When Democratic Party presidential hopefuls were asked by CNN’s Anderson Cooper to list enemies they had made during their careers that they were most proud of, the only candidate who didn’t include any fellow Americans was Jim Webb. Webb—who, it should be noted, didn’t exactly answer the question—explained that it was an enemy soldier who once threw a grenade and wounded him; a soldier who was no longer around. Jim Webb killed a commie because Jim Webb loves America.
Many liberals on social media found this revelation sorta creepy. Yet there was probably a time when liberal voters would have been impressed by someone who had served his country so valiantly. They might have seen promise in a candidate whose populist sensibilities could speak convincingly to the working class and to Southerners, and whose appeal was propelled by both idealism and realism. Webb might have been formidable Democrat presidential candidate 15 years ago. Twenty-five years ago he might have been a star. Today? He’s a man completely out of touch with the philosophical temperament of his party.
Webb may have fought in a war against collectivist authoritarians, but today he’s debating one—a less threatening socialist who regularly lectures thousands of excitable sycophants about the need for more coercion and redistribution. This would have been anathema even for Barack Obama even in 2008. Bernie Sanders is not stigmatized by his ideology. Today there’s almost no genuine philosophical daylight between Sanders’ ideas and the professed positions of front-runner Hillary Clinton. Their disagreement is over what’s achievable. Yet Beltway wisdom tells us only one party has been radicalized in America. Democrats are the adults.
So there was Webb, listening to the former Baltimore mayor lecturing America about how to stop gun violence. There was the former secretary of State, a product of nepotism, big money, and cynical identity politics, who’s flipped on nearly every issue for expediency at some point in her public life, lecturing America about her experience. Lincoln Chafee is not the sort of guy who’s going to be ready on day one. And there was the Democratic Socialist, who plans to spend trillions of dollars on redistributive policies that have created misery and poverty around the world, lecturing us about economics.
“I’ve got a great deal of admiration and affection for Sen. Sanders,” Webb retorted after one of the Vermont senator’s diatribes about toppling the oligarchy. “But, 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.”
Maybe that’s where Webb is wrong. The revolutionary candidate (even when you include Joe Biden) is polling at 24 percent.
So while the revolutionary candidate blames the wealthy, Webb refused to engage in ugly pandering. He insisted that all lives matter when asked the loaded “Black lives or all lives” question by a Facebook user. He refuses to offer soundbites that will please anyone on foreign policy. He’s the only candidate to talk about abuses against privacy from the last administration and point out that this president is guilty of abuses of executive power. He was the only candidate on the stage in Las Vegas who did not selectively embrace the Constitution to make a point about some pet political issue.
Webb detests politics just like the rest of us. You can see it in his eyes. He hates campaigning. He doesn’t like raising money. Last night, Webb exhibited contempt for the bunkum that poured from mouths of people who can claim that climate change is the most pressing problem mankind faces. And I have little doubt he would have been similarly unimpressed by most of the platitudinous answers Republicans offered in their debates.
Now, Webb would be far more conservative than the GOP frontrunner, but his moderate positions on tax policy, immigration, and foreign affairs would make him just disagreeable to most conservatives as he is to most liberals. He isn’t exactly right for either party—not because of some triangulation or convenient moderation, but because he’s not an ideologue. He’s also not a coward, as he’s unwilling to say whatever his party demands in the pursuit of power.
In theory, these are all commendable traits. These, in fact, are the sort of things voters are always pretending to look for in a candidate. In reality, this authenticity gets you to around 0.7 percent in the polls. Americans claim not to like the partisanship of Washington. What they mean is they dislike the other guy’s partisanship. What it means for candidates like Jim Webb, serious people who deserve to be heard, is obscurity.