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Trust Ye Not…

Jim Antle wrote a good article on Jim Webb and the initial paleo enthusiasm, or at least sympathy, for his candidacy in 2006 that has yielded disappointment, as it was bound to do if any of us believed that Webb was going to be anything other than a conventional Democrat on domestic policy.  Ross largely agrees with Jim and has followed up with an interesting post on the constraints placed on Senators today.  Whatever the merits of an Obama-Webb ticket, it would again be derived to a large extent from symbolism and biography politics.  Except perhaps on trade, the two do not represent a balancing of policy views.  The similarity on policy of the two first-term Senators, who are otherwise quite different in most ways, is a function of the ideological sorting and homogeneity within the major parties that Ross mentions.  The ticket would be interesting to pundits because it would provide endless fodder for theorising about racial reconciliation, the New South and the GOP’s alienation of old national security Democrats who went back to the party of their fathers because of Iraq, but I wonder whether it would succeed with the general public. 

Wouldn’t the inclusion of Webb on the ticket be perceived as a rather obvious attempt to offset Obama’s lack of personal military experience by playing the same doomed game of recruiting a veteran to counter the GOP candidate’s national security positions?  Wouldn’t it come across as a kind of reverse tokenism?  In light of the recent controversy, wouldn’t it come across as a grand gesture of condescension rather than a sign of respect?  Incidentally, the disillusionment with Webb, such as it is, is a good example of why paleos should not get their hopes up about national Democratic figures, including Obama.  On this or that issue we may find ourselves in agreement with them, though usually not for the same reasons, but we can expect them to give priority to the interests of their party, which usually guarantees nothing good for our interests. 

Update: Putting Webb on the ticket might help contain the damage from the “elitist” charge being leveled at Obama now, but then again it might reinforce that charge by acknowledging that Obama needs Webb to provide some kind of “populist” credibility.  One of the things that paleos really did like about Webb, and this was certainly true for me, was that he was not a spoiled preppy suburbanite who pretended to be one of the good ol’ boys, as George Allen did, but had a better claim to representing a lot of people in Virginia who would have little in common with someone like Allen.  Allen tried to portray Webb as some of San Francisco, white wine-and-cheese Democrat, and it was so absurd on its face that I began calling for Allen’s downfall.  Incidentally, there might not necessarily be anything wrong if Obama were an elitist, except that he has gone out of his way to define his campaign as a people’s movement and he embraces the establishment’s views on the very policies that so frustrate the people he was referring to in his remarks.  Further, if Obama had overtly made his campaign a vehicle for condescending liberal paternalism, the comments would not be as jarring as they almost have to be to people who think that Obama’s 2004 convention speech was so wonderful.  

I should note that elitism is not in itself necessarily bad or undesirable–it is the nature of the system that an elite perpetuates that determines whether or not it is an insult to be branded an elitist.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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