Webb for VP Backlash

After several weeks of being the odds-on favorite to be Barack Obama’s running mate (at least if bloggers were doing the picking) it appears is if the inevitable backlash has set in.

Webb for VP Backlash

Kathy G, guesting at Matt Yglesias’ site (apparently, the Atlantic Monthly has given their bloggers the week off) takes the lead, setting out the anti-Webb argument in a long post. The bullet points:

  • It would give a Republican a chance at his Senate seat.
  • Webb isn’t a team player.
  • Webb isn’t a natural campaigner.
  • “Webb basically became a Democrat the day before yesterday, and he has a long history of holding some pretty wingnutty opinions and making some fairly outrageous and offensive statements.”

The last of these, not surprisingly, most energizes Kathy. She thinks Webb shares the Southern resentment of the 1960s counterculture, doesn’t think the Vietnam war was unmitigated evil, and most notably, he was opposed to the admission of women to the Naval Academy thirty years ago and he compounded his misogyny with a partial defense of the Tailgate transgressors.

Ezra Klein — who has opposed Webb for VP longer than Kathy — seconds these concerns but, more importantly, thinks Webb too risky simply because “there’s a lot about what James Webb thinks that we simply don’t know.”

Spencer Ackerman thinks Webb’s record is more complicated than Kathy gives him credit for and believes there’s still a strong case to be made for having him on the ticket.

Alex Massie thinks some of the complaints lodged against Webb are features, not bugs. To the extent that this election is “a battle for the centre-ground” it makes sense for Obama to do what he can to appeal to moderates rather than to shore up his support with the hard-core base.

I tend to agree. As I noted in my “endorsement” of choosing Webb a few weeks back, “he’s a bit of a loose cannon and might not be the ideal guy to have out in the hustings to deliver a scripted message.” But the fact of the matter is that moderates, most of whom are the white working class voters that we’ve heard so much about in recent weeks, are probably closer to Webb on the issues in question than to Kathy G.

Granting that George Allen ran a spectacularly bad re-election campaign in 2006, he still barely lost. Had Harris Miller beaten Webb, Allen would almost certainly still be a Senator — and probably made an interesting run at the the Republican presidential nomination. The Republicans would still have nominal control of the Senate, thanks to Dick Cheney’s tie-breaking vote.

Virginia is thought of as Red state but is really Purple and trending Blue, owing to the staggering growth of the D.C. suburbs and exurbs of Northern Virginia. The ability to win here is a strong indicator of appeal in other swing states. Jim Webb or someone with similar credentials, then, makes sense unless the Democrats really think Obama is going to win this thing walking away.

Photo via Daniel Farrell

UPDATE: Bill Dyer, who’s about as likely to vote for Obama regardless of his VP choice as I am, was bemused by the suggestion when I first broached the subject on April 1 (No, it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke).

The thought of Webb and Obama sharing a ticket really makes me giggle. I can envision a joint appearance with Webb getting into gear about the Scots-Irish and their heritage, and how they provided the work ethic which built the United States into the greatest country in the world — all while Michelle Obama silently seethes.

Then Barack Obama would explain that the Second Amendment permits the District of Columbia to ban handguns outright. At that exact moment, Webb would slyly nudge his briefcase, with its Glock and three extra magazines of ammo, further under the table.

Midway through Rev. Wright’s closing benediction, I would expect Webb to engage him in a fist-fight.

It is, indeed, quite a contrast. But, certainly, no more than Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

UPDATE: Ezra expands his argument in an American Prospect piece entitled “Is Jim Webb Too Good for the Vice Presidency?” The central thesis, laid out in persuasive detail, is that Webb’s “outlook is the antithesis of the vice presidency, which often requires mortgaging your personal credibility and sacrificing your independence in order to further the president’s point of view.”

Of course, the operative question right now is whether Webb would help Obama get elected, rather than whether he’d actually be a good VP. After all, the second question is rendered moot if Obama loses. But Ezra’s point is a good one.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Jeffrey W. Baker says:

    Short James Joyner: I am trying to find negative things to say about the Obama/Webb ticket which everybody expects to be unbeatable.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Short James Joyner: I am trying to find negative things to say about the Obama/Webb ticket which everybody expects to be unbeatable.

