May 21st, 2008
02:55 PM ET

Jim Webb's Time to Fight

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editor, The Nation

Jim Webb can make the Four Seasons feel like a diner in Owensboro, Kentucky. It's that kind of blue-collar street cred that may be just what it takes to propel the first-term senator from Virginia onto the Democratic ticket as vice president.

On Monday night, at a party for his latest book, "A Time to Fight: Reclaiming a Fair and Just America," the first term Senator from Virginia filled the dining citadel of elitism with a spirited mix of active duty and retired Marines and New York's media glitterati. After he said a few words, Webb remained at the made-for-the-occasion podium–as if he were campaigning–and took questions.

Ronald Reagan's former Secretary of the Navy has refocused the warrior ambition that made him the most highly decorated Vietnam-era Marine from his Naval Academy into a passionate, progressive and patriotic populism. When asked, by The New Yorker's Rick Hertzberg, what he thought of those who opposed the Vietnam war, Webb said "I never had a problem with those who properly opposed the war. I had a problem with the way vets were treated when they got home."

He explained that as the young vet and author of "Fields of Fire," the classic novel of the Vietnam War, "I inherited the obligation to articulate the conclusions of those who served." And in that, he suggested, lay the seeds of anger and bitterness toward opponents of a war he had served in...passions which have ebbed and subdued as he has witnessed the disaster of Iraq.

Monday night, as on other nights, most notably the January night in 2007 when Webb delivered the most devastating Democratic State of the Union reply in modern memory, the Senator used his bully pulpit to rip into a Republican Administration that has shafted the men and women it sent into an unnecessary war by denying them the benefits they deserve and for allowing this country, as he told me, to "calcify along class lines."

When I asked what he would do to make the people who lived up and down the street we were on, Park Avenue, contribute to reclaiming a fair and just America, Webb spoke forcefully of ending a system "in which the average corporate CEO now makes nearly 400 times more than what an average worker does." "When I graduated from college," he told me, "the average CEO made 20 times what the average worker did." As Webb fielded questions, with his young Vietnamese wife close by, he even repeated questions when they weren't clear ("a technique of military instruction," he joked), he denounced the inequities of system which takes the average worker more than a year to make the money that his or her boss makes in one day.

When asked if he'd consider being a vice presidential candidate on an Obama ticket, Webb's non-reply - "I like being a Senator" - suggested to me that he's ready to rumble. And his media blitz these last few days - Meet the Press, Late Show With Letterman, Olbermann and Dobbs tonight - second that emotion.

Through all this, the senator's wife was a striking, yet serene, presence. "She keeps those turbulent waters calm," Webb said of her influence on him. He also spoke movingly of her life as part of the promise of America - a woman whose maternal grandparents were killed by the Vietnamese Communists, comes to the US and gets a degree at the University of Michigan and then a law degree at Cornell. I couldn't help but think what a striking pair Webb and his wife would make if they were to join the Democratic ticket.

"We should measure the health of our society not at its apex, but at its base. Not with the numbers that come out of Wall Street, but with the living conditions that exist on Main Street. We must recapture that spirit today," Webb told a nation last year, as he rebutted and rebuked President Bush. It is that spirit that offers a path forward for progressives, not only to win elections, but to govern.

Editor's note: For more from Katrina Vanden Heuval, see TheNation.com

Filed under: Jim Webb • Katrina vanden Heuvel
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Claudia, Houston, Tx


    May 22, 2008 at 10:11 am |
  2. Dianne

    Webb has paid his dues and is a straight shooter..he would make an excellent VP and or a cabinet member..his tough stance is needed..somehow we must trust someone after 8 years of stupidity..the thugs must go

    May 22, 2008 at 1:46 am |
  3. Annie Kate

    This sounds like a man I could vote for. I hope I get the chance one day – he has pinpointed the essential problem of America and sounds like he can change it. Hope he is on the ticket this fall.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    May 21, 2008 at 11:33 pm |
  4. mr. kline

    The Senator seems to be a guy that would not have been fragged in Viet Nam. A vice-pres. nahhhhhhhh. He probably wants to let all of central america and mexico come to America. Agrees with the Obama health plan, NAFTA agreement and Chinese trade-you know toys for tanks.

    May 21, 2008 at 11:16 pm |
  5. Chris - Hemet, Ca.

    Jim Webb is on my short list along with Kathleen Sebelius. I think Gov. Sebelius would draw some of the female voters that have flocked to Sen. Whatshername. Hopefully we can soon go from yes we can to yes we did and get on with it.

    May 21, 2008 at 6:31 pm |
  6. EJ

    That's awesome.

    May 21, 2008 at 5:31 pm |
  7. Brian from Los Angeles, California

    Hey Webb, unlike your probable running mate, I sure hope you can come up with a solution or tw to the various problems we face as a nation, rather then just being someone that goes about eloquently dictating to the voters that the world is far from perfect, insinuating that it is all Bush's fault, even though the Democrats currently run the Congress in Washington.

    When I decide about change, I like to know what change it will be (I think all voter's deserve to know what they are getting, don't you?), not just be told there is a problem and not given one specific solution to any of the problems. That would be an Obamanation don't you think?

    May 21, 2008 at 3:32 pm |
  8. Cindy

    OK...all is well and good for these senators to come out and say this stuff but really let's face it...they are the upper echelon that they are trying to say needs to be pulled down. Does people honestly think that they know how the regular people live? Are they willing to honestly give up their high class lifestyle so we normal folk can make a living. That answer is a clear cut NO!! These people are all just talk. Let's see them actually do something that matters instead of just throwing around words. Talk is cheap as they say!! And actions speak WAY louder than words!

    May 21, 2008 at 3:10 pm |
  9. Tita

    WOW, I'm impressed! I'm all for Obama picking Jim Webb for his VP
    spot. WHAT AN AMAZING TICKET!!! A MULTI-CULTURAL expression of what American looks like to many of us.



    Kind Regards,

    May 21, 2008 at 3:02 pm |
  10. Kim

    He sounds like a power house. I don't know enough about him to say I agree with his politics, but he certainly has the resume.

    May 21, 2008 at 3:01 pm |