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Jim Webb's Big New Hampshire Speech

Tim Craig

Virginia Sen. James Webb (D) was the keynote speaker tonight at the New Hampshire Democratic Party Jefferson Jackson Day Dinner, a noteworthy honor for a freshman senator.

Webb, who's been touted as a possible vice-presidential candidate, accused Republicans of blocking Democrats' efforts to change direction in Iraq, according to a transcript of the speech.

Webb asked the audience to work to defeat New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu, who is up for re-election in 2008, so Senate Democrats can accomplish more. Webb recounted how one of his top priorities - enacting a bill that would have required that troops get more rest at home before being redeployed - was defeated this summer when Democrats could not muster the 60 votes needed to end a GOP filibuster.

"When the Republicans vote against the troops on an issue like this, they deserve to be held accountable," said Webb, who also spoke about Bush's foreign policy and need to reform the nation's economic and criminal justice system.

You can find a full transcript of Webb's speech below.

Senator Jim Webb
New Hampshire
20 October 2007

Thank you. I appreciate your warm welcome.Chairman Buckley; Congressman Hodes; Congresswoman Shea-Porter; members of the State House and Senate; and fellow Democrats:

I am delighted to be with you tonight. I bring you greetings from Virginia, the home of Thomas Jefferson. And I stand before you as the author of a cultural history of the Scots-Irish people, who've given us more than a dozen presidents but whose greatest political figure remains Andrew Jackson. So at this Jefferson-Jackson dinner, let us remember the guiding spirit of both of these great leaders who founded the modern Democratic Party.

It was Thomas Jefferson who wrote that "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Crea
tor with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." And it was Andrew Jackson who emblazoned forever in our national consciousness the notion that you measure the health of society not at its apex but at its base and that true representative government exists not to serve the vested interests of people of privilege, but to protect the well-being of those who have no power.

This is a crucial period in our history. Americans are deeply disappointed in their national leadership. Two-thirds of those polled at any given time believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. Philosophically, we are going through a sea-change. The old labels simply don't work anymore. The political cards are being reshuffled, all across this country. Good, well-meaning people want better leadership, and they want new approaches.

You here in New Hampshire have a unique opportunity every four years to shape the national debate. It's fascinating to watch this process from the outside, as candidate after candidate goes up against your nationally famous skepticism and sense of fair play. I salute you for it. And I would report to you that the people of Virginia share your attitude. It's time for our national leadership to set aside the bickering, to do away with the phony, negative, "gotcha" campaigning of the Karl Rove era, and to start truly solving the immense problems that confront us.

On that same note, I would like to congratulate you for what your state party has accomplished up here in New Hampshire. It's a healthy sign that at the Presidential level, you went from Republican in 2000 to Democrat in 2004; and that for the first time since 1874, Democrats in New Hampshire now control the House, the Senate, the Governor's mansion, and the entire delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives.

But there's more to come, for the good of the people of New Hampshire, and for the good of the country. Your work is not done, and neither is ours. And quite frankly, our common goals transcend ordinary politics.

A year and a half ago I decided to run for the Senate after a varied career that had never included even the desire to hold elective office. I had literally no money. I had no real political base in either party. My opponent had just received the highest number of votes in a presidential poll taken during the Conservative Political Action Conference. But what I did have was a strong belief that it was time for the Democratic Party to return to its Jacksonian roots, to become again the party that it was in my youth, when fundamental fairness was its basic precept, and when the well-being of those who do the hard work of our society was its main concern. We communicated this message with relentless discipline, and we still do so today.

Every day in the Senate we consider different bills and argue different issues. Sometimes the issue of the day drowns out the larger philosophical purpose of what we came to Washington to do. There's an old Marine Corps saying: "when you're up to your neck in alligators, it's hard to remember that you came to drain the swamp." But we need to remember why we came, and on my staff we fight to keep it at the forefront every day. The deeper themes must always drive the political issues, because that is the only way the problems eventually will be solved.

And so we speak, not just of Iraq, but about the need to re-orient our nation's national security posture in a way that will allow us to withdraw from Iraq, but also to restore a measure of stability in that region, to increase our ability to fight the war against international terrorism, and to address the wide range of strategic and foreign policy issues that have been dangerously ignored over the past five years. I'll say a bit more about this in a few minutes.
And we don't merely discuss domestic legislation. We begin from an inarguable premise: that we must work every day to bring back economic fairness and social justice in an era where far too much power and money has gravitated to the very top, in both economic and governmental terms.

