that “very clearly represents the interests of working people.” In my view, and it seems that Webb and I are on the same page here, the Democratic Party has gotten away from this and become a party that too often appears more concerned with serving corporate interests and the upper middle class. Isn’t that what we have a Republican Party for?

Second, I strongly agree with Webb that the Democratic Party has become too “transactional” and has “evolved too strongly into interest groups rather than representing working people, including small business people.”  This is one of the main reasons I consider myself more a “Teddy Roosevelt Progressive” than a “liberal” in today’s sense, because I believe more in an overarching set of rules that advance everyone’s “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness”, that keeps the environment healthy for everyone, that – as David Sirota puts it – “focus[es] on using government power to make large institutions play by a set of rules.” That’s exactly what Teddy Roosevelt did, reining in the corporate “trusts,” making conservation a central concern of the federal government, and stressing equality of opportunity – as opposed to outcome – for all citizens of this country. Having said that, I also agree with liberals on the need to have minimal standards (for workplace safety and conditions, food/water/air quality, etc.) and to fully fund the “safety net” – Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc. – in order to ensure at least a minimum level of “outcome” in addition to setting the rules for overall equality of opportunity. I’m not sure where Jim Webb comes down here exactly, but my read is that he’s a hybrid of a number of things —  a Teddy Roosevelt-style progressive, a Jacksonian economic populist, strong on defense but NOT a “neoconservative,” a social libertarian in the sense of government not coming in our front doors “unless there’s an overriding reason to do so.” Much of this is what attracted me to Webb in the first place, and continues to do so to this day, although Webb’s severe shortcomings on the conservation/environmental protection portion of Teddy Roosevelt’s philosophy frustrate me to no end.

Third, I agree with Webb that it would have been better for the Obama Administration to have acted more forcefully on health care reform. Specifically, I would not have let the process drag/drift on for a year, all in a fruitless search for the mirage of Republican support. I also would have fought more vigorously for crucial items like the “public option.” As for Webb’s criticism that health care reform’s end result constitutes a “complex amorphous leviathan that bubbled up out of five committees,” I doubt that many people would disagree on that point, and I certainly do not. Why it ended up this way gets back to what I was saying a bit earlier, as this version of health care reform was highly “transactional” in nature, as befitting Rahm Emanuel’s style – cutting deals with this corporate interest (health insurance companies) and that one (big Pharma), while losing sight of the overarching goal, which should have been to provide all Americans with high-quality, affordable health care and prevent the bankrupting of our nation through spiraling health care costs. Unfortunately, the latter goal – “bending the cost curve” – was barely addressed – while the other goals were advanced far less than they could have been via a simpler “single payer” system or at least by offering people a “public option” along with private health insurance.  What would Teddy Roosevelt have done, if he had been in charge? I don’t know exactly, but something tells me it certainly wouldn’t have been this process and this outcome.

Fourth, Webb is correct that people “want to see leadership” and “credibility” from Washington. The problem is, given the need to serve their corporate and other monied masters, our elected officials have lost almost all credibility and rarely demonstrate true leadership on any issue. It’s sad, but John McCain of all people turned out to be right about the corrupting influence of corporate money in politics. Thus, Webb asks (and I agree):

People look up say, what’s the difference between these two parties? Neither of them is really going to take on Wall Street. If they don’t have the guts to take them on, and they’ve got all these other programs that exclude me, well to hell with them. I’m going to vote for the other people who can at least satisfy me on other issues, like abortion. Screw you guys. I understand that mindset.

Excellent points by Webb. If this past election wasn’t the “screw you guys” election, then no election ever was. Having said that, I most definitely believe there are differences between the far-right-wing Republican Party and the corporate-centrist Democratic Party, just not nearly as wide a gap as I wish there were (e.g., I want there to be a real Teddy Roosevelt Progressive party in this country).

In general, I’m happy that Jim Webb is in the Senate, I’m pleased that he opted to be a Democrat, and I’m glad that he’s “warning” the Democratic Party not to lose touch with its working-class/Jacksonian roots and values. As frustrated as I get with Webb at times, this alone may be reason enough to have him in the Senate for another 6 years (although, again, we really need to press him to be more of a Teddy Roosevelt on conservation/the environment).

Will Webb run? He’s non-committal in this article (“I’m not saying I’m not.”) and elsewhere. Very soon, of course, Webb will have to decide his course, and given his antipathy towards being a politician (as opposed to being a Senator), I have my doubts that he’ll throw his hat in the ring for a second term. If he does, though, I hope he runs as an unabashed proponent of working people, of Jacksonian Democracy, and of Teddy Roosevelt Progressivism (and conservationism). If he does that, I’ll enthusiastically support him. If not, then what’s the point of being in politics anyway?

  • scott_r

    Your piece, that is…Webb is absolutely correct in his analysis and I am quite happy to have him as a senator.  He may not like “being a politician” but he is one, and reads the winds quite well, and I suspect his decision will rest somewhat on the political winds in Virginia next year.  

