Sunday, October 5, 2014

Jim Webb: More Reagan Democrat than Progressive Populist

Although Hillary Clinton is widely seen as the formidable frontrunner in the Democratic presidential primary in 2016, many progressives would prefer to have a candidate who is less hawkish and less close and connected to Wall Street and business elites. I would include myself in such a faction. Personally, I would like to see some debate and reflection within the Democratic Party, and I don't think that a Joe Biden or a Hillary Clinton would offer that. Let a thousand candidates bloom. (And by a "thousand," I mean no more than 5.)

Some progressives have attached their hopes to Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has expressed no interest in running. She's not particularly interested in foreign policy, a big part of the presidency, and I don't think she'll run. I'm perfectly happy to see her continue to be my senator.

Some like to tout Brian Schweitzer, former governor of Montana. However, someone as ardently pro-gun, pro-coal, and pro-oil as Schweitzer seems an odd choice for the populist left.

The latest "anti-Hillary" in the news is Jim Webb, the former senator from Virginia and Secretary of the Navy under Reagan.

The DW Nominate ideological scoring system is not perfect. It offers lifetime scores, not session scores, so it cannot reflect political evolution. Also, by looking at roll call votes, it ignores all of the things that never made it to a vote, as well as all of the jockeying and trading that makes a bill what it is before it even reaches that vote. Although imperfect, it is better than most, and with someone like Webb, the first flaw is neutralized. He only served one term.

The DW Nominate system scores members of Congress from -1.00 (most liberal) to 1.00 (most conservative). For the 112th Congress, Jim Webb clocked in at -0.193, between Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Tom Carper (D-DE). He is listed to the right of Max Baucus (D-MT) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT). Some progressive.

However, it is useful to look at what he said and what he did, rather than just a quantified abstraction.
Jim Webb voted with Republicans and Joe Lieberman to oppose the Democrats' plan to extend the Bush tax cuts for only the first $250,000 in income. Webb wanted millionaires to get their full tax cuts, too.

Jim Webb thought that the problem with the Affordable Care Act was that it wasn't bipartisan enough. You see, Obama should have tried harder to win over some Republicans. Never mind that Senate Republicans were involved in the process of crafting the bill.

In 2012, Jim Webb was the only Democrat to vote against extending reduced interest rates for student loans. He was a staunch student loan reform in general.

His record on the environment is spotty. Jim Webb voted in favor of voiding the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard for power plants, authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline, and significantly expanding offshore drilling. And he voted against closing tax loopholes for big oil companies and extending clean energy tax incentives.

Jim Webb is an unabashed Confederate apologist.

Unsurprisingly, then, he strongly opposes affirmative action.

And Jim Webb is a strange choice for an "anti-war" candidate. The former senator believes in the rightness of the Vietnam War and regards the anti-war left with dripping, red-baiting contempt. He supports keeping the option of pre-emptive military strikes on Iran on the table. He does a lot of saber-rattling toward China. When he opposes a war (e.g. the Iraq War), it is not out of a vision of a cooperative, pluralistic, humanitarian internationalism. It is out of a foreign policy realism that views such a war as a strategic error. Now, that's better than supporting such a war. But it's not an anti-war position, nor an anti-imperial one.

Frankly, we can do a lot better.

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