Home Politicians 6 Years After “Draft James Webb,” How Has It Worked Out?

6 Years After “Draft James Webb,” How Has It Worked Out?

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Six years, almost to the day, after the launch of Draft James Webb – by a few of us crazy, progressive, netroots activists – how has it all worked out? Here are a few positives and negatives, six years later.

Positives

1. We defeated George Allen, at a time when all the “smart” people in the Virginia Democratic establishment felt that it was absolutely hopeless – no chance whatsoever – that we could beat Allen in 2006. That’s why they picked a wealthy guy as a placeholder candidate. I never bought that analysis. Why not? Because I looked at Allen’s 2000 election numbers (not impressive – just 52% over a severely weakened Chuck Robb), his poll numbers in late 2005 (mediocre), his record in the U.S. Senate (96% voting with Bush, no accomplishments to speak of), and the Republicans’ declining poll numbers across the country. With the right candidate, why couldn’t Allen be beaten? I didn’t buy it, nor did others in the “Draft James Webb” movement, and we acted accordingly.

2. We defeated slimeball lobbyist, conservadem, and unethical hack Harris Miller, despite being outspent something like 6:1 (Miller used that money to savage Webb in mailers as essentially a racist, misogynist, and of course Reagan Republican). That, in and of itself, was a huge accomplishment, for which I’ll forever be proud to have participated in.

3. We built a 14,000-strong “ragtag army” of Webb supporters across Virginia. That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever been involved with, and probably ever will be involved with. It also proved that “people power” can win out over money, the “powers that be,” etc.

4. As a U.S. Senator, Webb’s done some great work. First and foremost, of course, was his modern-day GI Bill. Second, Webb has been a voice for our fighting men and women, as well as our veterans, across the board. Third, Webb has done great work on East and Southeast Asia, including helping pave the way towards a possible breakthrough with Myanmar/Burma. Fourth, Webb has relentlessly pushed for criminal justice reform, has built a large, bipartisan coalition supporting it, and has not given up despite outrageously absurd obstacles put in his path. I hope he gets this one before he leaves the Senate in a bit over a year. Fifth, I’ll never forget Webb’s awesome response to George W. Bush’s State of the Union address on January 23, 2007. Finally, for those who think Webb hasn’t been a strong enough Democrat, it’s important to point out that, in the end, Webb has voted approximately 94% of the time with his party — about the same as Mark Warner, who’s voted 95% of the time with the Democrats.

5. We took back the U.S. Senate in 2006, with Webb’s election tipping it to the Democrats. That, in and of itself, made it all worthwhile.

6. We arguably prevented Felix Macacawitz from getting the Republican nomination for president in 2008. Remember, in early 2006, Felix was busy running, but not for Senate so much as for president. That’s why he was hanging out in places like…oh, Iowa and New Hampshire…and not “real Virginia.” Heh.

7. Before I get to the “negatives’ below, let me just conclude by pointing out that Webb’s been infinitely better than Felix Macacawitz, who would have been a disaster on every issue. So, yes, overall I’d say that in many ways, Draft James Webb worked out extremely well. But now, the negatives…(you knew those were coming!).

Negatives

1. As I’ve written about previously, my biggest frustration with Webb has been on one of his core “themes” of 2006 — the importance of fighting for the working and middle classes, the need to measure the health of a society at its base and not at its apex, “Jacksonian Democracy.” While I’ve seen some signs of this, I’ve also seen Webb inexplicably arguing that “the proposed $250,000 cut off level is too low, and he is advocating that it be raised.” I’m sorry, but in no way/shape/form is %250,000 per year working class or middle class. In fact, according to a recent poll, 53% of Americans said that making $150,000 or less actually makes you “rich” in this country, while just 29% said that making $300,000 or more is required to be “rich.” So why on earth did Webb make this argument, when in 2006 he argued – correctly – that the rich were getting richer, the poor poorer, and the middle class getting squeezed? I don’t know, but I do know he was right then but he’s dead wrong now. I’d love to hear what Andrew Jackson would say to Jim Webb on this one if he had a chance.

1a. On this same topic, we also had Webb’s absurd opposition – “absurd,” that is, if he’s really the Jacksonian Democrat he claimed in 2006 to be – to the “millionaire’s surtax.” Webb joined with super conservadems like Ben Nelson and Joe Manchin, plus the execrable Joe Lieberman, on that one. Ugh.

