Home/Will My Jim Webb Man-Crush Get Another Go-Round?

Will My Jim Webb Man-Crush Get Another Go-Round?

Or so buzzeth the Interwebs:

Mr. Webb, a Vietnam War veteran and Democrat who served one term in the Senate representing Virginia, is making noise about running for president. He was in Iowa last month; a New Hampshire trip may be in the offing, and he is giving a major speech at the National Press Club in Washington on Sept. 23.

He seems an improbable candidate. He has taken illiberal positions, was President Ronald Reagan’s Navy secretary, has few relationships within the Democratic Party, and has no serious fund-raising network.

What he does possess is a long-held and forceful opposition to American interventions in Iraq and Libya, and potentially Syria, as well as solid anti-Wall Street credentials. In Democratic primaries, these may be Mrs. Clinton’s greatest impediments to rallying a hard-core activist base.

Though I am an inveterate Webb-booster who thought Obama should pick him as his running mate in 2008, I actually think Webb would make a terrible primary challenger to Clinton, for several reasons. The activist base would be thrilled to rally to him if he were running against a right-wing Republican, as they did when he did in his 2006 Senate race. But Webb gives off all the wrong cultural vibes to excite that base against Clinton. He’s not Elizabeth Warren or Zephyr Teachout. He’s more like Brian Schweitzer. And last I checked, Schweitzer hadn’t exactly set the base on fire. And actually, it’s worse than that, because Webb’s deviations aren’t just cultural. He had a lot of criticisms of both Obamacare and the stimulus – and they aren’t the criticisms Schweitzer has been making (that they didn’t go far enough).

Then there’s the problem that Webb is a prickly, cerebral type who doesn’t like campaigning and didn’t make a lot of friends on Capitol Hill when he was in office. He hated politics (and the Senate specifically) so much that he declined to run for reelection after one term (a term with very limited accomplishments). Inasmuch as some Democrats’ big worry about Clinton is that she’s not a particularly good politician, Webb is hardly an attractive alternative. Plus, the current Democratic President is a standoffish writerly personality. Do the Democrats really want to nominate another one?

So why do I hope he runs?

Webb is a pretty rare bird. He’s an intellectual but not an ideologue. He’s a culturally right-wing personality who recognizes that on the most important issues facing the nation, we need to move to the left – and not just on economics and foreign policy; he’s been critical of Executive power, even with his own party’s man in office, and has taken a serious hard look at reforming our appalling prison-industrial complex. He’s a strong critic of the “Washington consensus” in foreign policy who cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called either naive or a neo-isolationist. (In a deep sense, he’ll always have the outlook of a Secretary of the Navy.) Most important, he’s a genuinely independent person, the exact opposite of the careerist climber. We desperately need more people like him in our politics.

And, I think it would be very helpful on foreign policy in particular for Democratic primary voters to recognize that Clinton is all the way on the bleeding right edge of her party. I’d love to see a debate where Hillary Clinton faces off against Jim Webb, and Bernie Sanders, and Brian Schweitzer, and Russ Feingold, and Joe Biden, a group of politicians with plenty of disagreements between them (including on foreign policy), all attacking her for advocating a foreign policy that is far too militarized, aggressive and expansively ambitious. I suspect that would make a more powerful point than Webb being a fiercely solitary dissenter in a field dominated by Hillary, and populated otherwise by candidates who aren’t eager to rock the boat.

But mostly, I’d just like to give that man-crush another whirl. If only because that might be the best way to get clear of it.

about the author

Noah Millman, senior editor, is an opinion journalist, critic, screenwriter, and filmmaker who joined The American Conservative in 2012. Prior to joining TAC, he was a regular blogger at The American Scene. Millman’s work has also appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Week, Politico, First Things, Commentary, and on The Economist’s online blogs. He lives in Brooklyn.

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