Last year I took great pains to outline the dangers in what I have come to call the "three Americas" - a serious breakdown of our country along class lines. What are those three Americas? We have seen a huge migration of wealth to the very top. We have calcified at the bottom into what could soon become a permanent underclass. And all the while the large group in the middle is receiving less than its fair share of the fruits of its labor.
The top 1% in this country now takes in an astounding 21% of national income, up from 8% in 1980.

One percent of the people own more than half of our stocks. Corporate profits in this country are at an all-time high as a percentage of national wealth. Today's CEOs make 400 times more than the average worker - compared to 20 times the average when I graduated from college.

In this same country, the United States of America, the middle class is being squeezed to the breaking point. 47 million people are without health insurance. Wages and salaries are at an all time low as a percentage of national wealth even though the productivity of American workers is the highest in the world. Millions of good jobs - including three million manufacturing jobs - have been sent overseas, and the economic security of others has been destabilized by the vast underground labor pool that is the result of illegal immigration.

And in this same country, often unnoticed by those at the top, those at the bottom are growing up and living in a world where traditional routes to success simply do not exist. The United States has five percent of the world's population, and yet we have 25 percent of the world's prison population.

Today our country has more than two million people in prison and more than 7 million under some form of correction supervision when one includes probation and parole. A black male who does not finish high school now has a 60 percent chance of going to jail. One who has finished high school has a 30 percent chance.

We want to keep bad people off our streets. We want to break the backs of gangs, and we want to cut down on violent behavior. But there's something else going on when we're locking up such a high percentage of our people, marking them at an early age and in many cases eliminating their chances for a productive life as full citizens.
The division of our society along class lines threatens to usher in an era of protectionism and political unrest.

We must do everything we can to advance a progressive agenda that addresses the issues surrounding economic fairness and social justice, that keeps our economy strong and engaged in the rest of the world, but which also safeguard the rights of our workers and the environment.

On a positive note, with the slim Democratic majorities in Congress, we've seen a renewal of the kind of healthy oversight that is critical to accountability in government, and we've started to make progress in other areas. The Republicans in the Senate have filibustered every single effort to bring a new direction to our policies in Iraq, but despite this, I am very proud that Senator Claire McCaskill and I were able to move a bill through the Senate creating a Truman-style commission that will investigate the billions of dollars of contracting abuses in the reconstruction of Iraq.

I also sponsored a bill to require that our troops be able to spend as much time at home as they do in Iraq or Afghanistan. This seems like common sense to me. The bill was more than reasonable - in the past, traditional military policies have allowed twice as much time at home between deployments, so that they can refurbish their equipment, train new members, and have some time with their families. We received a majority of 56 votes, but it still was not enough to overcome a Republican filibuster.

It's hard for me to believe anyone could oppose this idea. The Administration has had more than four years to figure out a sensible way to rotate our troops in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan. As someone who knows what it's like to have a Dad deployed, and what it's like to be deployed, and what it's like to have a son deployed, and as someone who worked for years on these kinds of issues in the Pentagon, all I can say is that the present policy is inexcusable. And when the Republicans vote against the troops on an issue like this, they deserve to be held accountable.

And on that note, let me share a few thoughts about Iraq. I make these comments as one who has fought in combat, who has covered two wars as a journalist, and who has spent five years in the Pentagon, one as a Marine and four as a defense department executive.

Last December the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton Commission recommended that we immediately begin to pursue robust regional diplomatic efforts in order to bring an end to our military involvement in Iraq. That was ten months ago. We're still waiting. Instead of doing that, last February the Administration increased our military presence, gave a few benchmarks to the Iraqi government, claimed the Iraqis would be in control of the entire country by November (they now have ten days left to do that), and flatly refused to pursue the one clear path that will bring about a solution to our occupation - and a peaceful withdrawal of our military forces.

As we wait for this common sense approach to begin, the region - from Lebanon to Pakistan - is truly falling apart. Iraq is busted, with a weak central government that can't enforce its own edicts, surrounded by armed and powerful tribal factions that refuse to listen to it except on their own terms. This situation reminds me of Lebanon when I was there as a journalist in 1983.

