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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Anybody but Webb

posted by on June 11 at 17:46 PM

A lot of folks, including many Slog readers, have been talking up Jim Webb as Obama’s best choice for VP. Their arguments: He’s butch. He’s Southern. He two Purple Hearts. He’ll appeal to good old boys. He makes up for Obama’s lack of military experience. But some bloggers (and Obama fans) have some pretty serious reservations about the senator from Virginia—and not just because Webb as VP would mean losing a Democratic seat in the Senate.

Writing for Matthew Yglesias’ blog, Kathy G. argues that Webb “has a long history of holding some pretty wingnutty opinions and making some fairly outrageous and offensive statements.” For example, Webb has called liberals in Hollywood “a fifth column waging war on American traditions,” referred to affirmative action as “state-sponsored racism,” and argued in a 2004 op-ed (which also railed against the “liberal media”) that John Kerry “deserved condemnation” for opposing the Vietnam War. (He has even endorsed the revisionist position that that war could have been won if not for treachery from liberal elites in the media and government).

But the real reason to oppose Webb, Kathy argues, is that he’ll alienate the very female Clinton supporters Obama needs to rally around his candidacy.

In 1979, in an infamous article in The Washingtonian magazine called “Women Can’t Fight,” Webb argued that women were biologically unsuited to combat and didn’t belong in the military academies. He said that the mere presence of women was “poisoning” the environment for male cadets. He also
declared that no senior female in a leadership position at the academy won her rank by merit, thereby impugning the accomplishments of every female midshipman and throwing fuel on the smoldering resentments of a vocal minority of disgruntled midshipmen.

Webb’s writings on women did a hell of a lot of damage. [They] gave invaluable ammunition to the enemies of women’s presence in the military and helped stall and perhaps even roll back women’s progress there. Kathleen Murray, a 1984 academy graduate who went on to become a commander in the Navy, said of Webb’s screed: “This article was brandished repeatedly. [Men] quoted and used it as an excuse to mistreat us.” Her observation is confirmed by this post, which contains devastating testimony by women in the military about the effect Webb’s writings had. For instance, here is what Commander Jennifer Brooks, USN(retired) had to say:

I was 19 years old and in my second year at the Academy when the Webb article came out. I was devastated to be told by a war hero that the Academy should be shut down rather than accept me, and that my very presence was responsible for the degradation of the military. As a best selling author, James Webb knew the power of words, and to describe the Naval Academy as ‘a horny woman’s dream’ was inexcusable. My mother read that.

I joined the Navy to serve my country. It was unbelievably demoralizing to be painted as a pampered slut who was taking up classroom space and pre-destined to endanger the lives of the brave young men around her.

You may say, well, that was way back in the 80s and late 70s. He’s changed since then, right? But that is not exactly clear. At a 1991 convention of naval aviators called Tailhook, 83 women were reported to have been sexually harassed or assaulted by military personnel. From the beginning, Webb’s concern for the victims was merely perfunctory. But he gave many speeches and wrote many articles vociferously defending the accused. In a 1992 article in the New York Times, he called the investigation of Tailhook a “witch hunt” [and a “feminist plot”—ECB]. In a 1997 article he wrote for the conservative Weekly Standard, he was highly critical of what he termed “ever-expanding sexual mixing” in the military and he referred to feminist efforts to improve the status of women in the military as merely “salving the egos of a group of never-satisfied social engineers.” [In that same article, Webb also attributed an increase in rapes and “wife-beating” to “the realignment of sexual roles”—ECB]


To be fair, Webb, who is pro-choice, has kinda sorta apologized for his past writings and statements on women in the military. He termed the infamous Washingtonian article an “overreach.” Um, that’s putting it mildly.