    You should probably stick to the longer version.

  3. Bithead says:

    Webb isn’t a team player.

    Funny thing; The Democrats view this as a positve about McCain. Apparently not with Webb, though.

  4. Anderson says:

    there’s a lot about what James Webb thinks that we simply don’t know.

    Right, but we shouldn’t let the Cheney disaster distract us from the constitutional status of the Veep: a bucket of warm piss. I am not worried about Obama’s allowing the Veep to become his eminence grise.

    I *am* worried about Webb’s alleged lack of campaign skills, but he may have progressed, and the voters he’s aimed at don’t want someone slick anyway. Obama does slick just fine.

  5. Beldar says:

    Too far a reach.

  6. legion says:

    I don’t yet have an opinion on Webb specifically – as noted above, there’s a lot we don’t yet know about his positions & abilities. But what I find more interesting is that nobody – absolutely nobody – is speculating about who Hillary’s veep choices might be. Even the die-hards over at TalkLeft are more focussed on just getting her through to the bitter end of Primaries.

  7. anjin-san says:

    I’ve always liked Webb, but I don’t think he adds much to the ticket. Wes Clark or Chuck Hagel makes far more sense…

  8. Fence says:

    On paper I think Wes Clark brings at least as much to the ticket with fewer downsides, although Clark resonates better with the wine crowd (where Obama is already in good shape) than the beer crowd where Webb would provide needed help. I think Webb would help some in Virginia, but not as much as Mark Warner would — most Virginians only heard of Webb a couple years ago, the same time as the rest of the country. So the fact that Clark wouldn’t help in any particular state is sort of a wash.

    If Sam Nunn were just charismatic, a few years younger and from Ohio he’d be perfect for Obama.

  9. anjin-san says:

    I agree about Nunn….

    He would be a good SecDef…

  10. patrick says:

    I thought Jim Webb’s democratic response to the president’s state of the union address a couple of years ago was the best I have ever heard. I also like that when he thought Carter was too soft on defense, he was with Reagan, but on the Iraq war he was right on from the beginning and felt strongly enough about it that he left the Republican party. The country was more important to him than party loyalty. He has the added strength of having a military background so he can speak with authority equal to McCain’s during the coming electoral debate on Iraq, which is a real asset for Obama. He also wrote a very strong op ed article in the WSJ bemoaning the fate of the American worker and the redistribution of wealth to a few at the top. And his populism extends to the military equivalent of the working man — the enlisted man as his veterans benefits bill shows.

    I like this guy, I love his positives. Whether his negatives, some of which of course are unkown, outweigh them I don’t know. But I think talented people like Webb who think for themselves are exactly what this country could use more of. I also think Obama is a smart enough guy that he can handle someone other than a yes man, which is a capability our current befuddled psuedo-president lacks.

    I am of Irish descent myself, so perhaps this guy resonates with me for reasons besides political positions. But I don’t think I would be alone.

  11. Bithead says:

    I don’t yet have an opinion on Webb specifically – as noted above, there’s a lot we don’t yet know about his positions & abilities. But what I find more interesting is that nobody – absolutely nobody – is speculating about who Hillary’s veep choices might be. Even the die-hards over at TalkLeft are more focussed on just getting her through to the bitter end of Primaries.

    The implication being of course that it won’t be a consideration, she’s not getting there. I have a different take; It’s that her personality is so overbearing it won’t much matter who the VP is. Sorta like with Al Gore.

  12. DL says:

    So Ezra Klein thinks no VP for Webb because” “there’s a lot about what James Webb thinks that we simply don’t know.”

    My goodness, that’s “word for word” why the entire liberal voters and their media – much of the independents – and some of the GOP, messiah struck, ought to be concerned about Obama. He’s a Photoshop candidate from hell, not heaven. Then again, much of America doesn’t think those places exist anymore.