The administration warns us every day about Iranian threats inside Iraq. What they don't talk about is that at least a plurality of the insurgents in Iraq are Saudis, not Iranians, and that the Turks have become so threatened by guerrilla activities coming out of the Kurdish areas in Iraq that their parliament has authorized an invasion of Iraq.

One wonders what the administration would be saying right now if the Iranian parliament authorized an invasion of Iraq. They're not saying a whole lot to the Turks. I remember the Turks. They were our greatest friends in the region. Now less than 20 percent of the Turks have a favorable view of our country. In addition, Syria and Jordan are inundated with refugees and other problems, as millions of Iraqis have been displaced from their homes during the occupation.

There is nothing new in the dangers that Iran now presents to the region. They were predictable, and many, including myself, warned about them before the invasion of Iraq. The question is how we address them. And history shows that refusing to engage your adversaries is not a sensible way to resolve your differences. It leaves the perception and the danger that war is considered an early option, rather than a last resort. This goes for Syria as well.

This administration's cavalcade of foreign policy failures has left us vulnerable as a nation in many different ways, including the trust among the international community in our national judgment and moral prerogative. Here are a few indicators to think about.

In addition to increasing the power and influence of Iran, our strategic bungling of Iraq has allowed both China and Russia to expand their influence in this oil-rich region. It is also causing increased turmoil throughout the Muslim world, encouraging further acts of terrorism and affecting our ability to deal with crises in such places as Pakistan, which even before the invasion of Iraq was a far more worrisome situation than Iraq itself.

And the unpredictable instabilities of the region have affected the world's economies, especially our own. We don't talk about this much, but we should. Even setting aside the trillion dollars this war is going to cost us, the external ramifications are severe and ongoing, gravely affecting our overall national security and the future health of our economy.

IIn October, 2002, before we invaded Iraq, the price of oil was about 24 dollars a barrel. By last year, when I was running for the Senate, it went up to 72 dollars. Last week it reached 90 dollars a barrel. Since October 2002, the price of gold has more than doubled, from 315 dollars an ounce to 760 dollars an ounce. The price of silver has more than tripled. And the price of copper has gone up more than seven times. These changes in price have happened because people around the world are worried about stability, and are hedging their bets. At the same time the value of the dollar has fallen down a sink hole to all-time lows, a reflection of our own instability and of the faith in our economy.

This administration is doing very little to actually bring an end to our involvement in Iraq. In the diplomatic arena, where the solutions must be found, they do not seem even to want a resolution. They have no exit strategy. Either they don't know how to leave or, more likely, as I pointed out in a Washington Post editorial six months before the invasion of Iraq, they do not intend to leave. In fact, many Republicans are now openly saying that we should follow the Korean model, and prepare to be in Iraq for the next fifty years.

The bottom line is that this Administration is not going to solve the problem, and that the Republican Party in general has demonstrated that it has no faith in modern diplomacy. This issue, as with so many others, including the issues of basic economic fairness, will not be turned around until the Democratic Party strengthens its position in the Congress, and takes back the White House in 2008.

We need reinforcements in the Senate very badly, and we're depending on New Hampshire to send us another Democratic Senator in 2008.

And we will take back the White House. The American people are ready to reject the divisiveness of the Karl Rove era. They are looking for leaders who want to solve problems. We have those solutions. We have those leaders. We are ready to repair the damage that has been done to the American spirit and to the prestige of America in the world community.

I appreciate your energy, your concern about our country's future, and your having invited me to spend some time with you tonight.

Thank you.

By Tim Craig  |  October 20, 2007; 10:04 PM ET
Categories:  Election 2008/President , Election 2008/U.S. Senate , James Webb , Tim Craig  
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webb has been the worse senator virginia has ever selected, even worse than rodd who dated strippers.
what will webb say when terrorists attack our homes, that it's the Republicans fault because the fault is theirs and webb like all the dems know they cannot withdraw the troops and all the presidentail candidates know it, webb wants to defund the troops.

Posted by: dwight | October 21, 2007 8:51 AM | Report abuse

I respect Senator Webb's views on Iraq, but Iraq is not the only issue facing Virginia. Webb is Johnny One Note. Try getting a response from his office on other issues -- the Dulles Rail boondoggle, illegal immigration; no meaningful response. I've lived in a number of states and have been represented in the Senate by both Democrats and Republicans, by conservatives and by liberals, bar none, Jim Webb is the poorest excuse for a US Senator, I've ever seen.