Above all, though, I am very troubled by the idea that a man who has held such sexist views, and has done so much to damage the cause of gender equality in the military, would be one heartbeat away from the presidency. I do not think Webb is at all trustworthy on women’s issues, and women’s issues are very important to me and to millions of others besides. I think it’s essential that any Democratic president or vice president have a good record on women’s, civil rights, and labor issues. It’s not just that women, African-Americans, and unions are the core constituencies of the Democratic party. It’s that advancing the causes of racial, gender, and economic equality are the among the most important moral and political issues of our time. These are core values to me and millions of other Democrats, and elevating a man who has been so awful on one of them to the second most powerful position in the party is completely unacceptable.

Stepping away from all that high-minded rhetoric, I’ll add that, in practical terms, selecting Webb would be a slap in the face to the Hillary Clinton supporters. I’m not saying that Obama has to pick Hillary as veep (and indeed, I think that would be a bad idea). I’m not even saying that he needs to pick a woman. […] But for Obama to choose — out of all the well-qualified candidates out there — the one person who has a really awful record on gender issues would be like rubbing salt in the wound. It would be seen as a big “screw you” to Hillary’s supporters and to feminists in general.

Melissa at Shakesville has more on Webb’s “kinda sorta apology,” from his appearance on Meet the Press just two years ago.

Tim Russert: When you say [crosstalk] the Naval Academy is a horny woman’s dream, you regret that?

Webb: Well, I do regret that.

This is the look on Webb’s face as he says how he “regrets” saying a placement at the Naval Academy is a horny woman’s dream:


Yeah, he regrets that like I regret voting for Al Gore.

Kathy and Melissa aren’t the only lefty bloggers with serious reservations about Webb. Back in February, Ezra Klein wrote: that Webb’s “credibility” on military issues might actually make Obama look weak in contrast.

The qualities that make a good Senator — and particularly a good gadfly Senator — are not the same as those that make a good VP. A good VP should augment the nominee’s strengths, rather than bringing on a whole separate source of light, particularly one whose strengths expose weaknesses in the top candidate (putting Webb beneath Obama, for instance, would suggest that Obama worries about his credibility on national security, just as putting the warm, populist Edwards below Kerry created an unflattering contrast with Kerry’s aristocratic bearing). A VP candidate shouldn’t take a critical vote out of the Senate, particularly not when there’s a razor-thin majority. A VP candidate should, if possible, help pull in a critical state, but Webb’s slim victory in Virginia certainly doesn’t suggest he’d be better placed to do that than, say, the wildly popular Mark Warner.

Finally, just yesterday, David Mark at Politico pointed out that Webb has shown a strong affinity for the cause of the Confederacy, arguing that “most Americans” have simply “misunderstood” the Southern rebels’ “gallantry” during the Civil War.

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.”

Oh, and did I mention that Webb’s (truly awful-sounding) fiction portrays women as promiscuous and servile, and minorities as lazy and dishonest?

In “Fields of Fire” (1978) Webb includes a rape scene: “Dan dared to crush her to him and she acquiesced and he marveled at it, could not understand it. But he felt a sense of total power from the knowledge that she despised him and what he stood for, and yet was unable to restrain her nether parts from seeking him.”

Later in that book, a character says of a Vietnamese girl with shrapnel in her gut, “Three years and she’d be like all the rest of ‘em. If she’s lucky she’ll live through this and stay in Da Nang when she gets out of the hospital. Then maybe in a year or two she’ll make a good whore.”

The N-word also appears in some of Webb’s books.

From “Fields of Fire” - “Niggers … Out in the bush, they need you, they’re all right. Get ‘em back in the rear and they turn to shit.”

In “A Country Such as This,” (1983) the word is used again, and a character says of African Americans: “I think everybody should own at least one.”

Later in that book, Webb describes Filipino road workers and Vietnamese guards as “monkey-faced.”

Who knows what else will emerge about Webb if Obama picks him as his running mate? I don’t know, but I’d rather not find out.

RSS icon Comments


Also worth pointing out, judging from his appearance on The Daily Show this week, is that Webb is apparently a barely-animated block of wood, only without the charisma of same. He makes Al Gore seem exciting.

