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Jim Webb’s Presidential Exploratory Campaign Finally Gets Some Attention, Just Not the Good Kind

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Just days after the murder of nine African Americans attending church by a Confederacy-loving white supremacist, the Confederate flag is coming down fast across the United States, even in places like Alabama and possibly South Carolina. It’s also coming off shelves at America’s leading merchants and the internet. Heck, it’s even gotten at least some 2016 Republican presidential candidates to call for the flag to come down. On the 2016 Democratic presidential side, you’d think this would not be a tough call, and indeed it hasn’t been for Martin O’Malley, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Lincoln Chafee.

The one exception on the Democratic side, of course, is our own Jim Webb, who many of us strongly supported for U.S. Senate in 2006. That’s not particularly surprising, of course, given Webb’s long history of “contrarian stances on the Confederacy.” It’s also not surprising given that the person who is de facto running his campaign, Dave “Mudcat” Saunders, happens toi be “an even more ardent fan and defender of the Confederacy” who “sleeps under a Rebel-flag quilt, and when challenged on such matters he has invited his inquisitors to ‘kiss my Rebel ass.'” Given all that, we certainly shouldn’t be surprised by Webb’s position on the Confederate flag, even if we strongly disagree with it (which I most certainly do).

The big question for Webb, though, is how his statement is playing among potential Democratic primary voters, and also more broadly. One thing’s for sure; it’s certainly getting him a great deal of attention for the first time in his exploratory “campaign” for president. For instance, I checked Twitter not too long ago, and Jim Webb was the #4 “trending topic.” Webb’s also the top subject at Memeorandum, a widely-read political news aggregator. Finally, on Webb’s Facebook page, we’re now up to 1,090 “likes,” 506 comments and 472 “shares.” Not bad for a page that has been relatively quiet unti now. Except for one problem: the comments on Webb’s Facebook post are generally scathing, as are the comments on Twitter, as are most Democratic-leaning blog posts. Here’s a short sampler.

*The top-rated comment on Webb’s FB page: “Honorable people fight on the both sides of every war. It’s the casus belli that matters. Honoring the “white man’s flag” (their words, not mine) excludes millions of black slaves who lived in the antebellum south and would have opposed war and slavery if they’d been asked. Their humanity was ignored then, and honoring confederates ignores their humanity today.”

*The second-highest-rated comment on Webb’s FB page: “…Let the flags of the confederacy be displayed in museums, CSA burial grounds, battlefields, and private homes and businesses; but not alongside the American flag at a capitol that is supposed to represent all Americans and citizens of those states.”

*The third-highest-rated comment on Webb’s FB page: “Mr. Webb, as an active duty Marine I’d love to support you. But as many others have pointed out here, the complicated history and honor that may have been carried in the hearts of individual soldiers does not excuse the wrongness of the white supremacist society that they fought for and that their battle flag came to symbolize. I am deeply disappointed in your position on this matter.”

*Progressive blog Hulabaloo: “It’s not really complicated at all. People like Webb just want to pretend it is. The flag is, and always has been, a ‘political symbol that divides us.‘ It has no place  in public in a decent society in 2015 — it is a historical artifact that should be studied for what it has represented — and not a damn bit of it was good.”

*Popular satirical blog Wonkette writes sarcastically: “‘Democrat’ Jim Webb Fondly Remembers Slave Holders, Still Won’t Be President.”

*Raw Story reports, “Dem presidential hopeful Jim Webb hammered for defending Confederate flag in bizarre Facebook post.”

That’s just a sample of what I’m seeing online. I also heard from several 2006 Webb campaign alums today. One of them said this is a “huge problem” for Webb and just seemed utterly disgusted. Another said, “so pig headed…hasn’t changed a bit!” And a strong Webb supporter from 2006 told me, “Mudcat is not the best adviser any more for these things, if he ever really was. To me, it’s pretty unequivocal that the flag is racist.”

Bottom line: In the end, Webb’s 2016 presidential “exploratory” campaign finally get a bunch of attention today, just not in any way that will help him have the slightest shot at winning the Democratic nomination.

  • Elaine in Roanoke

    Since I read Webb’s book, Born Fighting, I’m not surprised by his back-handed defense of the battle flag of the Confederacy. Webb idealizes his Scots-Irish ancestry to the point of refusing to acknowledge the rampant racism in Appalachia. He also uses the faulty rationale of saying that the majority of Confederate soldiers were non-slave owners. Of course. In the South during the war, there was a rule that men with large holdings of slaves didn’t have to fight. Plus, all those who did may well have aspired to being slaveholders some day (including my great-great-grandfathers), just like people today dream of being someday among that infamous 1%.

    Webb also brings up the monument to Confederate soldiers erected in Arlington. One hundred years ago would place that decision in the midst of the Jim Crow era, the time when membership in the KKK was in the millions, and when lynchings in the South were commonplace. That wasn’t exactly a period of racial reconciliation, rather just a time for white reconciliation, North and South.

    Perhaps Webb should remember that the “mutual respect” he wants to see means  respecting the views of those who have seen that flag used against their people time and time again.  

  • An excerpt from a response sent by Senator Webb to a letter from an African American resident of Richmond received yesterday: – Staff

    “I want you to know how much I appreciate your email, and how much I respect your journey. You and I are the same age. A lot has changed in our lifetimes. For me, as a child of the South I was very lucky to grow up in the military, which despite its flaws was the first institution that was racially integrated.

    Here are my thoughts. The Confederate battle flag was misused and abused, there is no question about this. But I am deeply concerned that the larger politics of the war are being put onto the backs of the soldiers who were called upon to fight it – which, by the way, caused more than 1/3 of them to lose their lives. Two of my ancestors died in that endeavor, one in Virginia and one in Tennessee. Neither of them owned slaves and one of them, from the far mountains of SW Virginia, had never seen one, I’m sure. You mention Vietnam. I fought there and was wounded. My son fought in Iraq. Neither of these wars are being remembered with a great deal of respect, but that does not mean we should wrongly characterize the service of people who fought there. BTW one of my great-grandfathers fought for the Union as a sergeant in the Kentucky infantry. I respect him in the same manner.

    According to John Hope Franklin, probably the most eminent Black historian in American history, only five percent of the whites in the South owned slaves in 1860, and only about 25 percent had any personal or economic connection to the institution of slavery. As a Richmond native, I’m sure those percentages were higher in your area. But the irony to me has always been trying to figure out what this looked like from the soldiers’ perspective, not the politicians. Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware all were slave states and stayed in the Union. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation did not include the slave owners in those states. The writer in me tries to imagine what it must have been like for the typical soldier to sort out all of these things. This has always led me to deplore the institution of slavery but to try to understand those who served.

    Again, I very much appreciate your letter and I respect your viewpoint.”