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The Democratic Presidential Race Might Be Fun After All

Memo Pad Politics

The Democratic Presidential Race Might Be Fun After All


It’s suddenly getting crowded on Hillary Clinton’s left. The latest jostler is Jim Webb, the former senator and Navy secretary, decorated Vietnam veteran, film producer, Emmy winner and best-selling author who never tires of discussing his Appalachian roots — the kind you’re born with, not the kind you marry into.

Webb is the fourth potential troublemaker for Clinton in a corner that also includes Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, Maryland governor Martin O’Malley and Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren. Webb and O’Malley are, to understate it, long shots against Clinton in the 2016 nomination race. Warren, a powerhouse on the stump, in the policy arena and as a fundraiser, is least likely to run, though her present-tense answers don’t slam the door on the future. The Brooklyn-born Sanders, an independent who calls his ideas socialist, might run as a Democrat. Or an independent. Or not at all.

Are they going after Clinton? Not yet. As Webb put it this week at the National Press Club, “I’m not here to undermine her.” Still, this group has the makings of a restive and formidable Greek chorus of status-quo skeptics. They are capable of transforming a soporific nomination process, to which I can only say, yes please. Do we want to argue about government spying and whether President Obama should be bombing the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, much less without authorization from Congress? Sure we do. Should we debate whether the government is too nice to Wall Street, corporate America and the wealthy, and criminally negligent toward Americans left behind? Absolutely, and these politicians would make it happen.

Webb opened his Press Club speech by painting vivid word pictures of two kinds of poverty. You’re “10 years old and black and living in East Baltimore and going to the bathroom in a bucket because the landlord won’t fix your plumbing and your schools are places of intimidation and violence and the only people on the street who seem to be making money are the ones who are selling drugs.” Or, “you’re a kid growing up in the Appalachian Mountains of Clay County, Kentucky, by most accounts the poorest county in America, which also happens to be 98 percent white, surrounded by poverty, drug abuse and joblessness, when you leave your home in order to succeed, and when you do you are welcomed with … policies that can exclude you from a fair shot at education or employment with the false premise that if you’re white, you by definition have some kind of socioeconomic advantage.”

Let’s take a minute to unpack that, because the choice of those two locales hardly seems accidental. Baltimore is O’Malley territory. It’s where he became mayor at 36 and spent two terms trying to reduce the murder rate, attack the drug trade and improve the schools, and it is the narrative he uses to introduce himself to audiences outside Maryland. Kentucky is the home state of Senator Rand Paul, an all-but-certain Republican presidential contender who, like Webb, is interested in prison reform and less U.S. intervention abroad. Kentucky is also where Clinton crushed Obama better than 2 to 1 on her way to losing the 2008 nomination. It’s a natural fit for Webb, who served and still praises Ronald Reagan and who romanticized the struggles and contributions of his ancestral Scots-Irish in his book Born Fighting.

Webb depicts himself as no friend of Wall Street and no hawk — both contrast with Clinton. He opposed intervention in Iraq and Libya, and now says that while Obama’s actions in Syria appear to be legal, “the question of judgment will remain to be seen.” He has a political advantage having represented the nation’s premier new swing state of Virginia. As for politicking itself, he says he’s made peace with a process he has seemed uneasy with in the past. He calls it “the way that the American people get to know you and to make their decisions about whether they want to trust you.”

Though small talk and deal cutting are not his strong suits, Webb seems to think he’s the type of guy who — like Reagan and FDR before him — can slice the Gordian Knot of gridlock. “With the right leadership, we can get a lot of things done,” he said. The clear implication: Obama is offering the wrong leadership.

At 68, Webb somewhat improbably falls in the middle of the age range of this developing Democratic field. Warren is 65, Clinton is 66, Sanders is 73 and Vice President Joe Biden — still peripherally in the mix — is 71. O’Malley, at 51, is the only interested party so far who needs to keep a careful eye on his future. The rest have very little to lose. While Clinton likely will remain on her trajectory, everyone else can win by igniting the conversations that Americans sorely need to have, regardless of party.

Follow Jill Lawrence on Twitter @JillDLawrence. To find out more about Jill Lawrence and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo: Marc Nozell via Flickr

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Jill Lawrence

Award-winning journalist Jill Lawrence is a nationally syndicated columnist and a contributing editor to U.S. News & World Report. She also contributed to The Surge: 2014's Big GOP Win and What It Means for the Next Presidential Race (2015). Lawrence has discussed political and policy developments on television, radio, and many other media outlets. She was an adjunct professorial lecturer at American University in 2014, teaching on the relationship between politics and the media.