Posted by Just Sayin' | June 11, 2008 6:00 PM

Affirmative action is racism. You can go back to making -0.23 to my every buck now, sweetie.

Or, you know, start another post that's really just a series of actual opinions followed by your half-ass commentary.


Posted by Mr. Poe | June 11, 2008 6:01 PM

He's problematic.

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | June 11, 2008 6:01 PM

Erica, excellent post. Thanks for providing this perspective. I wasn't aware of all this about Webb, but I now agree with you that he shouldn't be selected as VP.

Posted by arduous | June 11, 2008 6:01 PM
...unable to restrain her nether parts from seeking him.

That doesn't sound like a rape scene to me. It is unbelievably shitty writing however.

Posted by keshmeshi | June 11, 2008 6:08 PM

I'm really hoping Obama doesn't try to appeal to the center and pick someone awful like when Gore picked Lieberman. I'm sure that cost him some votes with the Nader crowd.

Posted by um | June 11, 2008 6:10 PM

Webb would be a horrible choice, for the reasons you thoroughly lay out and because he is simply weird. Doesn't speak the same way other people speak, and is prickly and uncomfortable in interviews.

Obama must choose a running mate who does not serve as a lightning rod. That means no Webb, no Hillary, no Biden, no Nunn, no Daschle. He should choose someone (by which I mean a male, truth be told, because running with a non-Hillary female would create too many unmanageable cross-currents) with executive or military experience for whom nothing bad or uncomfortable turns up in the vetting process. This may mean Clark, Jones, Kaine, or Strickland. Or, he could run with an eminence grise, like George Mitchell (too bad John Danforth is a Republican)--the Lloyd Bentsen gambit. Or he could run with Al Gore, as James Carville suggested.

Personally, I would welcome a kick-ass figure from the business world with a liberal social bent, so as to better hammer away at the drunken-soldier fiscal habits of every GOP administration since Ronald Reagan, which John McCain pledges to continue. A Bob Rubin or Jon Corzine type, but without the Wall Street baggage.

Posted by fixo | June 11, 2008 6:12 PM

I am pulling for Ted Strickland of Ohio

Posted by Olivia | June 11, 2008 6:12 PM

@6 -- Right now, the "Nader crowd" consists of about 27 hairy hippies, three guys with tinfoil hats and underwater MSFT options, and an old woman named Charity who collects cats.

Charitably stated, they are not a force and whether a VP candidate appeals to them or not should be given no consideration whatsoever.

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | June 11, 2008 6:13 PM

I'd rather have a real man like Jim Webb backing me in a bar fight than a moonbat weenus like Dennis Kucinich.

Posted by RSPA | June 11, 2008 6:48 PM

@8 -- Looks like a non-starter:

Strick has issued numerous Sherman statements about the veepship. Don't think that's going anywhere.

ECB -- Your frantic, throw-spaghetti-at-the-wall approach to arguing against Senator Webb reminds me of the Bush administration's tactic to gain support for the war.

The Confederate sympathy line in specific has no merit if you put the comments in the context mentioned in the Politico article -- he is honoring the spirit of his ancestors. Is it really so unconscionable to suggest that Confederates, largely too poor to be slaveholders, were patriots too? Or to suggest that states have a right to secede from the Union?

Posted by mjg | June 11, 2008 6:55 PM

Looks like even Webb's hairpiece is backing away from that statement.

Posted by Fnarf | June 11, 2008 6:56 PM

Also worth pointing out, his head is very meaty.

Posted by Steagle | June 11, 2008 7:07 PM

Webb is way too McCain. Maybe use him for the election then bottle him up like a good little VP.

Posted by rutro | June 11, 2008 7:31 PM

#8, really? This guy?

"If drafted I will not run, nominated I will not accept and if elected I will not serve."

Posted by w7ngman | June 11, 2008 7:46 PM

You know, this would've been a better post if you didn't add in those passages from his fictional writings. Devoid of context, there's no way to interpret them - how do I know whether this represents Webb's actual thoughts or just his depiction of character?

