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Posted at 3:43 PM ET, 02/10/2011

Jim Webb: The last Jacksonian Democrat

By E.J. Dionne Jr.

Much of the focus on Sen. Jim Webb's retirement will be on how this might make the Democrats' already hard job of holding their Senate majority even more difficult. But more important than a single Virginia Senate seat is that Webb was one of a kind.

He was not only a Reagan Democrat who became a Republican and then came back. He was also a self-described Jacksonian Democrat. Democrats often speak at Jefferson-Jackson day dinners and mention Old Hickory, but it's hard to think of any of them being as steeped as Webb was in what it meant to be a follower of Andrew Jackson.

Here's how he once explained his philosophy and his decision to return to the Democratic fold to NPR's Renee Montagne:

I grew up in a family that was Democratic. And I went over to the Republicans, like a lot of people did at the end of the Vietnam War, based on national security issues. And again, like a lot of people, I was never comfortable with the Republican Party platform as it related to economic fairness and some issues of social justice.

The last book that I was writing ... [a] nonfiction book about the Scotch-Irish migration ... [was] basically about the creation of populist-style democracy in the United States, Jacksonian democracy. [It] caused me to do a lot of thinking about where both political parties are. And when I decided to run, I felt most comfortable with, shall we say, the Jacksonian wing of the Democratic Party. And this is why I decided to run as a Democrat.

Asked what Jacksonian democracy meant, he replied:

I think Andrew Jackson said it first, and said it best, when he indicated that you measure the health of a society not at its apex but at its base. You measure the true health of a society not by what the stock market is doing but what the average-wage earner is facing.

I don't think there are too many of us who are over here on the so-called populist side who want to see the American economy stutter; what we want to see is a much fairer distribution of the benefits of this economy.

This unusual clarity meant that when Webb was called upon to reply to President Bush's 2007 State of the Union message, he gave one of the best speeches of that sort ever offered. As I wrote at the time, such speeches are usually "mush" and "even the best of the genre reek of focus-grouped and poll-tested sentences. You have the feeling the words are dictated by some party pooh-bah who believes the speech will fail if it does not touch all the issues on every strategist's list." Webb, by contrast, spoke plainly, from the heart, and about only two issues, Iraq and economic inequality. "He didn't fudge on his language or try to take the hard edge off his impatience with the status quo." It's one of the only reply speeches anyone remembers.

It helped, of course, that Webb is himself a writer, and I hope he takes time out to write a book on what Jacksonian Democracy means for the 21st century. I suspect I wouldn't agree with him on everything. But Webb is sui generis, and I doubt anyone agrees with him on everything. That's what makes him so interesting. And his legislative monument, a GI Bill for the 21st century, is a perfect marriage of his concern for the men and women in uniform and his dedication to greater equality of opportunity.

As for the Democrats' chances of holding Webb's seat, my colleague Lee Hockstader has already offered a good analysis. Former Virginia governor Tim Kaine is the obvious candidate. He would have a decent shot at winning, and I suspect he will ultimately run. Kaine is at his best talking about the political basics (transportation, education and the economy), and within his party, he is unusually comfortable (and also moving) in talking about his religious faith. A debate about religion and politics between Kaine and the likely Republican candidate, former senator George Allen, would be fun and enlightening.

If Kaine doesn't run, I like the idea of former U.S. representative Tom Perriello taking a shot. Yes, Perriello lost his seat in south-central Virginia last year. But he held on to far more of his vote than most defeated incumbents -- and it's hard to think of any Democrat who had a tougher district. And Perriello has something important in common with Webb: He's independent-minded with interesting ideas that don't fit easily into anyone's philosophical boxes. In fact, some high-end media outlet should invite Perriello and Webb to debate the meaning of Jacksonian Democracy. They are two politicians who could pull that off. And it might give Webb a start on his next book.

By E.J. Dionne Jr.  | February 10, 2011; 3:43 PM ET
Categories:  Dionne  
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Comments

Totally agree. Jim Webb's response to the 2007 State of the Union was the best political speech of the past thirty years.