2. The other major area of unhappiness with Webb has been on energy and environmental issues. True, I never expected Webb to be an expert on energy issues, let alone a champion of clean energy and the environment, as he’s shown very little interest or understanding of energy markets in 2006 (or beyond). Still, in “Born Fighting,” Webb ripped the coal industry, writing that “The Man got his coal, and the profits it brought when he shipped it out. {The people of Appalachia} got their wages, black lung, and the desecration of their land.” Given that, I never thought that I’d see Webb speaking a coal-company-sponsored, pro-industry rally on the National Mall. I certainly never expected Webb to slavishly mouth the coal industry’s propaganda points, like “we are not going to let EPA regulate coal out of business,” or “we need to get our support behind the Rockefeller amendment” (to gut EPA enforcement powers).” Simply appalling. Then there’s Webb’s support for offshore oil drilling, even in the aftermath of the disastrous Gulf of Mexico BP oil gusher. And, with all of this pro-fossil-fuel garbage, where’s Webb’s support been for CLEAN energy like wind, solar, and energy efficiency? Uhhhhhh…is that the sound of crickets chirping I hear? Why yes, it is!

As for the environment, Webb has not been a friend, I’m sad to say. For instance, he’s been absolutely, wildly, dead wrong on global warming, actually stating on the floor of the Senate, “I am not convinced the Clean Air Act was ever intended to regulate or classify as a dangerous pollutant something as basic and ubiquitous in our atmosphere as carbon dioxide.” Webb also was absolutely, wildly, dead wrong when he claimed the (supposed) “sweeping actions that the EPA proposes to undertake… represents a significant overreach by the Executive branch.” That’s so many kinds of wrong it’s hard to know where to start. In fact: a) the EPA’s establishment (by President Nixon) was approved by Congress, back in 1970; b) the Clean Air Act was passed by Congress, extended multiple times by Congress, etc; c) the U.S. Supreme Court clearly ruled in 2007 that the EPA “can avoid taking further action [on global warming] only if it determines that greenhouse gases do not contribute to climate change or if it provides some reasonable explanation.”; d) the U.S. Senate has utterly failed in its duty to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, per the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, the overwhelming scientific evidence, etc. In sum, Jim Webb on energy and environmental issues has been a dismal, abysmal, and wildly irresponsible failure, even as scientific evidence mounts that the planet’s environment is in grave danger, with urgent action required IMMEDIATELY. Webb totally doesn’t get that, and apparently has no interest in learning.

3. Although we built an amazing rag-tag army of grassroots/netroots volunteers in 2006, we weren’t able to sustain this in the long term. Yes, there’s still a few-dozen-member “Webb Brigades” club, which meets once a month, but that’s not the same as having a full-fledged, 14,000-strong movement fighting for the ideals (Jacksonian Democracy, etc.) Webb espoused in his 2006 campaign. In large part, this was a failure of the Virginia Democratic establishment, which in the end refused to work with us to figure out how to integrate that tremendous energy and talent into the party. Instead, they went right back to their business-as-usual mode, chose to keep their small tent of insiders intact (and safe from the “barbarians at the gate”), and as a result lost a golden opportunity to infuse new energy, vitality, and talent into the party.

4. Continuing on with the theme from point #3, Jim Webb could have used his status to fight for his “ragtag army,” help reform DPVA, etc., but he chose not to do so. That’s a huge, missed opportunity. It’s also very disappointing, given Webb’s strong rhetorical support, during the 2006 campaign, for the entire “ragtag army”/grassroots democracy ideal. What happened? Got me.

Bottom Line

On balance, as you can see, there have been major “positives” as well as major “negatives” (or maybe it’s more accurate to call them “disappointments”) six years after the Draft James Webb movement. I’m still very glad we did it, wouldn’t trade that experience for anything, and overall am very happy  with what we accomplished. Still, as you can see from the “negatives” list, it could/should have been a lot better.

P.S. Given everything I’ve written above, I can’t decide if Webb’s decision not to run for reelection is a positive or a negative. What do you think?

  • Progressive86

    Webb’s decision not to run will turn out to be a positive only if Kaine takes his place. I will argue that Allen would not defeat Webb in a rematch and therefore the anxiety of the current contest would be somewhat placated. Of course, Kaine is leading Allen in the polls at present but there’s still a ways to go. In another vein, I believe Kaine will be a pinch more to the left than Webb, which is a plus. Kaine is certainly not an extreme liberal but he isn’t the conservadem that Webb is either.

    While I agree that in terms of quantity, the positives of Webb outweigh the negatives, on the environmental front in particular, Senator Webb has been lackluster, at best. If Webb were a true Jacksonian, he would have erred on the side of human and environmental health and not, for instance, offshore drilling off VA’s coast.

    That said, we would all do well to attempt to look at the whole picture like Lowell has. We often tend to focus on the negatives of “our own” instead of balancing them against the positives. For a man like Webb who has served his country in more ways than one, I cannot help but say thank you for his service. Besides, he still pisses conservatives that I know off, which is always amusing.