Posted by: Tony | October 21, 2007 9:24 AM | Report abuse

If Jim Webb is such a poor senator, why does the speech he delivered make sense and appear to be a true portrayal of the current state of affairs?

Posted by: Beverly | October 21, 2007 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Webb's platform was based on better treatment for the military in a time of war. Sure he wants the troops out, most people do, if it is reasonable. To argue he is not a worthy Senator for seeking better terms while we ARE still in Irag is rediculously partisan.

I'm proud our Senator is being given these opportunities to represent our state and Democrats as a whole on these key military issues. Obviously many appreciate his opinion.

Posted by: JamesC | October 21, 2007 11:22 AM | Report abuse

I have respected Jim Webb immensely ever since he gave the Chickenhawk-in-Chief a piece of his mind upon coming into office, declining to yuck-yuck it up with the overgrown fratboy while Webb's son was still in Iraq.

But I can't imagine that the Dems would be well served to stick him in the VP slot next fall. Winning a senate seat in VA with anyone not named Mark Warner was a feat, so we should hold onto that seat with Webb. I think Wes Clark or the Ohio governor might be smarter choices.

Posted by: B2O2 | October 21, 2007 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Webb is a joke.
You'd think the rest of Virginia would get their act together enough to overcome the voting of the blithering idiots that have settled into NoVA and not elect clowns like this again.

Posted by: Mike | October 21, 2007 3:16 PM | Report abuse

The trolls are out in force today.

Posted by: Grace, Northern Virginia | October 21, 2007 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Webb disgusts. It is he who is voting against the troops. The so called mandatory rest between deployments would have wreaked havoc on our military with just another one of these whims from Congress to contend with all while our fighting men and women are bravely fighting for our continued survival over in Iraq and Afgahistan. I still am stunned that Northern Virgnia betrayed its Commonwealth and elected this mellonhead. We will be paying for Mellonhead Webb for at least 5 more years. Oh, and reagrding his possibly being a Vice Presidential nominee.... well, it doesn't matter. He doesn't have to give up his Senate seat to run. He won't win anyway.

Viriginians need to throw these Northern Virginia elitists out of their elected offices. Lets get back to the Conservative military supportive Virgnia we all miss.

Posted by: WmJLePetomane | October 21, 2007 6:00 PM | Report abuse

Jim Webb is a fine Senator, a guy with solid credentials for the job and some sound ideas about how to deal with Iraq and the other messes that Bush has left this country in. His office always responds promptly to my e-mails. And as for you, Petomane, my family has been in Virgina for 350 years and I am one Virginian who isn't "elite" and who doesn't miss "conservative military" support -- certainly not the kind that made a mess out of Iraq and failed to kill Osama Bin Laden. And as you'll soon find, Petomane, a good many Virginians will be quite happy to vote for Mark Warner, so that we'll have two Democrats representing our state in the Senate.

Posted by: Bob22003 | October 21, 2007 7:24 PM | Report abuse


I predict Mark Warner landslides it. Webb is easily re-electable.

Posted by: Donny | October 21, 2007 9:41 PM | Report abuse

It was great to listen to Sen. Webb's speech in NH this Saturday. One particular issue he has the guts to address is the mess we have in our prison system. The US spends $62 Billion a year on prison, jail, probation and parole, we have more people per capita than any other country in the world by far, 1 in 32 people are part of the "system" at this point, and we fail to prepare them for when they get out. Recent measures such as "three strikes and you're out", mandatory sentences, elimination of parole in federal prisons, excessive terms of sentences, and many more measures give us a false sense of security. 90% will eventually get out and 50% of those will go right back in the first year because little or no money is spent on rehabilitation. Senator Webb recognizes that much of this mess is created along racial lines and on poverty. The rich get richer and the poor go to jail. He has the guts to address it.

Posted by: Pat from NH | October 22, 2007 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Webb has made some fine speeches, but I think this one may be his best. It hits on several of the most important issues this country faces, and points to solutions. It's a radical change from the politics of the far right, which every day depend more and more on the use of fear and hatred to garner votes. (Along those lines, note the negative comments on here: no substance, just venom.) I hope, though, he stays right where he is in Virginia -- we need him here. // D II

Posted by: Diogenes II | October 23, 2007 10:12 AM | Report abuse

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