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Jim Webb’s Unassuming Populism

While most of last weekend’s media coverage was focused on the bombast that was Donald Trump’s FreedomFest speech, former Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) was giving an interview on Fox News Sunday.

Over the course of the segment, Webb agreed with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in his criticism of the Iran nuclear deal. He suggested he would be open to the idea of sending weapons into Ukraine, criticized the anti-Confederate flag mania as a distraction from more serious political issues and even criticized the leftward drift of the Democratic party.

For any Democrat politician, these comments would be noteworthy, refreshing in their freedom from party talking points. For Webb, who recently announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination, they are astounding.

And yet, such unaffected honesty is no aberration for Webb, who is more than just a different kind of Democrat. He’s a different kind of politician.

Webb’s biography reads like a Daniel Boone adventure written by Shakespeare; he’s a savant cowboy.

A former combat Marine, Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan, award winning journalist and author, Webb’s has taught literature at the Naval Academy and was instrumental in re-establishing U.S.-East Asian relations.

These diverse qualifications add up to one overarching point: Webb is a free radical in the world of politicians slavish to talking points and trite platitudinal policies designed to win votes and maintain popularity.

And he doesn’t tout his moderate views as other politicians do, like some gaudy accoutrement that draws the eye and tries to impress a venial brand of admiration upon the viewer. There is no affectation or pretense in Webb’s positions, no apology and no agenda. They merely are.

In short, Webb possesses the rarest and most highly sought commodity amongst politicians: character integrity.

Yes, he is still a Democrat. But, his willingness to criticize any policy or politician whose ideology is in contrast of his own, without further agenda, is something that should be appealing to all potential voters who are sick of the Washington backstabbing. Truth, spoken for its own sake, is perhaps a rarer commodity than integrity. And it knows no partisan allegiance. Those who look for it as the highest political idea should not either.

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Webb is often called a populist because of his moderate positions, which supposedly gives him universal appeal, making him fit into the everyman emphasis usually attributed to populism.

However, this view tends to ignore the extremity of positions taken by self-identifying populists such as George Wallace or Huey Long. Modern politicians who would style themselves populists, though nowhere near as radical in beliefs, adopt a similar over-the-top approach. They eat at popular fast food restaurants and change their speech patterns to fit in with local potential voters, all in an effort to convince the people that they are truly one with their worldview.

Webb is not a populist in this sense, but in a much more pure sense of the word. The inherent tensions of populism revolve around the average citizen and societal hegemony. Such ideology is driven by fear of watching one’s self-identity be driven to extinction by powerful elites. Examined more simply, this is merely a theme of natural law. The minority, loving its inalienable freedoms, lives in constant fear of a monopoly of force overrunning it. This idea, turned on its head, is individualism.

And Webb is decidedly an individualist, comfortable in his position, offering up the truth he perceives without agenda or fear of retaliation.

This is a kinder, gentler face to populism than some of the examples of the past and present. And one that could stand to be emphasized more.

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About Katherine Revello

A recent graduate of the University of Maine, where she majored in journalism and political science, Katherine Revello is an aspiring political commentator. Her focuses include theory, the philosophy of money and populism. Currently, she is a graduate student at Villanova University. She is the founder of The Politics of Discretion, a blog dedicated to advancing her philosophy of discretionism. Follow her on Twitter: @MrsWynandPapers

One comment

  1. I can certainly see where you are with this. “Many” years ago, after hearing him speak, I had some difficulty in identifying him as a Democrat….Even now, with a Democratic accent, he makes sense a great deal of the time….hmmm maybe sticking to the truth in giving opinions cause that??? Trump’s appeal is much the same.

    I don’t, personally, consider either a viable choice to lead our great Nation, however, we do need someone that can ‘see’ more than a single view of situations and make decisions. After all, The President is intended to serve ALL of the people, even Liberals! One with a single tunnel vision will not
    I’m happy to see that you pointed out that all Democrats aren’t evil and that like you & I they are, after all, Americans first.