Posted by: rjoff | February 10, 2011 5:43 PM | Report abuse

Totally agree. Jim Webb's response to the 2007 State of the Union was the best political speech of the past thirty years.

Posted by: rjoff | February 10, 2011 5:43 PM | Report abuse

Webb is perhaps one of the last Scoop Jackson-type of Democrat, someone who is somewhat liberal on domestic issues but believes in both America and a strong defense.

If there ever were Democrats I could vote for it would be Webb and the junior Senator Mark Warner.

Posted by: bbface21 | February 10, 2011 6:07 PM | Report abuse

I titally agree. Jim Webb is not only one of a kind. I thought at the time his 2007 speech was one of the best I have heard in a long, long time. The Senate will be losing a great leader. I wish Webb would go to the tea party and talk some sense into their heads. He has the profound understaindg of society, and those who have been left behind for generaitons. He could make a real difference.

Posted by: cjculver2003 | February 10, 2011 6:48 PM | Report abuse

The U.S. Senate could use more, not less, "adults" like Sen. Webb. I'm saddened by his decision. Totally aside, Andrew Jackson's genociddal treatment of Native Americans disqualifies him from presidential sainthood. Democrats should just hold "Jefferson Dinners."

Posted by: BBear1 | February 10, 2011 7:00 PM | Report abuse

Too bad! It seems almost impossible to find law makers who will actually decide matters on what they feel is best for the U.S. I really think that the health bill sucks, although it has some really good provisions. It sucks because no-one has taken on the cost of medical care -- particularly drugs. Webb is not stupid like the former dem leadership, although he voted for the bill he realized that without taking on the above we were all up the creek. I just think that he has given up with trying to talk reasonableness to the dems or the repubs. Sad!!

Posted by: Fergie303 | February 10, 2011 8:15 PM | Report abuse

BBear1 wrote:
"The U.S. Senate could use more, not less, "adults" like Sen. Webb. I'm saddened by his decision. Totally aside, Andrew Jackson's genociddal treatment of Native Americans disqualifies him from presidential sainthood. Democrats should just hold "Jefferson Dinners." "
_________________________
1) Agree with you about Webb (at least as far as I know about him--I live in WV, not VA).
2) Agree with you about the need for more adults in the Senate.
3) Agree with you about Jackson's shameful treatment of Native Americans disqualifying him from sainthood. And of course we don't NEED presidential saints. None really qualifies; certainly not Jackson, certainly not Reagan.
4) Would remind you that Jefferson was so libertarian as to make Ron Paul seem like Joe Stalin. He was an intellectual giant and is deservedly revered as a founding father, but his particular prescriptions for government if applied literally today would lead to a corporate-dominated feudal society. Jefferson just couldn't imagine that America needs government as a counterbalance to unregulated commercial interests, understandable given that that simply wasn't true in his day. One wonders what he would have said about the abuses of the robber-baron Gilded Age . . . .

Posted by: post_reader_in_wv | February 10, 2011 8:27 PM | Report abuse

cjculver2003; post_reader_in_wv,; all

to "cjculver": you might be quite surprised to find how many things that we TEA PARTIERS agree with Jim Webb on. = fyi, he has spoken to the VA TEA PARTY groups on more than one occasion.
(IF you are dimwitted enough to believe the KNOWING LIES told about the members of our movement, by the LEFTIST idiots/main-SLIME press, i pity you.)

"the bottom line" is that Jim is NOT a KOOK, a BIGOT, an ANTISEMITE, a LOUD-MOUTH, ANTI-AMERICAN, a RACE-BAITER and/or an UN-thinking, ignorant HATER, as most of the so-called "DIMocRAT leadership" demonstrably IS.
(btw, the TEA PARTY's members are NONE of those disgusting things, either.)