Lawrence has covered every presidential campaign since 1988, as well as historic events such as the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress, the Clinton impeachment, the Florida recount, and the 1993 and 2009 battles over health reform.

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  1. Dominick Vila September 25, 2014

    I suspect they are all very aware of the fact that none of them has a chance to take the nomination away from Hillary. Their real goal is the VP slot, and in that regard I think the choice is going to be between Webb and O’Malley. Considering Hillary’s record as Secretary of State, and the pragmatic positions she has taken in the past, I think she will choose Webb as her running mate.

    1. FT66 September 25, 2014

      Dominick, Unfortunately, am sorry to say Webb and O’Malley have nothing to bring to the dinner table. Why should Hillary pick them as her VP?

      1. Dominick Vila September 25, 2014

        Both are better candidates than anything the GOP has to offer. Bernie Sanders is too old, and my favorite – Elizabeth Warren – may turn out to be a liability and would not add anything to the ticket from a geographical influence perspective. It is going to be hard enough for Hillary to overcome the attacks she is likely to get from macho jingoism, having two women in the same ticket would be unacceptable even for some women who are considering voting for Hillary. It may not be fair, and we would be deprived of the talent and courage that Liz has shown, but we must be pragmatic. We cannot afford to ignore the realities we face.

        1. FT66 September 25, 2014

          I agree both are best candidates BUT, they shouldn’t come empty handed. I do not want to go beyond the schedule, BUT let us wait when Hillary announces her candidancy. Things will sort out themselves.

          1. David L. Allison September 25, 2014

            Thank you for the concession on the qualifications of O’Malley and Webb BUT, it appears that HRC has been running since Bill left office. It is becoming somewhat ingenuous for her to “formally” announce her candidacy after her trips to early primary states.

            It is, I agree, time for _all_ prospective contenders to step forward with policy agendas and proof from their experience that they are sincere. All the candidates have a short time to show that they will maintain their agendas even when opposed by the MIC, the Pentagon, the corporations, bankers and the oligarchs who are currently running large parts of our country and our government.

        2. Allan Richardson September 25, 2014

          Good point about Warren scaring the “menfolk” if she runs with Hillary. In any case, she does not wish to run at this time, and she will have two years left in her Senate term when the next President takes over, and her influence in the Senate may not be easily replaced in the NEAR future (of course, it is possible that a super-Warren will show up in Mass. by 2016 and free her to run for President). She would be a valuable “left wing whip” for President Clinton.

      2. David L. Allison September 25, 2014

        You keep sounding trollish with your repeated overt rejection of both Webb and O’Malley. Both have strong reasonable, progressive and effective experience and credentials based on experience.

        Both Webb and O’Malley have demonstrated strong independent support and the ability to bring support for their policies from all sections of the electorate. Webb was critical in turning a red state blue and O’Malley was critical in demonstrating that progressive leadership could bring both prosperity and justice to an entire state.

        Record to Records, I and many others would already be happy to compare Hillary to O’Malley and Webb. As the three of them become better and better known over the next two and a half years, I expect O’Malley and Webb support to swell within the Democratic party and among both Independents and reasonable Republicans.

    2. Dissentispatriotic September 27, 2014

      Webb was asked directly about running for VP. He has no intention of doing so. If you think that’s right, you need to learn more about him.

  2. FT66 September 25, 2014

    Well come to the Club Jim Webb. I have a question for you: In your mind did you sit down, think deeply and came with a conclusion that you can beat this “Iron Lady”? Really? It is good you have joined, and it is good that Hillary needs someone to challenge her in primaries so that she can prepare herself to meet that once was GOP contender (Mitt) the unforgettable Mr. 47%.

    1. David L. Allison September 25, 2014

      Everyone who has attempted to follow the center-right to right DLC policies since Bill Clinton has failed. The policies he accepted from the right may have been necessary, however eventually proven to be wrong, to put Democratic candidates back in the running for president.

      Even if Bill Clinton was necessary in the 20th century. Hillary is neither necessary nor a certain winner in the 21st century with her neo-liberal agenda. The status-quo is sour. Only the Bush initiated & Obama pushed stimulus program kept the US afloat during the “great recession.

      Obama’s commitment to rebuilding industry, including the automobile industry, vilified by the Republicans, along with support from a few stand-up Senate Democrats, have kept the US from the “austerity collapse” from which Europe is still suffering today.

  3. FireBaron September 25, 2014

    I served in the Navy when Webb was SecNav. He has my vote.

    1. FT66 September 25, 2014

      Good for you. One vote takes Jim Webb straight to the White House!