Why do that? Why ruin an otherwise plausible argument by throwing in a couple of bad examples just for the hell of it? It's a recurring theme in your posts, like the laundry-list-of-Hillary-sexism-quotes one.

Posted by tsm | June 11, 2008 7:59 PM

@11: This comment is a bit off-topic, but after relocating to Savannah and studying the actual history of my new Antebellum home for the past year, I could not let your Neo-Confederate comments go undiscussed.

Before the ink was dry on the Constitution, the original drafters were arguing over its interpretation. Nothing in the Constitution gives an express right to secession. An activist interpretation--normally anathema to State's Rightists--could lead one to such a conclusion. But that would make it an opinion, not a constitutional fact. And if the Constitution was merely a contract between the States, what right do any signers after the original thirteen have to break it? (Excepting, possibly, the former Republic of Texas.) Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi were territories before they joined the United States. They signed up after the original document was approved.

Just because Johnny Reb was too poor to own a slave, it doesn't mean he didn't benefit from them. The real question is how many white Southern families owned slaves. A family of 5 may own one slave, equally a 20% ownership, but 100% of the family benefits. And being too poor to own a human slave didn't mean one didn't want to be or expect to become a slaveowner. Southern society was rocked in the 1850's by the class struggle between wealthier slave-owning whites and their poorer brethren. Editorials were rife with calls to expand the international slave trade in order to increase the supply and lower the price. North Carolina white supremacist Hinton R. Helper's The Impending Crisis of the South, published in 1857, is a great place to start.

Posted by Laurence Ballard | June 11, 2008 8:02 PM

Well, ECB, you've convinced me. How do I help get Webb drafted as Obama's veep? (You're dislike of the man is the best endorsement imaginable! I'm ready to vote for Obama if he chooses Webb. Otherwise I'm sticking with McCain.)

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | June 11, 2008 8:26 PM
Posted by slate pre-agrees | June 11, 2008 8:33 PM

I heard Mark Twain hated black people. It's true, it's true- evidently he used the n-word.

Posted by Big Sven | June 11, 2008 8:49 PM

why does ECB quote opinions of other people and write short replies for the majority of her slog posts? ECB, stop being lazy.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 11, 2008 8:50 PM

i don't know... if you want to appeal to people who are different than obama, you have to have someone who is different than obama. clinton is actually pretty close. He’s butch. He’s Southern. He two Purple Hearts. that's different. that might just seem a bit crazy if you like obama and clinton. but "we" aren't the ones webb is supposed to appeal to. just for the record, i don't think it seems like a great choice either...

Posted by a non | June 11, 2008 8:53 PM

"Most Southern soldiers viewed the driving issue to be sovereignty rather than slavery"

Did you not go to college? Hell, I learned this in high school.

Posted by w7ngman | June 11, 2008 8:54 PM

@17, one might also argue that the preponderance of slave labor in the South actually hurt poor, non-slaveowning whites, since the labor market was awash in nearly free slave labor. I would imagine that would depress wages across the board.

Posted by joykiller | June 11, 2008 9:21 PM


Posted by once again | June 11, 2008 9:44 PM

@4 has to be the most boring comment ever posted on Slog.

Posted by Dannyboy | June 11, 2008 9:48 PM

@ #19: Did you notice that that Slate article was written by TIM NOAH? I was wondering where that guy had gone ...

Posted by Bub | June 11, 2008 10:13 PM

Oh, shit - never mind.

Posted by Grant Cogswell | June 11, 2008 10:18 PM

Holy Shit! If this asshole comes anywhere near Obama's campaign, it'll cause a stampede toward McCain!

Posted by yucca flower | June 11, 2008 10:44 PM

Yeah, I've actually kind of shocked myself by coming around to the idea that maybe Hillary is the best choice for VP. I don't know that Webb would really hurt Obama that much with women (he's still better than McCain after all, and he's only the VP), but he's not gonna help much either. Unfortunately-- and I do blame Hillary for this-- there's now two constituencies Obama has to try to appease with his VP pick, women and white collar Appalachian voters (maybe old people too). Sebelius (sp?) might help with women, Webb might help with whitey, but no one has the potential to help with both except Clinton. It's just a shame she's pretty much forced her way into this position so now Obama looks weak by picking her.

