Tag Archives: Jim Webb

The Contradictions of Jim Webb

Like Michael Crowley, I had no idea that Jim Webb is an opponent of the death penalty. I’ve followed Webb’s rise pretty closely, given that he is my Senator, so it has been quite interesting to see the boom of Webb related content that’s hit the web in the last couple of days. There have been people who claimed he is too independent to be Vice President. That he hasn’t been a Democrat long enough and his past views on cultural issues, particularly race and sex. That his views about the Vietnam war are insufficiently orthodox.

Webb’s biggest national appeal is supposed to be his cultural conservatism. Yet he is an ardent death penalty opponent and one of the few figures to have spoken out against the rate of imprisonment in the US. He is pro-life. Yet he has held that affirmative action is state sponsored racism, in the process of coming out for a more class based affirmative action program.

Basically, to me, the appeal of Jim Webb is pretty simple. He’s much more of an average guy than almost any other prominent politician. Nobody I know who doesn’t work in politics takes a party line stance on every issue they think about. People who are generally liberal agree with Republicans on some issues and people who are generally conservative agree with Democrats on some issues. Webb is like that too. In part because he hasn’t been a political creature for most of his career, in part because he’s switched back and forth between parties and in part because he’s iconoclastic, he doesn’t take a party line stand. Like most Americans he agrees with conservatives and liberals at different times. That is what is so refreshing about Jim Webb. He seems like a normal guy who just happens to serve in high office.

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Veepstakes

Now that Obama is starting his vice presidential search process, its as good as time as any to take a look at the potential VP candidates on both sides. So how should Obama and McCain go about making their picks?

So it’s an idea the candidates might consider. But whenever they make their picks, there are essentially two models to follow (in addition to picking someone from a key swing state, which is so twentieth century). There’s the Cheney model, in which you select a running mate who shores up your weaknesses, or the Gore model, in which you find someone who reinforces your strengths. In 2000, Dick Cheney appeared to be everything George W. Bush wasn’t: experienced, serious, knowledgeable and steady. In 1992, Al Gore appeared to be a virtual clone of Bill Clinton: young, Southern, ideologically moderate, and fresh. Both picks were extremely effective.

Marc Ambinder has some informed speculation up about the possible candidates. For Obama his list is:

1. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D-KS) — Obama really likes her; that’s very important.
2. The Virginia boys: Kaine and Webb
3. Gov. Ted Strickland (D-OH) — the Clinton stand in.
4. Gov. Janet Napolitano (D-AZ)
5. Sen. Hillary Clinton — there’s a fine balance between subtle pressure and overt hectoring

Wild card: Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE)

I think a lot of these would be good solid picks for Obama. They’re all in some way hybrid picks, with both Cheney and Gore elements. I’ve long though Sebelius was a great option. She’s got executive experience, but in many ways she personifies Obama’s change message. First, she’s a women, which would highlight the trailblazing nature of the Democratic ticket. Secondly, she is a popular, moderate governor from a red state, who has had incredible success winning Republicans over to the Democratic party. She’d highlight Obama’s bipartisan appeal and provide an actual example of what he wants to do with the country.

I’m not wild about a Kaine pick. First, I’m not sure he guarantees Virginia for Obama, and I think Obama could win it without him. Secondly, he doesn’t have much of a record as Governor. He’s faced Republican obstructionism, but he’s been manifestly unable to work across party lines to find acceptable solutions. Also, Democrats would lose the Virginia governorship if he were elected.

Webb is a different story. He’s got great military credentials and a real appeal to culturally conservative, Appalachian voters. He’s been a shocking effective Senator thus far, getting his GI Bill passed while putting McCain in an impossible political situation doing it. He also passed his Truman Commission for the Iraq War, which is looking into contracting abuses and war profiteering. He has a knack for proposing legislation dealing with the war that even pro-war Senators can get on board with. He’s a former Republican who has the ability to bolster Obama’s message of brining people together. Also, he’s a great attack dog, if a somewhat suspect campaigner. His response to Bush’s State of the Union in 2007 was the most effective I’ve ever seen, dwarfing Sebelius’ effort this year. He’d be hard to reign in, but he would really be a strong pick.

Strickland would only be an OK choice. He’s a former congressman and an ordained minister, which would be a plus, but he’s not particularly dynamic or nationally well known. He would probably bring along Ohio though. However, if you’re looking for strong Hillary supporters there are better options. General Wes Clark would be an outstanding choice, as would Senator Evan Bayh.

Napolitano would be a solid, Cheneyesque pick. She’s got great executive experience and has been effective in running Arizona. She also might be able to put Arizona on the map, which would be a plus given Obama’s preexisting strength in the rest of the Southwest. However, her record on immigration might be a little suspect, given that she signed the toughest employer sanction law in the country. That could lead to her being seen by Latino voters as anti-immigrant, a problem given Latinos preexisting affinity for John McCain.

Hillary herself may be the best option. She would bring the party together allow Democrats to present a united face in the fall. On the other hand, she would mobilize the right and could make Obama look weak if he is seen as being forced to pick her.

Biden or Hagel would be outstanding selections. There isn’t a better foreign policy attack dog than Joe Biden, whereas Hagel’s opposition to the war and status as a Republican, and close friend of John McCain, would emphasize Obama’s bipartisan appeal. Both are probably longshots, Biden especially given his habit of putting his foot in his mouth. On the other hand, picking Biden and publicly forgiving him for his infamous “clean” comments could help bridge the gap to white voters upset at being branded racists.

Ambinder’s GOP list:

1. Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN)
2. Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA)
3. Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R-NY)
4. Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC)
5. Sen. John Thune (R-SD)

Pawlenty would be an interesting choice. He’s a conservative Mid-Western governor who would satisfy the right. He’s also young, energetic and a good campaigner. On the other hand he’s not terribly popular. He’s never won more than 46 percent of the vote and probably wouldn’t allow McCain to carry Minnesota.

Romney would be a terrible pick for McCain. He’s a phony, electoral loser and blatant opportunist. He couldn’t bring his home state along and wouldn’t be anything more than a sop to the right who have for some reason adopted him as a hero.

Bloomberg would be a great choice, if he’d do it. There’s also been speculation that he’s favoring Obama. If he did go with McCain he’d emphasize McCain’s reach to the middle and put a popular executive on the ticket. He’d have a real appeal in parts of the country the GOP hasn’t competed in in for ever and would add real balance to McCain’s ticket, while still emphasizing his independence.

Sanford would be another interesting choice. He’d pacify worried social conservatives, yet still emphasize McCain’s reformer and budget hawk credentials. A McCain-Sanford ticket could make fiscal responsibility and pork busting central elements of their campaign. It could be a very strong ticket.

Thune would be another interesting option. He’d bring social conservatives solidly on board and has proved an ability to go toe to toe with Democrats, having beaten sitting Democratic leader, and Obama confidant, Tom Daschle in 2004. He’d be the best attack dog of the bunch and would provide solid regional balance for the ticket.

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