Jim will be MISSED!

to "post_reader": i suspect, if we moved Thomas Jefferson to the closing days of the 19th - early 20th centuries, that he would have thought "The Old Roughrider" to be EXACTLY correct about how to deal with robber barons/meat packers/monopolists/etc. = TR was 100% CORRECT about many things, including founding the NPS.

imVho, NEITHER Thomas Jefferson or Teddy Rooseveldt would be willing to sit in the same building (much less in the same room) with the likes of BHO, PRINCESS Pelosi, PRINCE Harry Reid, Barney Frank, Chuckie Schumer and/or any of the other BIG-MOUTHED, arrogant idiots of today's D.C., as BOTH were DECENT/HONORABLE/MEMORABLE men.

to all: i wonder WHY there are NO "giants striding the Earth" in America today. the "bunch" that we have NOW are incapable of/unfit to shine Tom Jefferson's boots.

just my opinion.

yours, TN46
coordinator, CCTPP

Posted by: texasnative46 | February 11, 2011 12:05 AM | Report abuse

I thought Nr, Dionne's column would be about how unrepresented working people are in today's Congress, the Democrats having moved far away from the late HENRY JACKSON. Since Democratic progressives sniped Jackson's candidacy for president and nominated Carter, Demoocrats were not seen as the party of the workingman. Yes, Democrats continued to do well in "union" states, but more and more of the marginalised workers voted fir Republican candidates. The Democratic Party now is the party of an elite who sneer at working people. This is why Obama's Harvard-infested Administration has yet to come up with a decent jobs bill.

Posted by: sailhardy | February 11, 2011 7:31 AM | Report abuse

What DNC propagandist EJ Dionne totally leaves out is… That the likes of Jim Webb retiring from the Democrats, and the demise of the DLC, mean the death knell of the moderate blue dog Democrats.

Democrats have now become the party of the extreme socialist Left in America. They have nothing in common with American conservatism, or the American moderate middle-class.

To protect America, in 2012 Obama must be ejected from office. This clown has only embarrassed America, as most recently evidenced by the chaos about America's role in the Egyptian uprising.
HB

Posted by: wilsan | February 11, 2011 7:57 AM | Report abuse

Jim Webb is a disgraceful opportunist in the style of Arlen Specter. The reason he's decided not to run again is because his ego can't handle defeat. To make Jackson a hero after the way he treated our native indian population is stunning.

Posted by: kalamere | February 11, 2011 8:11 AM | Report abuse

Never likes Webb. 6 years doing nothing and on the wrong side of almost every issue. Now he bails out and is going to collect a nice fat pension. Anyway if EJ likes him I know I am right. EJ is wrong on every issue. Hey EJ say hello to Obamas Butt for me.

Posted by: harley2002 | February 11, 2011 8:43 AM | Report abuse

The ironic part is that the Hard Left is cheering Webb's decision. The Left hates the Blue Dogs and view them as sell-outs. They want the Dem party purified and purged of everyone other than true "progressives (i.e. code word for european style socialist). I also applaud this goal as it will result in a severely shrunken Dem party that is ghetto-ized in the Northeast and on the West Coast. Provided the Repubs avoid running a nut like Palin, it should result in a 35 State sweep for the Repubs in 2012...and strong political majorities for the next generation.

Posted by: JohnR22 | February 11, 2011 8:44 AM | Report abuse

Another piece from E.J. Go Dems go! Rah rah rah, cis boom bah!

Posted by: alexandria6351 | February 11, 2011 9:00 AM | Report abuse

Their is one point about Webb that Dionne mentioned that I see as pivotal in describing the differace between Webb and nearly all the rest of the Democrats such as Dionne himself. Webb agrees with Jackson when measuring the health of socity using the lower wage earners. Thats a Jacksonion Democrat and they are rare. Dionne and his kind measure the health of socity by how many entitlements are availabe for collection and explotation. That is a Marx/Engels Democrat.

Posted by: MikeM17 | February 11, 2011 9:02 AM | Report abuse

I don't really care what book Jim Webb wrote or what doubts he had about affirmative action or how great a speech he gave in 2007.

OK, he wasn't Barbara Boxer. So one and a half cheers for Jim Webb.

But in his four-plus years in the senate, he has voted just slightly to the right of Nancy Pelosi. He quit because the voters of Virginia were going to show him the door in 2012. Good riddance.

As Thomas Sowell says, the term "social justice" makes about as much sense as the term "musical concrete." Beware of anyone who spouts it, especially in the same sentence as the word "struggle."

