Speaking of Virginia politics, Jim Webb is frequently mentioned as a possible running mate for Barack Obama. Like Obama, Webb is a freshman Democratic Senator. But Webb’s resume is anything but light: Naval Academy grad, Marine Corps officer, Vietnam vet, recipient of the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts, assistant secretary of Defense and then secretary of the Navy under Reagan, and author of many excellent books, six of them novels. He also delivered a rebuttal to President Bush’s 2007 State of the Union address that, in the immediate aftermath, I declared “the best response ever.” (In hindsight, I should say that while it was a fine speech, the bar for SOTU responses is not very high.)
Today, in connection with the publication of his latest book (which, ahem, has a tantilizingly campaign-manifesto feel to it), Webb delivered a speech at the National Press Club. TIME intern Will Schultz attended the event and emailed this savvy assessment:
-Webb might not be Obama’s choice for VP, but he’s going to be one of his most important surrogates on the campaign trail. His biography is too compelling to pass up–and he knows it. He referred several times both to his and his father’s service in the military. He’s going to be the go-to guy whenever McCain dings Obama on national security issues.
-If he WAS picked for VP, Webb would bring some rich, creamy gravitas to the Democratic ticket. He talked about his desire to be an “intellectual politician” in the model of Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The focus of his speech was foreign policy, and he mostly aligned himself with Obama’s views: we need a “diplomatic umbrella” in the Middle East, we need to compete with China, etc., etc.
-Webb could use some of the hope Obama’s selling. His presentation was gloomy, especially regarding the economy. He did John Edwards one better by talking about “three Americas,” with a “permanent underclass” oppressed by new robber barons. As a solution, he proposed a “Jacksonian democracy” that will take on an “unfairly entrenched aristocracy”–an idea that could be simplified into a major Obama theme. A redux of “the people versus the powerful,” only now the people have the government on their side.
-One last point: Webb said he once favored the draft, and he still spoke about it nostalgically. At first I thought that was a big blow to his VP dreams, but then I remembered that one of Obama’s big themes is “national service.” And in today’s NYT, Bill Kristol hit Obama for not including the military under that designation. Could Webb protect Obama’s flank on that subject? Obama wouldn’t have to talk about the scary draft, but Webb could cover him by praising military service to high heaven.
-Webb apparently has three tattoos. If elected, would he be our first tattooed VP since Millard Fillmore?
And, of course, there is the question of Virginia itself. If Warner, Webb and Obama were all on the ballot for the Dems in November, could McCain hold the state?