  • cvllelaw

    to be a DPVA guy.  That may have been part of his initial charm for folks disillusioned with the DPVA. It takes a very different personality to deal with party organization.  I wish that he had been a little more willing to engage with the Party, but we are where we are.

    As to #1 and #2, one problem that all of us in politics have is that we tend to project onto anyone that we like for one reason a whole host of views of our own, on the assumption that if they agree with us on some things, surely they agree with us on all things.  

    There is no better example of this than our love affair with Barack Obama.  I tried to convince people during the 2008 campaign that Obama really wasn’t that liberal, and that we were projecting things onto him that weren’t him.  He was always lukewarm on financial regulation, perhaps because he was getting so much money from Wall Street.  He actually told us that in 2008, but I don’t think that we were listening.  He told us in 2008 that he would move cautiously on a lot of things, but we assumed that because he was “one of us” that he would join us as we stormed the barricades.

    As to Jim Webb, though, he turned out to be much more complex a thinker than we gave him credit for.  Sometimes that complexity took him in a direction different from what we were expecting.

  • Jim B

    There are times when a conservative democrat will do something that causes me to think we may as well have elected a republican, but that probably is never the case. A conservative democrat still has enough democratic ideals that a republican of today will never have. I’ll take Jim Webb and even Ben Nelson over any republican you can name.

  • I actually think that number six is the most important one.  We here in VA knew what kind of person Allan was (at least, some of us do….) but the idea of a George Allan presidency (especially following a GWB presidency) was, to me, absolutely terrifying.  And even assuming that he lost in 2008 (which I assume he would have) he would have been perfectly positioned for 2012, where Obama’s best bet is that the Republicans can’t find a candidate like George Allan.

    (shudder)

    Yes, I know, if he wins, this all could start playing out again, but we stopped an ambitious projection of a man unfit, in my mind, for the White House.  And I take real pride in that.

  • kindler

    …will be the terrific people it motivated to get more involved in Virginia Democratic politics.  I don’t know enough about what’s happening in other parts of the state, but in Fairfax County, 3-4 of the Webb Brigades are in positions of leadership in the Democratic Party — including Executive Director Frank Anderson.

    We all know that these folks would not have hit the streets with the same enthusiasm for a doomed Harris Miller campaign.  Not that most of us weren’t Dems to start with, but it was one of those magical campaigns where you can feel the energy and inspiration and just really enjoy being part of something greater than yourself.  Obama ’08 was another.

    We need more grassroots-driven campaigns like these, to bring closet Dems out of the woodwork and into the streets — and especially taking over the rusty old DPVA establishment.

  • Tom

    I didn’t meet Susan Mariner face-to-face until election night when I met her at the election night watch and (literally) all-nighter party at the Sheraton near Tysons Corner mall. But Susan and I “met” numerous times via tel. and e-mail, and her amazing organizational abilities and apparently unlimited energy inspired me even more than my belief in Webb to keep working harder and harder for his primary and general election victories. And my enthusiasm and energy continued when Susan asked for my support when she was chosen as the DNC-funded Hampton Roads counterpart to Joe Montano’s NoVa regional field organizer. Susan was such an important part of my ability to maintain my high energy, and I was so impressed at her ability to nearly double the VBDC membership that I had great hope that she would be able to continue to apply her dedication and superb organizing skills that made it possible for her to lead by her example.

    So, my great hope is that Susan will once again jump back into a leadership position, maybe once again as a DNC funded (at least partially funded) regional coordinator IF the DPVA would simply ask the DNC and/or the Obama campaign to re-start that highly successful partnership with Virginia. We need this great organizer and leader back on our team in 2012 and in 2013. Her return would be one of the most positive outcomes of the Webb era I can think of. She and Jim Webb inspired me more than I thought possible, and I think we all need some of this powerful inspiration as we head into the 2012 Presidential and Congressional election cycle.

                              T.C.

  • Matt_H

    Your draft Webb leadership was great and I was proudly a part of the effort, particularly during the primary when defeating Harris Miller was a top priority.

    To me, Webb’s greatest moment came shortly after his election and his strongly worded populous editorial in the Wall Street Journal – I have heard nothing of the sort since from any politician.  Those were heady days for those of us fighting for American middle-class values.

    Although I like Webb, something inexplicable got to him halfway through his term, and he more or less faded from the fight to help common folks.  It’s sad for all of us in the Commonwealth, and the energy that he engendered will definitely be lacking in our next Senator, even if Kaine wins (Kaine is an astute student of the political winds, and lacks a true commitment to common people and workers).