Jim Webb on Democrats and Wall Street

The Virginia Senator objects to the party's loyalty to banks at the expense of working class Americans

Published November 9, 2010 12:10PM (EST)

In an interview with Real Clear Politics, Democratic Sen. Jim Webb provides just the latest whiff of what the Democratic Party has become:

Webb is a Reagan Democrat who returned home. He was Ronald Reagan's Navy secretary. Almost two decades later, he was the Democrat who scrapped out a win in Virginia.

Webb seems less at home today. He identifies himself as a Democrat. But he has few Democratic leaders to identify with. . . .

Webb's one of the last FDR Democrats. An economic populist. Liberals also admire the populist Webb. The same cannot be said for the Democratic establishment. Webb has pushed for a onetime windfall profits tax on Wall Street's record bonuses. He talks about the "unusual circumstances of the bailout," that the bonuses wouldn't be there without the bailout.

"I couldn't even get a vote," Webb says. "And it wasn't because of the Republicans. I mean they obviously weren't going to vote for it. But I got so much froth from Democrats saying that any vote like that was going to screw up fundraising.

"People look up say, what's the difference between these two parties? Neither of them is really going to take on Wall Street. If they don't have the guts to take them on, and they've got all these other programs that exclude me, well to hell with them. I'm going to vote for the other people who can at least satisfy me on other issues, like abortion. Screw you guys. I understand that mindset." 

Undoubtedly, some of the motivation for this complaint is political:  Webb barely won in 2006, and just watched as his state, which voted for Obama a mere two years ago, turned almost completely red in this last election.  He obviously knows that he has no chance of being re-elected unless he seriously separates himself from the Party and the White House.  Still, what caused Jim Webb to switch in the first place to the Democratic Party was (1) his vehement opposition to the Iraq War and (2) his perception that the GOP had become the party-servants of Wall Street and was ignoring (and trampling upon) the interests of working class Americans.  That he is now emphatically complaining that Democrats are just as guilty of (2) ought to be taken quite seriously.

One other point about this article:  the author (David Paul Kuhn), previously of Politico, included this exceedingly strange though revealing and typical passage:

Yet liberals often seem to view Webb's breed of Democrat more like frenemies. There was Glenn Greenwald, typical among many liberal writers the morning after the election, explaining why he viewed "last night's Blue Dog losses with happiness." This is par for partisan flanks. We saw it on the right this year, when tea party activists savored the defeat of Delaware moderate Republican Mike Castle, though it cost Republicans a critical Senate seat.

Leave to the side the fact that Webb is one of the politicians I've most lavishly praised (see here:  "There are few things rarer than a major politician doing something that is genuinely courageous and principled, but Jim Webb's impassioned commitment to fundamental prison reform is exactly that" and here:  "in a rational or honorable world, those who knowingly subjected themselves to an onslaught of vicious attacks from all corners for having been so right, such as Jim Webb  -- and Howard Dean -- would be heralded as the serious and wise leaders whose judgment can be trusted").  Also leave to the side the trite, anti-democratic Beltway contempt for supporting only those politicians who advocate views one likes, while opposing those with views one dislikes, regardless of party identity (ironically, the willingness to oppose such politicans from "one's own party" -- such as Blue Dogs -- is the exact opposite, by definition, of what those on the "partisan flanks" would do); that's more or less the topic I hope to discuss with Lawrence O'Donnell tonight if he can free himself from the type of substance-free, self-centered, personalized drama in which he seems to be wallowing.

What's most notable and bizarre about this passage is that Kuhn equates Webb's anti-Wall-Street economic populism with "Blue Dogs," and thus understands "Webb's breed of Democrat" to be Blue Dogs.  Blue Dogs are the very opposite of that.  They are not moderates or centrists or even conservatives; above all else, they are Wall Street and corporate servants, loyalists to the lobbyist class, which is why they've been so well-funded.  Jim Webb's anger with the Democratic Party for being so servile to Wall Street doesn't make him a Blue Dog; it makes him an anti-Blue-Dog.  Webb's grievances with the Party's economic policies are grounded in everything the Blue Dogs (though by no means only them) represent and do.  To equate Webb's anti-Democratic-Party critique with the "ideology" of Blue Dogs is to evince an extraordinary (though quite common) confusion about the debates and divisions within the Democratic Party.

* * * * *

Speaking of whiffs of the Democratic Party, U.S. District Court Judge John Bates yesterday held a three-hour hearing over the request by the ACLU and CCR for an injunction ordering President Obama not to assassinate Anwar Awlaki without due process.  The fact that the Bush-43-appointed Bates spent so much time on this hearing, demonstrates -- along with comments he made during the hearing -- how seriously he takes this case, as well he should.  He several times pointed out how extraordinary and unprecedented is the Obama administration's position that it not only has the power to assassinate Americans with no due process, but that courts have no role whatsoever to play in reviewing how those powers are exercised.  David Addington and Dick Cheneywould have been very proud.  My guess is that the court will refuse injunctive relief on some procedural ground -- such as ruling that Awlaki's father has no standing to bring this suit on behalf of his son -- but it is quite apparent that there are very serious legal and Constitutional issues raised by the Obama administration's attempted seizure of this power.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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