Posted by Mr Me | June 11, 2008 10:50 PM

Normally I disagree with ECB but she is SPOT on about Webb. Fuck bringing him into the administration. We can't forget that whoever is the VP is basically being fronted as the future face of the Democratic Party. Do we really want the Democrats to march to the right after the end of Obama's 8 years? Fuck that!

Posted by Fonky | June 11, 2008 11:14 PM

I've only been in this country for three election cycles, but in my opinion THE VP SELECTION DOESN'T MATTER ONE WAY OR THE OTHER.

I can remember when I thought Lieberman was an awesome choice. He'd sew up that right-wing-jewish vote! w00t! And then there was Edwards -- he'd pull in the good ol' southern vote! Double w00t!

Bah! The best VP candidate is the one who is irrelevant because the P candidate can run the table.

Posted by Big Adventure Steve | June 11, 2008 11:34 PM

I do like his positions on the drug war, though:

Posted by dr0q | June 11, 2008 11:39 PM

If Webb was elected VP that wouldn't mean the loss of a Democratic Senate seat. The Governor of Virginia is Democrat Tim Kaine, and he would be the one to select the replacement who would finish the last two years of Webb's term.

Not that I think Webb is a good choice, though.

Posted by cz | June 12, 2008 12:34 AM

Another point against Webb is that he isn't nearly as strong with the "Appalachian" (with whatever connotations you like) vote as he has been made out to be. He didn't do any better in the Appalachian parts of Virginia than previous candidates who lost statewide. Webb won by racking up big margins in the rapidly growing, left-leaning DC suburbs. Just cause Webb is a white guy who sympathizes with the Confederates doesn't mean he will do any better with, as Hillary put it, "hard-working white people."

Posted by lorax | June 12, 2008 12:39 AM

that took 8 page downs to skip past

Posted by Postum | June 12, 2008 2:30 AM

Well, ECB, you've convinced me. How do I help get Webb drafted as Obama's veep? (You're dislike of the man is the best endorsement imaginable! I'm ready to vote for Obama if he chooses Webb. Otherwise I'm sticking with McCain.)

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | June 12, 2008 2:40 AM

I agree. Fiction should never contain any racist/sexists characters or anyone who does anything wrong. Anyone who writes a fictional character who expresses an opinion must share the opinion of that fictional character.

For instance, we know that Dr. Suess liked green eggs and ham or he could not have written a character that did.

Posted by mikeblanco | June 12, 2008 3:19 AM

He may be a creep, but he's our creep.

Posted by Vince | June 12, 2008 6:39 AM

ECB -- Would you mind paring down this post to something that can be read in 2 minutes? I'm with you that Webb is probably a sexist asshole who'd also be really bad electoral calculus for Obama. But there's a more succinct way to make the case... And while you're at it, how about some research on Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius? She seems to be the perfect fit for the ticket.

Posted by oneway | June 12, 2008 7:43 AM

really, like he stood a chance anyway.

Posted by monkey | June 12, 2008 7:58 AM

what 40 said. you need to learn to edit yourself, erica. it would make you more convincing. take out the detritus others have mentioned here, i.e.: his writings out of context, and anything else that does not solidly support your point. then you wouldn't have put in a jump, if doing that goes against your grain.

Posted by ellarosa | June 12, 2008 8:50 AM

"Either we are home to the most evil population on earth, or we are locking up a lot of people who really don't need to be in jail, for actions that other countries seem to handle in more constructive ways"

Yea, what an ass. We should be locking everyone up and throwing away the key. Erica, please show us the light!

Posted by wbrproductions | June 12, 2008 9:09 AM


Posted by blank12357 | June 12, 2008 9:38 AM

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