Posted by: Renfield1 | February 11, 2011 9:11 AM | Report abuse

The Post loved to make Webb out to be a maverick, but unfortunately he obeyed the party line and greedily supported trillion dollar deficits to be paid by future generations. He kowtowed to Harry Reid's direction on the massive health care entitlement, stimulus for unions, and overregulation. After such an embarrassing record of playing the lap dog, no wonder he is quitting.

Posted by: dncandme | February 11, 2011 9:17 AM | Report abuse

E.J. Dionne Jr. may be right that Jim Webb is the last Jacksonian--but that is no compliment. Jackson, for example, destroyed the national banking system for 80 years, and put in place a philosophy of white supremacy that lasted in the Democratic Party until 1964. Democrats and their court historians still try to sweep Jackson's racial philosophy under the rug and emphasize instead his hostility to "big business" forgetting that he was one of the top five wealthiest men ever elected President due to his slave-based plantations. Webb would have had trouble winning re-election in Virginia because his Jacksonian philosophy of resentment does not play well.

Posted by: senor100 | February 11, 2011 9:31 AM | Report abuse

E.J. Dionne Jr. may be right that Jim Webb is the last Jacksonian--but that is no compliment. Jackson, for example, destroyed the national banking system for 80 years, and put in place a philosophy of white supremacy that lasted in the Democratic Party until 1964. Democrats and their court historians still try to sweep Jackson's racial philosophy under the rug and emphasize instead his hostility to "big business" forgetting that he was one of the top five wealthiest men ever elected President due to his slave-based plantations. Webb would have had trouble winning re-election in Virginia because his Jacksonian philosophy of resentment does not play well.

Posted by: senor100 | February 11, 2011 9:32 AM | Report abuse

PS 11 Feb 2011
Recommended Reading by Obama:
Amateur Hour at the White House by Hussein Obama.
On the Job Training in Foreign Policy by Hillary.
Marxism for the Masses by Obama, Reid, Pelosi.
Unsecured Borders by Napolitano.
Muslim Brotherhood: Secular and Peaceful by DNI Clapper.
1984 by Tom Johnson, Largo, FL

Posted by: drtom312 | February 11, 2011 9:44 AM | Report abuse

1 Nov 2010
Folks,
Obama’s GAME (Great American Marxist Experiment) is over, a failure. Marxism goes against the basic human instincts that freedom is a natural, God-given right, that what you make (or earn) is yours to keep, that family, not government, is the basic social unit. Democrats have historically been the party to raise taxes and increase the size of government, but Obama, Reid, and Pelosi have taken these mistaken policies to the extreme. Republicans, Independents, and Tea Party members will now be forever vigilant of the Left and we will vote.
Tom Johnson, Largo, Florida

PS 19 Jan 2011
Obamacare is illegal. The original, very short, Commerce Clause is too loosely interpreted. Obamacare will NOT reduce total US health care costs by bringing an additional 30-50,000,000 people into the health care system, especially without tort reform. Democrats do NOT believe in the US Constitution as the supreme law of the land.
1. Federal health care is not one of the enumerated powers in the US Constitution, therefore, Obamacare is illegal. This only matters if you believe that the USA is a nation of laws and that the US Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It is clear that Democrats do NOT believe in the US Constitution. Obama supposedly taught US Constitutional law for 12 years, so he must understand the US Constitution. Since health care, as he signed it into law, is illegal, the only conclusion left is that Obama, and the Democrats who voted for health care, do not believe in the US Constitution.
2. The commerce clause was never intended to have such broad scope. These powers have been made up by the Democrats out of thin air.

PS 29 Jan 2011
Obama’s soaring rhetoric has resulted in soaring deficits, soaring gov’t spending, and soaring unemployment.

PS 11 Feb 2011
Recommended Reading by Obama:
Amateur Hour at the White House by Hussein Obama.
On the Job Training in Foreign Policy by Hillary.
Marxism for the Masses by Obama, Reid, Pelosi.
Unsecured Borders by Napolitano.
Muslim Brotherhood: Secular and Peaceful by DNI Clapper.
1984 by Tom Johnson, Largo, FL

Posted by: drtom312 | February 11, 2011 9:51 AM | Report abuse

"...what we want to see is a much fairer distribution of the benefits of this economy."

