Jim Webb: Confederate Sympathizer?
Senator Jim Webb, touted by many as a vice presidential candidate who would help shore up Barack Obama with Southerners and those uncomfortable with his lack of national security experience, has an “affinity” for the Confederacy, Politico’s David Mark reports breathlessly.
He has suggested many times that while the Confederacy is a symbol to many of the racist legacy of slavery and segregation, for others it simply reflects Southern pride. In a June 1990 speech in front of the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, posted on his personal website, he lauded the rebels’ “gallantry,” which he said “is still misunderstood by most Americans.”
Webb, a descendant of Confederate officers, also voiced sympathy for the notion of state sovereignty as it was understood in the early 1860s, and seemed to suggest that states were justified in trying to secede.
“Most Southern soldiers viewed the driving issue to be sovereignty rather than slavery,” he said. “Love of the Union was palpably stronger in the South than in the North before the war — just as overt patriotism is today — but it was tempered by a strong belief that state sovereignty existed prior to the Constitution and that it had never been surrendered.”
This line of attack is somewhat ironic, given that Webb is a Senator today partly because his erstwhile opponent, George Allen, was painted as a Confederate sympathizer, which paved the way for the “Macaca” incident to stick. It’s also, as James Fallows — who elsewhere persuaded me that Webb would be a poor VP choice — observes rather silly.
First, this is hardly a secret or news. The dignity of ordinary Confederate troops and their battlefield leaders, as opposed to the evil of the southern slaveholding system, was a major theme in Webb’s widely-noted and generally-praised book Born Fighting, published four years ago.
In addition to that book, the main documentary proof of Webb’s “problem” is a speech at the Confederate war memorial in 1990. That memorial, by the way, is in Arlington National Cemetery — not in Richmond, Charleston, Natchez, etc.
Slavery was the key issue absent which the Civil War wouldn’t have been fought and the resurgence of the Confederate battle flag in the 1960s was mostly about segregationist defiance. It’s easy to understand, therefore, why expressing pro-Confederate sympathies is politically problematic. But Webb’s admiration for the against-all-odds fighting spirit of his ancestors, most of whom fought for reasons having nothing to do with slavery or, frankly, political considerations of any sort, is understandable, too. In a complex world, one can simultaneously admire Robert E. Lee’s character, J.E.B. Stuart’s generalship, and the courage of those who charged up Little Round Top while damning the institution of slavery.
And after all: we’re discussing scenarios in which the first black major party nominee might choose Webb as his running mate. Somehow this would “have the potential” of conveying a pro-Confederate tilt? I don’t think this is the right job for Webb, but his respect for his Confederate ancestors is not the reason why.