Former US Senator Jim Webb of Virginia has become the fifth candidate to enter the race for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.
Webb posted the announcement in a letter on his website. (I can respect his decision to do this in place of a gimmicky video.)
Webb, who retired from the Senate in 2013 after serving one term, is in many ways the most interesting candidate of either party to enter the race so far.
He grew up in a family with a long military tradition, graduating from the Naval Academy in 1968 and serving in the Marines as a rifle platoon and company commander in Vietnam. He was awarded the Navy Cross, the Silver Star Medal, two Bronze Star Medals, and two Purple Hearts.
He went on to serve in the Reagan administration as assistant secretary of Defense and secretary of the Navy. He has worked as a journalist for PBS and has written several books, both fiction and non-fiction– including the widely-praised Vietnam war novel Fields of Fire and Born Fighting, about the history of the Scots-Irish in America, from whom he is descended.
Although he opposed the Iraq intervention, his son served as a Marine in Iraq, leading to a widely-reported exchange with President Bush in 2006.
As a senator Webb worked for criminal justice reform and helped pass the post-9/11 GI Bill, expanding educational benefits for veterans who served after September 11, 2001.
Under other circumstances Webb might be a strong candidate, but probably not this time. Although I find much to admire about him, I wish he had run for reelection to the Senate instead of running for president.
Some of the things that bother me about Webb:
–He has spoken disparagingly of humanitarian intervention by the US. Obviously we’ve had some hard lessons about the pitfalls of such intervention in recent years, but I’d like to know when, or even if, he thinks it is appropriate.
–Although he presents himself as someone who could attract white working class voters back to the Democratic party, when he ran for Senate in 2006, he lost most of the low-income overwhelmingly-white counties of southwest Virginia.
–From what I’ve read and heard, he is anything but a natural-born politician, and is uncomfortable with the glad-handing, speech-making grind of day-to-day campaigning. Nothing wrong with that, necessarily, expect it can be a disadvantage if you are actually trying to get elected.
–I wish he had joined others in calling for removal of the Confederate battle flag from public places after the Charleston massacre, but he issued a statement saying that it “has wrongly been used for racist and other purposes in recent decades” and it “should not be used in any way as a political symbol that divides us.”
Nonetheless I’ll be interested in what he has to say and how he performs in the debates with Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, et al.
Update: The Blue Virginia website deals with the absurdity of labeling an iconoclast like Webb as more “moderate” or “conservative” than other Democratic candidates.