When I watched the first Democratic debate, I was impressed yet again with democratic socialist Bernie Sanders. Though I will not vote for him, any American politician who openly identifies as a socialist rather than skirting around their beliefs, perhaps calling it “capitalism with American characteristics,” has my respect—if only for honesty.
However, another candidate caught my eye, not because he was an especially passionate speaker or because he exuded enthusiasm by his body language—he was actually quite hard on the ears and stiff—but because he looks too out-of-place on that stage.
I can just barely remember hearing about the Blue Dogs, socially conservative Democrats, who helped create the political coalition of the 1990s. Though he’s so socially conservative, Jim Webb struck me as atypical for a Democrat as he was vanishing.
I gave up identifying as a Republican because I didn’t want to explain why I wasn't a Bush-style “compassionate” conservative. Perhaps the Democrats are going through a similar identity crisis. As progressives left the Republican Party a century ago and as social liberals left the Democratic Party a generation or two ago, it looks as though the last of the—for lack of a better word—“Jim Webbs” are being pushed out of the Democratic Party.
In short, Jim Webb is on the way out and Bernie Sanders is on the way in—at least for the Democrats.
But almost as soon as I learned of him, Webb, a Democrat since 1988, called it quits and suspended his bid for the Democratic nomination, October 20. It’s still up in the air as to whether he will continue to run as an independent. “Some people say that I sound like a Republican in a room full of Democrats, or a Democratic in a room full of Republicans,” Webb said in a room full of reporters, “I take that as a compliment.” After all, Webb continued, most Americans are not Democrat or Republicans but independents.
One of my friends from Eastern, also in political no-man’s-land like Webb, once remarked to me that when the Democrat candidates were asked who their greatest enemy was, Webb, a marine, was the only candidate who actually named a specific person. My friend was absolutely correct. As with Sanders being honest enough to call himself a socialist, Webb was honest enough to name a person, not an idea.
But does Jim Webb have a political future? I certainly hope so. After the debates, when Democrats were asked which candidate they would vote for if the election were held tomorrow, Hillary Clinton was still their first pick, Sanders their second and Jim Webb—to my great surprise—their third. Webb may not be an ace debater, but that apparently doesn’t matter much. Assuming Clinton continues to fall and Sanders continues to rise, Webb might have actually have some political clout.
From where I’m sitting, Sanders is doing an excellent job at appealing to Democrats. But if he wants to convince independents that they can vote for a self-professed socialist and still feel good about themselves in Middle America, Sanders would do well to add a moderate like Webb to his ticket. Oddly enough, so would Donald Trump.
Many Republicans attack Trump as a Democrat running as a Republican. But as far as I’m concerned, those voters have already decided they will not vote for Trump whatever the case. So I don’t mind them very much.
Trump doesn’t need to convince Republicans he’s not a Democrat—he needs to convey to independents he’s not a diehard Republican—which he’s not, but as Republican strategist Lee Atwater once said, “perception is reality.” Perhaps Trump, a rich boy from the Big Apple, would do well to pick as his VP a veteran from rural America.
Regardless, I look hope to hear more from Jim Webb. I would consider it a loss both for the Democrats and the increasingly diminishing purple America if he should fall by the political wayside.