Alex Massie

The Case for Jim Webb

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I mentioned some of the factors that make Jim Webb, the Democratic Senator from Virginia, a less than entirely compelling Vice-Presidential pick for Barack Obama, here. To recap: when he campaigned for the Senate in 2006 Webb was, not to put too fine a point on it, hopeless on the campaign trail. You could see that it pained him to even ask people to vote for him and he plainly had little patience for the self-abasement and daily humiliations of life on the campaign trail. He is not a natural baby-kisser. My sense - from his own writing and what I've read about him - is that he is also difficult, stubborn, awkward, cussed and not to be trifled with. these too may not be attributes best-suited to a national campaign in the modern political era.

What he is, however, is something more important: he's clearly his own man and, crucially in this political era, a man one can respect even - or especially - if one disagrees with him (eg, on trade). There is, to use the word that came to dominate his 2006 Senate campaign, an authenticity to Webb that most politicians would chew their right arm off to possess. That is to say, I'd trust that Jim Webb had come to a decision honestly and because he considered it the wisest, most appropriate cause of action, not because a focus group or political calculation had persuaded him it was the most advantageous way forward. This would be true, I think, even in areas of disagreement. Perhaps especially so. In other words, I think he acts in good faith which is, in the end, all one can ask of any politician.

And so there's something compelling to the idea of Vice-President Webb. The political considerations first: the Democrats have no other plausible candidate with anything like Webb's military experience. At the very least one might think Obama could ask Webb to be a Shadow Secretary of Defense in advance of nominating him to the post after the election. Sure, Webb was a Republican until recently, but in addition to the Navy Cross, Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts he won in Vietnam he served as Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration. He also, and vitally from a Democratic point of view, opposed the Iraq War for reasons that, alas, look more cogent than ever.

That he resigned from Reagan's Pentagon on a point of principle (opposing cuts to the Navy) also a) stamps him as a man the US military ought not to be afraid of and b) marks him as a man cut from different cloth to that customarily worn by politicians today. Clearly, however, his presence on the Presidential ticket would go some way towards reassuring some voters that Obama's national security team is not going to be wet behind the ears and that there'll be no repeat of the drift and squandered opportunities of the Clinton years. Webb won't be learning on the job.

Secondly, even allowing for the truth that Webb could probably not have won Virginia without George Allen's self-immolation it remains the case that Virginia is trending Democratic and Webb's presence on the ticket could conceivably help Obama win the Commonwealth's 14 electoral college votes. Pinching states from the opposition is no small thing.

But really Webb's appeal as a running-mate is greater than that and greater too than the prospect of his being able to compensate, to some extent anyway, for John McCain's appeal to working-class white men. It's not hard to imagine Webb helping the ticket in virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky, to say nothing of the benefits his populism could potentially have in states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio. He may, in fact, be just the sort of culturally conservative and genuine Democrat Obama needs to balance his ticket.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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