Now that Barack Obama has emerged as the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, our attention turns quickly to which running mate would most help secure victory in November and who would stand that proverbial heartbeat away from the presidency. Earlier this week, Linda Milazzo proposed on these pages the provocative and engaging choice of Caroline Kennedy. Here I set forth my reasons for suggesting Virginia Senator Jim Webb.
Balancing the Ticket
Running mates are often picked to add something the ticket’s leader lacks. Since in the past we’ve almost always dealt with middle-aged white guys—hey, I’m one and don’t really see that much wrong with them—that’s usually meant bringing forward a Southerner as counterweight to a Northerner as with the Johns, Edwards and Kerry, or a senator to match a governor as with Al Gore and Bill Clinton or something similar.
This year, given the powerful position Hillary Clinton has established for women, several Democratic women governors are being proposed—Arizona’s Janet Napolitano, Kansas’s Kathleen Sibelius, or Michigan’s Jennifer Granholm—if it isn’t going to be Clinton herself, who just now finished her concession speech in Washington D.C.
Bill Richardson would appeal to the growing Latino vote. John Edwards would be one of those balancing Southerners and also a strong advocate of the working class. Joe Biden or Chris Dodd or Ed Rendell would bring deeper experience in government than Obama can claim.
Those and a dozen others—I’ve got not a single word to say against any of them except what a wonderful organization the Democratic Party must be to have many powerful, compassionate, and qualified leaders ready to step forward. Look over at the Republican side of the aisle and you have to think–boy, slim pickings.
On the balance question, Jim Webb would appeal to those rural and small town working class whites who flocked to Clinton as the primaries wore on and who apparently would have to swallow hard to vote for a black man as president. Webb has family roots in West Virginia, grew up in Missouri, and now represents Virginia. Read the commencement address Webb gave and you see that he treasures those Scots-Irish, Appalachian roots.
Webb is the real deal and people with his background—like me—recognize it in the way he holds himself and delivers his speeches, in the way he has lived his life. He wouldn’t be just another politician stepping off the campaign bus to perch a 10-gallon hat atop his head as George “Poppy” Bush (the Elder) might do or knock back a shot of whiskey in a blue-collar bar and pretend to be one of the boys as Hillary famously did recently—not to pick unnecessarily on Clinton; we expect all our politicians to kiss our babies and pretend to enjoy milking our cows at the state fair.
No, with Jim Webb, you’d know you have the genuine article.
It’s the War, Stupid
Well, unfortunately, maybe it isn’t.
As I reported last week in “Have We Forgotten about Iraq?”, proponents of the Bush Administration’s Iraq Occupation have installed better managers who have moved the carnage off the front page. Now, with gas prices skyrocketing, neighbors losing their homes and jobs at record rates, our retirement funds tanking, and the economy stalling, bread and butter issues may dominate the fall campaign, pushing aside the fraudulent war Bush and Cheney and McCain and their cohorts foisted on America.
But his status as a warrior is John McCain’s claim to fame. The son and grandson of admirals, he has dined out on his war record his whole career, hopes to ride it into the White House, and has already begun chiding Obama for not joining the peacetime military.
No question, you have to honor John McCain’s wartime service to our country as a naval airman, but it isn’t so much his experience in war that we honor—he flew just a few bombing missions over North Vietnam before being shot down—but it is those agonizing five years he spent in captivity that earns our respect. That’s honorable service indeed—but also troubling as you have to wonder if the experience unhinged him. McCain is famous for his foul mouth and volcanic temper—even his Republican friends in the Senate whisper their concerns. Worse, he appears eager to settle someone’s hash in the Mideast.
Again with Webb, you have the genuine article. According to his Senate webpage, Webb was an award-winning Annapolis graduate, who then finished first in his Marine Corps officer training class and then led platoons and companies of Marines in extended combat in Vietnam, along the way winning a chestful of medals—Navy Cross, Silver Star, three Purple Hearts. He speaks proudly of his son’s service in the current war. He’s fluent in Vietnamese and has a Vietnamese-American wife; you gather that he did not come away resenting his combat experiences or feeling trapped forever in a wounded past as do some veterans—witness the Swift Boat veterans who so maliciously attacked John Kerry last time around and who clearly are hostage to their hatreds.
Webb went onto serve as a Congressional aide for veterans affairs and then as Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan Administration. Now, as Virginia’s junior senator, Webb has proposed a generous GI Bill that would emulate the support veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam received, which was enough to put them through college as it did me, unlike the parsimonious bill McCain supports, which is designed to keep soldiers on the job, squarely in the line of fire.
So, on McCain’s primary claim to fame, Jim Webb trumps him and trumps him in spades.
A Man in Full
I am also attracted to candidates who’ve done something with themselves outside of politics. I like it that Webb is an award-winning novelist. I like it that he covered the Afghanistan War as a journalist, embedding himself with combat troops. I like it that he can express himself eloquently and pugnaciously, using his own words and thoughts.
Haven’t we had quite enough of speech readers? Sure, “Dutch” Reagan leveraged his B movie background rather nicely to charmingly deliver words someone else had written. But then you’ve got the stumbling “Poppy” Bush and bumbling “Dubya” Bush—with him you’re not sure he can even understand what he’s saying much less capable of writing it himself—and now it’s John McCain who needs Joe Lieberman whispering in his ear to keep the facts straight.
With an Obama-Webb ticket, you’d have two honorable men, who worked themselves up from humble backgrounds, who understand first-hand the everyday life you and I lead, who can articulate a vision for a better tomorrow for America using their own thoughts and words, and who can lead us out of the deep hole three decades of nearly complete Republican control have dug for us.
My ten cents.
— Dick Price
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