    The important thing to take away from this is that we Democrats need to really stand for something – Bush-II never engaged in ‘transactional’ – they wanted the whole loaf, so they demanded two and left it for us to push them back to just one!  On ever single issue.  Obama has been a middling “make nice” non-confontational guy while the other side is unabashed and unrestrained at every single turn.  

    Of course, I’m another TR fan…how the hell did Lincoln and Roosevelt wind up in the GOP?  At least there is this consolation: TR was despised as a RINO and neither would be welcome in that party today.

    Enough “GOP-lite” from the Democrats!

  • somethingblue

    “… evolved too strongly into interest groups rather than representing working people.”

    I’d be a lot happier with that sentence if he’d said “all working people.” Reminds me a little too much of the ugly Hillary Clinton line about “hard-working Americans, white Americans.”

  • I think we do have a problem in the rust belt.  There, too many people can’t see a way forward, either for themselves, or for their children.  More to the point, this is something that has been going on for at least two generations in many areas (in some areas, even more).  Add to this a declining population base (meaning more young people move away than stay) and you now have young people who can’t see a way forward and an increasing demographic of older people.  And when you get that combination, people,(for lack of a better word) cling harder to the things in their lives that give them a sense of worth and define who they are.  (This includes, but is FAR from limited to things like guns and religion.)  When this happens, Republicans, who, for the most part, are less about change temperamentally and structurally than Democrats, gain a natural advantage.  And this is a problem that has been building for a long time — I’ve watched the county where I grew up, just outside of Pittsburgh, fall a little more into Republican hands with every election since 1980.

    Part of the elitism charge (which is mostly rhetoric, but rhetoric doesn’t take root if there isn’t some feeling for a listening to attach to it) comes, ironically, I believe, in the mostly Republican notion of the meritocracy.  If you have done well in life, very few people seem to believe that they weren’t the main force in why that happened.  It’s human nature, coupled with a great American as individual mythos.  The downside is, of course, that if you did NOT do well, then that must be your fault.  That’s a lot to put on someone’s head, and in years like now, when we’re in recession and too many Americans out there simply can’t handle on more responsibility on top of the ones they are already caring, it comes out in starker relief.

  • AnonymousIsAWoman

     FWTW, I saw Webb on election night at Gerry Connolly’s party, and he shook his head at the overall results and said to my husband that the Democrats have to stop ignoring the working people.

    When it comes to economic populism and a concern for issues such as income inequality and the well being of the middle class, he’s the real deal.  I hope he chooses to run again because he’s the one willing  to fight for the unpopular causes like this and prison reform.

    He can indeed be maddening on some issues, like the environment.  But he’s got an independence from the corporate Dems that have been selling the middle class down the drain while Wall Street executives continue to amass huge bonuses for essentially driving the economy into a ditch.

  • Mike1987

    I believe he says one thing and does another. He and Warner talk of leadership but themselves stay hidden.  Where are they?

    Where is the Democratic Party leadership – gone.

    Who does the Democratic Party represent – Ain’t me.

    I strongly suspect what you will see in the next two years is capitulation after capitulation. As republicans dismantle every social safety net and service for the working poor and what’s left of the middle class in America, where will Webb and Warner be? most likely at a cocktail party.

    What Webb fails to mention is that he and Warner are part of the problem with the Party. No, because Webb writes an article does not mean he believes it or works toward that goal. Warner was a good Governor but an unseen and unheard Senator.

    Before you dismiss me, ask yourself, why didn’t the base come out and vote? I AM THE BASE, insult me and you don’t get my vote or money. Lie to me, cheat me, treat me as a problem and you will ALWAYS be a minority party. I gave my time and money to Gerry, but Webb and Warner, nope, I see nothing but talk.

  • vaambition

    I would like to see us start a discussion of What IF…..What If Jim Webb says he is not running…what do we do then?  Who would the good candidates be?  Is it Tom P?  Is there someone else…Is there someone one in the state legislature?  We need to start thinking…just in case

  • Tom

    I think what Webb has to say in unvarnished, even blunt, language at the Steering Committee meeting about the state of the DPVA Friday evening the 3rd of Dec. will be well worth the drive down to Newport News. He does have a way with words, and what he says about the need for a strong, energetic and pro-grassroots chair with real leadership abilities may well determine who is elected Saturday morning by the Central Committee members.

    With Harry Reid returning as Senate majority leader, and remembering a comment Webb made some months ago that “this is no way to legislate” in the context of Reid expecting Senators to vote on a 2,000 page Health Reform package they’d never seen just three days before they were expected to vote on it, I have a feeling Webb might just decide another two years of putting up with Reid will be enough for him. Webb can probably get most of his remaining top initiatives passed in two years.

    And I agree that Tom would be a great candidate to replace Webb if Webb decides not to run for re-election.

  • vaambition

    Is Tom the only candidate?  If thats the case…that we only have one guy….then thats a tough position that we find ourselves in…he cannot be the only Progressive in Virginia…and what if Tom does not want to do this?