I have to say, I feel sorry for Jim Webb. The former Vietnam veteran, Secretary of the Navy under Reagan and former Virginia Senator represents a bygone era for the Democratic Party. In truth, if there ever was a populist in the Democratic field in the truest sense it is Webb.
Why do I say this? Because Webb, despite his votes for Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, truly did believe these votes would protect the little guy from the power-hungry. He’s put his money where his mouth is by serving only one term and been an exemplary role model for moderates on both sides of the aisle.
Alas, Webb is now a man without a party. He considers today’s GOP to be much too far to the right to get his support. As for the party he calls home today, they consider him an oddity, an eccentricity, which is saying something when they think Sanders is more mainstream.
Webb’s ideology hearkens back to a time when populists were the likes of Andrew Jackson. Jackson railed against central banks and the power of the wealthy, property owning elite. Tellingly, in his 1824 and 1828 Presidential victories, Jackson dominated the rural vote.
When Webb served as Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy he identified as a Republican because the party was composed of a mix of conservative, populist elements and suburban management. The Democratic Party since LBJ had been ruled by unions and technocrats. Today, that dynamic has changed. Both parties are beholden to K Street and neither truly has populist principles at their cores.
Webb’s Senate victory in 2006 was able to transcend the kind of partisanship we have become accustomed to seeing. Railing against the Iraq War, Webb also discussed the power of K-Street and political elites. Opposition to Iraq won him Northern Virginia and his biography and downscale appeal allowed him to carry a swath of Southern Virginians (the voters the party will never win back).
Webb’s background and populist nature might have won him a Senate seat but it all but dooms him on a national stage. The Democratic base is almost solely focused on identity politics, wedge issues and the evils of “white privilege.”
To his credit, Webb does not buy this garbage. Webb wrote about his belief in all Americans and pushed back against the idea of “white privilege,” largely because it is designed to pit Americans against each other. Shocker, he’s right.
Unfortunately, ideas like “white privilege” and identity politics are ingrained in the Democratic base. It’s why Clinton is doing so well discussing immigration reform and abortion. Both play well to Democratic constituencies but few others. Except men, of course.
It’s sad to see Jim Webb struggle in the primary. He is the lone Democrat trying to bridge the partisan divide in America and bring a broad coalition together. Instead, he is being overshadowed by a 75 year old socialist and a Clinton who has been tarred with scandals for 30 years. In essence, Webb shows just how broken today’s Democratic Party is.