What is Jim Webb trying to prove?

One afternoon in the summer of 2010, I was canvassing for Tom Perriello in Greene County, Virginia — a county that had given John McCain 61% of its two-party vote share in the presidential election two years earlier. And it could have been more. As one voter put it, he couldn’t stand President Obama, but he’d either vote Democrat or stay home, since “My grandaddy would come out of his grave and strangle me if I ever voted for a Republican.”

This slice of the Democratic electorate — rural, white voters whose identification with the Democratic Party is completely divorced from the party’s platform — is small, and it is dwindling. It’s the slice that gave 41 percent of West Virginia’s 2012 Democratic primary vote to a federal inmate instead of President Obama (and elected Joe Manchin to the Senate). It’s the slice of the Democratic electorate that’s more or less fine with Republicans calling them members of the “Democrat Party.”

And it appears to be the slice of the Democratic electorate that Jim Webb is trying to win. If for no other reason than to prove that #NotAllDemocrats think progress is a good thing.

Since announcing his White House run, Webb has defended the Confederate flag and said that his two favorite 20th Century presidents were FDR and Reagan (Jackson’s the president he most closely identifies with). Additionally, as Bloomberg’s Francis Barry notes, in his 2004 book, Born Fighting, he shrugged his shoulders hard at a number of concepts that are fairly standard in the Democratic Party. As Webb wrote on evolution:

This confrontation between religious and scientific theories is still unsettled even today, as creationists rationally argue that the living world could not have been fashioned without an ‘intelligent designer,’ and that the theory of evolution as presented by the Darwinists still rests on scientific speculation that has yet to be proven.

And on affirmative action:

…blatant, government-sponsored reverse discrimination inherent in what are now called diversity programs.

Jim Webb, via DonkeyHotey / Flickr

Jim Webb, via DonkeyHotey / Flickr

Webb also argued that the Civil War wasn’t really about slavery — which, for the last time, it really, really was — and asserted throughout the book that our current racial issues are really the North’s fault, titling one of his chapters “The Mess the Yankees Made.”

It seems that Webb is trying to save a Dixiecrat wing of the Democratic Party that, for all intents and purposes, no longer exists. While he cites his opposition to the Iraq War as the primary justification for his candidacy, that isn’t what distinguishes him from the rest of the field. His horrendous record on climate change and parroting of Republican talking points on racial justice, which is becoming one of the defining issues of the Democratic primary, are what does.

If this were the 1970s, or even the 1990s, Jim Webb’s candidacy would be plausible. An anti-war, pro-domestic industry, pro-safety net Democrat with a military record and a religious background from a Confederate state, who’s all about equality but woah buddy let’s slow down with all this talk about race paints a fairly accurate picture of where the party used to be.

If Webb wants to wage a quixotic campaign to resurrect that picture, that’s his prerogative. But to an increasing degree, he’s only resonating with people who would otherwise be voting for Republicans were it not for fear of their granddaddies’ ghosts.

Is that a point really worth proving?


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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16 Responses to “What is Jim Webb trying to prove?”

  1. Butch1 says:

    WE created the “Creator.” (what came first the chicken or the egg?) We’ve been “creating” the creator’s for many iterations for many centuries. Many of the same stories have been used over and over, but with different names. It’s amazing that the people haven’t figured this out yet or just don’t want to be reminded of it.

  2. Butch1 says:

    He ALWAYS voted with the republicans when he was on the hill; he should have just called himself a republican. He used to be one and couldn’t get elected as one so he ran as a democrat and won. So he voted as a republican; it was a “win-win” situation for him.

  3. Butch1 says:

    I used to respect him when he wore his son’s boots around Washington DC as long as he was still in “harm’s way” fighting in one of the two Bush Wars that the previous president got us into, but his reasons for running for the presidency are absurd, dated at best for a small demographic of people who probably barely exist anymore and even if they do, they are old and dying out.

    He’s a has been republican who could not get elected in his own party anymore, so he did as a democrat. Now that he’s running for higher office this platform of his is not going to grab the attention of even the Tea Party.

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  5. BloggerDave says:

    FYI. This is the only website talking about Jim Webb….

  6. GoonSquadTactics says:

    Wow. I was really excited about Webb till I read the blurb about “Intelligent Design.” For me, that’s a deal-breaker. Sorry.

  7. 2karmanot says:

    Creative Intelligence is just about as asinine and as intellectually bankrupt as Godwin’s Law.

  8. 2karmanot says:

    “Webb also argued that the Civil War wasn’t really about slavery…” Oh, yes indeed, them’s darkies just love em some 2 squares, 15 hour work days, being brutalized and having their children taken from them and…… Let me put it this way—Jim Webb: Up a spiders ass!

  9. HeartlandLiberal says:

    Jim Who?

  10. Houndentenor says:

    I had forgotten he was even running. I suspect almost everyone else had as well.

  11. Robert Warner says:

    Might be he is thinking “Independent”. Remember Teddy Roosevelt.

  12. GeorgeMokray says:

    Webb has always gone his own idiosyncratic way. He identifies strongly with the South and with the Anglo-Celtic yeomanry which settled the hill country there. He was too far to the right to remain in the Reagan administration and too far to the left to remain a Bush/Cheney Repugnant. He seems to know exactly who he is but I never got the feeling that he listens deeply enough to other people to change his opinion when he probably should.

    A friend of mine is a neighbor of Webb’s and sometimes dog sits for him (and vice versa). My friend has a lot of respect for Jim Webb. Still, I don’t believe Webb is going to go very far in this race.

  13. Bill_Perdue says:

    Webb and Clintons on the one side and BS on the other are both Democrat/Dixiecrat political tendencies tearing the DP apart and will lead to splits. That’s a good thing for the left.

    Trump and others are doing the same thing in the RP, and that also is good thing.

  14. BeccaM says:

    (W)ho or what created the Creator!”

    Humans did. Pre-science Iron Age humans who could not deal with, never mind comprehend, the concept of not being the most important creatures in the entire universe.

  15. BeccaM says:

    Jim Webb is a Blue Dog neo-liberal ‘ConservaDem’, of the kind which used to be Republicans when they were most comfortable with center-right conservative candidates. The kind who increasingly took the Democratic party base for granted, and then later actively would speak in disdain about progressive and liberal positions as if there was a moral superiority in being conservative. Candidates like him are among the top reasons the Democratic base became de-energized, disillusioned, and disengaged.

  16. Hue-Man says:

    Evolution and science are the only explanation for life on Earth, otherwise, please explain to me who or what created the Creator!

    New ideas for voters to support are not going to be generated by tacking even further right to the brainless TeaParty/GOP. Most of their candidates are on the fascist fringe – Democrats should be selling a vision that appeals to non-billionaires, trumpeting Medicare and Social Security as Dem programs that worked.

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