  4. Louis A. DeFreitas, Sr. September 25, 2014

    If Jim Webb runs he should not be taken lightly. He can beat Hillary in the South, where he is looked upon as a war hero, and in the New England States, where he is viewed as an intellectual. . He has Black support. It was the Black vote that gave him victory in Virginia when he was not suppose to win. Remember, he walked to every county in Virginia in his famous boots. He is a tough campaigner. The Republicans found that out the hard way when he beat them.

    1. FT66 September 25, 2014

      Well Louis, I have to agree with you partially. Jim Webb can beat Hillary in the South during primaries, BUT will they support him during the General Election? I do not think so. On the Black people side vote, whom do you think the Black people will support: Jim Webb standing alone or Hillary with Bill Clinton on her side? Please try to ponder this.

      1. drdroad September 25, 2014

        Agree. Honestly, I’m pretty politically aware and I didn’t even know who Jim Webb was before today. Anything can happen, but lets not pick some one just to lose the eventual battle. Thats what the GOP does!

      2. Dissentispatriotic September 27, 2014

        He would win overwhelmingly in a general election. There are many Independents and Republicans who support him and have pledged their vote. Check comments on his FB page.

  5. fred farrell September 25, 2014

    I am rather shocked that Webb is considering a run. He is the only one of the crowd, including Hilary, that I would pay any attention to. Liked Warren, but after her suck-up to AIPAC in the Gaza debacle, she seems to acknowledge who runs the show..something that must change

    1. David L. Allison September 25, 2014

      Both Webb and O’Malley offer strong candidates for actually being elected as president. Maybe as a ticket. Senators Sherrod Brown and Ron Wyden are two more moderates who have consistently fought for equality and the middle class while still fighting for meeting the needs of the poor, students and our underclass.

  6. aabsalooka September 25, 2014

    2016 is all about the next twenty years of SCOTUS, it is not about whether we lean a little left or right. That option was removed from us when the GOP went off the deep end. Keep your eye on the true prize.

    1. drdroad September 25, 2014

      Completely agree. This was the most boring, useless article I’ve read so far today. Like the Sportscasters that like chaos so they have something to report!

      1. David L. Allison September 25, 2014

        The neo-liberal status quo is out of gas. The DLC was a failure as were most of their policies. This article simply pointed out that there are real and valid alternatives who can prevail over either Romney or Paul. I am not sure that, come 2016, HRC would be able to do that.

    2. David L. Allison September 25, 2014

      We are not talking “a little bit left or right”. We are talking about alternatives to the DLC never-ending war, insane extensions of failed NAFTA “free trade” agreements like the TPP and Atlantic Trade Agreement.

      We are talking about whether or not to continue with the overt support and endorsement of the poisons being manufactured and spread across our country by Monsanto, Bayer, Monsanto and Syngenta and active support for those companies.

      We want alternatives to the DLC far too limited support for a return to truly progressive income tax and estate tax policies, for increasing the minimum wage, ending the rejection of bankster and corporate control of our government and oligarchic control of our country.

  7. mah101 September 25, 2014

    It would be nice to have our national discussion tugged somewhat to the left. It would help our dear friends on the right realize that they don’t know what a left looks like.

    1. Allan Richardson September 25, 2014

      It wouldn’t make any difference to their public rhetoric, because by their definition,anyone to the left of Atilla the Hun is a “liberal extremist” even if they agree 98 percent with conservatives.

  8. David L. Allison September 25, 2014

    2016 is about the next hundred years. Having all of those mentioned is healthy for the party as would their more centrist views reflecting a growing part of the Democratic Party.

    I believe that both O’Malley and Webb would be strong candidates for nomination and election as our next President. Sanders and Warren are both voices of large parts of the progressive Democratic voters and would, as one commenter noted, bring our party and the country left and toward at least the moderate mainstream of politics and governance.

  9. j.martindale September 28, 2014

    Webb may have one or two useful arguments to make about geopolitical issues, but he is less than stellar when it come to civil rights issues. He is no friend of the gays…in fact he is a neanderthal in that regard. Please save us from another Southern moderate Democrat who will redeem the Democratic Party by “winning over” the GOP. What that means is caving in to right wing extremists. Webb is a non-starter.

  10. Elliot J. Stamler September 28, 2014

    It is in 2017 President Clinton OR President Cruz/Rubio/Jindal/Huckabee/Santorum/Paul/J.Bush. That’s the way it is. If the latter you can kiss goodbye to the constitution and political democracy in this country. DO YOU WANT A SUPREME COURT OF NINE ANTONIN SCALIAS? This country will NOT elect a leftist or anyone perceived as a leftist. That too is the way it is. George McGovern gave us 4 more years of Richard Nixon but for his impeachment!


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