In watching the first democratic primary debate of the 2016 presidential election, one candidate stood out to me most. It wasn’t the frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, and it wasn’t the “democratic” socialist in Bernie Sanders. Surprisingly, it was the anomalous Jim Webb.
Many aspects of Webb’s personality and ideology stand out in comparison to his competitors, which is perhaps why he appeared so different to me on stage Tuesday night.
So, who is Jim Webb?
Webb is a veteran of the Marine Corps who fought in the Vietnam War prior to becoming Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan and a United States senator from Virginia – an uncommon background for a democratic presidential candidate. He has polled at two percent or less for his entire campaign and is relatively unknown to the general public, as many experienced Webb for the first time on Tuesday.
Sadly, given the status and support that Clinton and Sanders already have in this race, Webb stands no realistic chance at winning the democratic nomination. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate his rhetoric in the first democratic debate.
It was clear from the beginning what amount of leeway CNN was willing to give Clinton and Sanders in regards to running over the allowed time for responses, and though Webb’s pleas for the same luxury later on were aggressive and overbearing, they were also understandable. Both leading candidates were given plenty of extra breath after running over time, but long responses by Webb, Martin O’Malley, and Lincoln Chafee were almost immediately cut short by debate moderator Anderson Cooper.
Nearly every question Cooper asked Webb targeted how his ideologies are out of step with the Democratic Party (which I greatly disagree with).
Cooper’s first question to Webb asked why he published an op/ed in 2010 claiming that affirmative action was “state-sponsored racism.” Obviously, that type of rhetoric is uncommon from a democrat, but Webb’s response had an imposing element of realism within it (extremely unheard of, I know).
“What I have discussed a number of times is the idea that when we create diversity programs that include everyone, quote, ‘of color,’ other than whites, struggling whites like the families in the Appalachian mountains, we’re not being true to the Democratic Party principle of elevating the level of consciousness among our people about the hardships that a lot of people … have.” [source]
Is that not the most realist ideological response you’ve ever heard from a democratic presidential contender in a debate? Nobody else from the left wants to admit that fact, but Webb showed no hesitation in doing so in front of the entire country. Just because a child is born white doesn’t mean he/she will instantly have better access to jobs and education in life – white people are subject to poverty as well.
Webb’s full response raised a great point, and it was an honest inquiry into whether the Democratic Party is in favor of representing everyone in poverty, or just those of color.
Affirmative Action was intentionally created to help struggling African Americans, given their unique history in our country. But, plenty of Americans struggle to get by, regardless of the color of their skin (like white people in the Appalachian Mountains). Programs like affirmative action only provide employment and education related assistance to people of “color,” a definition that has been extensively broadened over time in our society. These programs are undoubtedly marginalizing the struggling white families in America who have encountered the same level of economic uncertainty. And, as Webb stated, “elevating the level of consciousness among our people” on the hardships that all families face is a key principle of the Democratic Party. It appears only Webb has done his homework on this issue.
Webb went on to discuss why he believes Americans should have access to guns, to which there was no applause. He mentioned that he believes in background checks for gun sales, but ultimately stated that access to guns should be available to every American without mental health concerns, a stance most moderates agree with. Webb also referred to Israel as our “greatest ally” in response to a question about the Iran nuclear deal, of which he said he also opposes.
He also showed his humorous side when asked how his presidency would differ from the Obama Administration.
“I got a great deal of admiration and affection for Senator Sanders, but I — Bernie, I don’t think the revolution’s going to come. And I don’t think the Congress is going to pay for a lot of this stuff. And if there would be a major difference between my administration and the Obama administration, it would be in the use of executive authority,” Webb said.
Webb’s realist jest to Sanders actually made me laugh out loud, however it will likely be ineffective in dissuading support from Sanders. But, I can’t see congress passing any of Sanders’ expensive, improbable policy proposals either.
The rest of Webb’s response outlined his respect for the congressional process, recalling how frequently he’d put in bills to the House during his time as committee counsel of the Veterans Committee. In doing so, Webb emphasized the need of a bipartisan approach to congressional policy creation, opposed to the “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone” methodology exhibited by President Obama, which has resulted in congressional gridlock.
Since the debate’s conclusion, Clinton has received a lot of support from the liberal media for saying that she is the only progressive candidate “who likes to get things done.” But, Clinton fundamentally disagrees with Webb on all of these issues, and truly, it is Webb, not Clinton, who is ideologically aligned closer to the center. Clinton hasn’t come to the middle at all. In fact, she has already mirrored Sanders’ extreme left stance on a plethora of issues with bipartisan support.
If I were a registered democrat looking for a candidate that would actively combat gridlock and approach policy creation with means of bipartisanship, I wouldn’t be focusing on the frontrunner, or even the next candidate in line. Instead, I would reach for the bottom of the barrel, and learn more about what Jim Webb has to offer our country.