  13. bperk says:

    My reasons for why Webb isn’t Obama’s best choice:

    1. Webb didn’t do any better among white, non-college educated voters than you would expect from any other democrat.
    2. Webb has low approval ratings in VA. He has low visibility because he doesn’t really do much outreach to voters.
    3. Webb has problems with women in the military not just combat roles, as his 1997 Weekly Standard article (Kathy G. linked to it) clearly indicated.
    4. Webb is more centrist than Obama. Is that what Obama really wants for his 3rd and 4th term?
    5. Webb voted for telecom immunity.
    6. Webb supported Allen as recently as 2000, and has turned to the Dems since the Iraq War.

  14. dave says:

    please, no Clark. This from a guy who supported him in ’04 for the Dem nomination. He’s too close to Clinton and isn’t a fiery as i want my VP candidate to be.
    Webb is my choice, but he needs to get on his knees and explain why he deserves support from women. I don’t know if he’s capable of that. Other than that, he’s tough and commands respect from all who see/hear him. And he don’t take no sheeat from no one. Let him go toe to toe with Ridge, Huckabee and McCain himself. Imagine him debating Romney. Geez.

  15. Warren Terra says:

    I’m a huge Webb fan in general, but I’m uncertain about him for a veep choice for a couple of reasons: one you mention but dismiss, and one you only signal towards mentioning:

    1) The Senate seat. I understand you don’t care whether the Dems have a strong hold on the Senate. That’s fine, but I, and a lot of Democrats like me, do care.

    The more important is the second point: what you refer to as “making some fairly outrageous and offensive statements”. Webb wasn’t misogynist because he held traditional opinions about single-sex militaries; he was misogynist because he said some really horrible things. Similarly, other things he said weren’t just “wingnutty”, they were also both offensive and, more importantly, wrong.

    I think Webb has sterling qualities that weigh strongly on the other side of the balance, and I think he’ grown since the time in which he was being so offensive. But it is a political weakness, especially given a strong core of Clinton irredentists being trained to resent Obama and to see sexism in his candidacy. Obama should not go so far as to include Clinton on his ticket, but he similarly should be careful to avoid unnecessary additional incitement to her supporters.

  16. anjin-san says:

    please, no Clark. This from a guy who supported him in ’04 for the Dem nomination. He’s too close to Clinton

    This is a positive for the VP choice. Hillary got a lot of votes. Lets keep that in mind.

  17. hmmmm says:

    how can Webb be a loose cannon or not a team player – yet get 75 votes for the GI Bill? That has to take some finesse. Look at how hard the admin. is against it. McCain didn’t even bother to show up and vote.

  18. skylights says:

    You want someone who will help Obama get elected AND someone who will be a good VP. A good VP will help Obama be a good president, which will help him even more when he goes up for re-election. By this standard, Webb may not be the right choice.

  19. Mendenhall says:

    I read the Kathy G post, and you mis-characterize what she wrote. Most of the post focused on Webb’s prior comments about women’s fitness to serve in the military (including the damaging effect his views had on women in the Navy at the time), and his failure to take seriously the sexual abuse reported in the Tailhook scandal. There’s no question that if Webb were on the ticket, these views would be fodder for Republican attacks, and would probably widen the divide between Clinton and Obama supporters when party unity is needed.

    Prior to reading Kathy G’s post, I’d heard that Webb had said some unflattering things about women, but had dismissed it as just another example of right-wing character assassination. I’d rooted for Webb when he ran against Allen, and cheered when he won. I’d heard interviews of him and was impressed by his intelligence and candor. I still think he has a lot of positives, but I was shocked at some of the things he’s said that were cited in the blog post, and even more shocked at how recent some of those quotes were. 1997 was not that long ago, and at that time, Webb said that efforts to ensure fair treatment for women in the military are illegitimate (because, he claims, they are driven by egotistical feminist social engineers). That’s crazy talk. I’m sorry, but it just is.

  20. paul a'barge says:

    Please, all y’all Obamaniacs, please talk yourselves out of putting Webb on the ticket.