A previous column asked, “Why is Hillary so popular?” It noted that, “Her personality is not particularly appealing, her positions are run-of-the mill Democratic liberalism, and her list of actual accomplishments is meager.” She has since become a frequent maker of gaffes.
The question remains unanswered, but still the Hillary steamroller rumbles on. The case for Clinton's inevitability is built mainly on two things.
First, she would be the first female president. But the past six years have powerfully proved that novelty is not a good enough reason to elect someone president.
Second, there is no credible Democratic alternative. But with Webb having recently formed a presidential exploratory committee this justification is no longer valid.
Hillary Clinton has parlayed her marriage to Bill Clinton into political prominence. Had it not been for him it is unlikely America would have ever heard of her.
Webb, on the other hand, has made his own impressive record of accomplishment. As his website, www.jameswebb.com, notes, he “has been a combat Marine, a counsel in the Congress, an assistant secretary of defense and Secretary of the Navy, an Emmy-award winning journalist, a film-maker, and the author of ten books.”
After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1968, Webb was “first in his class of 243 at the Marine Corps Officer's Basic School” before serving “as a rifle platoon and company commander in Vietnam and was awarded the Navy Cross, the Silver Star Medal, two Bronze Star Medals, and two Purple Hearts.” He was Secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan before being elected to the Senate.
The 68-year-old married father of six also has a life outside of politics, something Clinton cannot credibly claim. His biography includes receiving “an Emmy Award for his PBS coverage of the U.S. Marines in Beirut in 1983,” writing and producing the box office success “Rules of Engagement,” and authoring books including “Born Fighting” and “Fields of Fire,” which he describes as being “widely recognized as the classic novel of the Vietnam War.”
Why is Webb considering the race when Hillary seems inevitable? He is an economic populist whereas she is closely tied to Wall Street; he opposed the Iraq war and other military interventions like Libya whereas she supported them; and he is authentic and independent to the point of pugnacity whereas she is largely an artificial creation of pollsters.
Webb's campaign debut was a recent speech at the National Press Club. In it, he begins by asking listeners to imagine that they are members of society at America's margins. One of his examples came from here in Kentucky:
“Or if you're a kid growing up in the Appalachian Mountains of Clay County Kentucky, by most accounts the poorest county in America, which also happens to be 98 percent white, surrounded by poverty, drug abuse and joblessness, and you leave your home in order to succeed, and when you do you are welcomed with the cynical, unbelieving stares and whispers of an America that no longer understands your cultural journey, and policies that can exclude you from a fair shot at education and employment with the false premise that if you are white you by definition have begun with some kind of socioeconomic advantage, what are you going to think about the so-called fairness of your own government?”
Webb worries that such “societal dislocation is happening at a time when America's place on the international stage has become increasingly unclear, both in terms of our position as the economic beacon of the global community, and our vital role as the military guarantor of international stability.”
He believes that this conjunction of domestic and foreign crises is dangerous enough that Democrats at least deserve a choice in 2016. His priorities are to “develop a clear statement of national security and foreign policy,” “give our people some hope in issues of economic fairness and social justice,” “rebuild our national infrastructure,” “reform our criminal justice system,” and “find a way to return to good governance.”
Leadership is the key to solving these challenges, Webb says. “Find good leaders. Tell them where the country needs to go. Free them up to use their own creative energies. Trust their integrity. Supervise. Hold them accountable, just as they should hold their own people accountable and just as the American people should hold every national leader accountable. Have the courage of your convictions. Have the humility to listen to other ideas.”
One can perhaps imagine Clinton saying something like that. It is inconceivable that she would actually do it.
Liberal columnist Al Hunt says Webb could be Clinton's “worst nightmare” despite having “few relationships within the Democratic Party” and “no serious fundraising network.” Clinton has both to an unprecedented extent.
Webb is everything Clinton is not. That is why Democrats should give him a chance.