Define "fair." And be specific as to how this "fairness" is to be achieved.

For too many Democrats, "fair" means allowing some people to live at the expense of others, to benefit from the labours of others, and to impose those conditions by government dictate.

Posted by: HenryMiller1 | February 11, 2011 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Webb. Arrogant Democrat. Jacksonian, Smithsonian, whatever. The only good Democrat is a gone Democrat.

Posted by: doctorfixit | February 11, 2011 10:57 AM | Report abuse

The way this Marine Corps veteran sees it, he stayed in office just long enough to betray the Marine Corps on don't ask, don't tell.

He's right up there with Aldrich Ames on the betrayal scale.

Posted by: JarHeadForever | February 11, 2011 11:15 AM | Report abuse

You would not be sayng this EJ if he had voted against HC, cap and trade (if it had come to the floor), and don't ask, don't tell. Webb was a moderate but despite several authors saying Webb is a unique populist give me a break.

Posted by: iacoboni04 | February 11, 2011 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Jacksonian Democrat? Gimme a break. He voted 87 percent of the time with the leftists in charge of the Democratic Party. He's an idiot.

Posted by: pijacobsen | February 11, 2011 12:53 PM | Report abuse

If the health of a society is measured at its base rather than its apex, then America is in deep trouble. See, it takes a lot of hard work, good decisions and virtue to ascend to society's apex from its base. A society fixated on its base, however, won't value these goods, believing that they can't overcome race/gender/class victimization, inequality, poor schools, and competition. Such a society will then waste vast sums of wealth vainly trying to equalize the conditions at its base and apex.

No thanks Jackson, Webb and Dionne: I'll look to the apex and the goods it takes to get there from the base for inspiration.

Posted by: Lavaux | February 11, 2011 4:35 PM | Report abuse

One thing that should be made clear is the Webb is NOT a Blue Dog.It's important to recognize the difference.Webb was an economic populist and that means he would have appealed much more than most Democrats to the white working class,the largest groups of "swing voters" in the country.Trouble is,Webb doesn't appeal so much to the PRIMARY voters.Still,I wish he'd try a run for President in 2016.Maybe a slogan of "Shared Rights and Shared Responsibilities"; responsibility not normally being a concern for Democrats.

Posted by: chrisebryant | February 11, 2011 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Commenters (some of you) -

Do you really take such a hard line? I think Jim Webb has been a fine senator, led by hopes of making the country better. I'm struggling to understand how he raises so much irritation for some of you — particularly since he's stepping aside after one term (sort of a rarity for an elected official).

I dunno, he seems reasonable enough to me...

Posted by: wastingtimeuntildinner | February 11, 2011 7:14 PM | Report abuse

I remember Senator Webb's speech at the Bush,2007 state of the union address.I thought his speech was plain spoken and timely.I also beleive he would make a great president.There are a number of Senators retiring from the senate at the end of this term.This does not mean that they could not be reelected.Some Democrats and some Republicans who have served their constituients well.We are all Americans not just Democrats and Republicans.I have always voted Democrat but there are many Republicans in our congress that I have great respect for.We should all remember that we share a great country and call this our home and respect one another and our individual choices.This is one thing that has made this a great country.May God bless you all,Democrats,Republicans and Independents too.

Posted by: nannieturner | February 11, 2011 9:35 PM | Report abuse

A true Jacksonian democrat would not have voted for ObamaCare and all the other garbage that has exuded from this Administration. My guess is that Webb knows full well what he has been a party to, and he is eager to avoid serving an additional six years in such a role. The positions that the Adminisration pressured him to adopt violated his personal beliefs. He may at one point have thought it was all for the best but by now he has seen the error of his ways. On top of which, as others have so rightly pointed out, his prospects for re-election in the new political climate are quite bleak. And there is no scenario these days for a moderate Democrat, who talks back to the leftist Pres & Dem majority in Congress, to get elected (or re-elected). It's not so much that he has something better to do, it's that he has to GET OUT. ASAP.

Posted by: cuda65 | February 12, 2011 8:06 AM | Report abuse

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