Readers of Eight Ways to Run the Country will have known for a long time that James Webb was in the wrong party to run for president. An erstwhile Reaganite, he left the Republican Party out of disgust for its arrogant, reckless, disastrous neocon foreign policy. But while some Democrats shared his disgust, many also didn’t, and most cared much more about domestic issues that didn’t much interest Webb.
In recent years, Democrats have continued to consolidate in the lower left — demanding gay marriage, racial justice, income equality, amnesty for illegals, and drastic measures in response to climate change — but Webb has remained in the muddled middle, a postmodern populist, distressed that things aren’t going well in the world but lacking a clearly defined morality and politics to mount an effective response. Eight Ways explains:
The world has changed much since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and one of the more recent changes is that James Webb is again a Democrat. The best-selling novelist and Marine combat veteran was assistant secretary of Defense and then secretary of the Navy in the Republican administration of Ronald Reagan. He was gung-ho for the Reagan military build-up and even resigned as Navy secretary because he could not publicly support the administration’s retreat from its goal of a 600-ship Navy. Webb was also a hero among military officers for his public opposition to women in combat, bluntly stated in a magazine article titled “Women Can’t Fight.” But Webb publicly opposed both the Gulf War and the Iraq War. The latter was enough to move this former “Reagan Democrat” to run for the United States Senate as a Virginia Democrat.
The move surprised many of Webb’s conservative fans. They could understand his outspokenness against the war. The Marine Corps, in fact, has a long tradition of iconoclastic straight-talkers determined to shake the system: Major General Smedley Butler railed against the commercial interests he saw behind U.S. interventions in Central America; Colonel Evans Carlson sided with the Communist Chinese against the Nationalist Chinese in World War II (even popularizing in America the Communist slogan gung-ho, meaning “work together”); former Commandant General David Shoup spoke and wrote against the Vietnam War; and, most recently, General Anthony Zinni has drawn impolitic attention to the importance of Israel to key proponents of the Iraq War.
Webb’s take on the Iraq War is similar. “This doctrine of preemptive war is not American,” he declares, adding that “those people who are doing this have more in common with the Soviet Union than they do with the United States.” He does not say just who “those people” are, but the implication is obvious to those in the know: He means the ex-Trotskyite neoconservatives, many of whom are Jews and all of whom are Zionists.
But Webb is no Buchananite. Instead, he is a quintessential populist, idealistic to a fault but indifferent to religion, middle class in his perspective but independent in his thinking, and moderate in his views about almost everything. “I’m like a lot of people who left the Democratic Party at the end of the Vietnam War, principally on national security issues,” he says. “I never really found a home in the Republican party because of, in my view, extreme positions on social issues.”
Webb identifies his two guiding themes as fairness and privacy, meaning by the latter that “the government’s power stops at the individual’s front door.” He is therefore pro-choice on abortion and pro-gun on the Second Amendment. He approves of gay rights except in the military and civil unions for gays but not marriage. He is for fair trade, public schooling, universal health care, and more equitable taxation. He sees in today’s politics too much ideology and too little leadership: “There are times, I think, where it’s more important to have really creative, affirmative leadership, and I think this is one of those times.”
Webb believes the future lies with the traditional Democratic Party base and hopes his candidacy will bring “working-class white folk” back into the party. He sees himself as a political outsider. When he left the Pentagon in 1987, he asked to have his name removed from Washington’s social register. “I have no desire in my life to go to those parties,” he says. “I am not of Washington at all. I understand it, I know it, but I am not of it.” His most recent book is a history of his Celtic forebears, entitled Born Fighting. “It’s about the Scots-Irish,” he says, “but it’s really about the evolution of populist democracy; it came right out of this culture.” “Born Fighting” is also his campaign slogan.
Unfortunately for Webb, quite a few of his Celtic kin responded with atavistic bellicosity to the terrorist attacks of 9-11 and strongly supported the prosecution of the “war on terror” through Afghanistan and Iraq. How long they will continue to do so remains to be seen. Polls show a steady decline in support for the war, but people take a long time to admit they were wrong, and the white folks Webb counts as kin have other reasons not to rejoin the Democratic Party.