Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb was also unfortunately included in the Democratic debate and decided to take the rather unusual position of pitching himself to the right of Hillary Clinton in front of a Democratic base well to the left of Clinton. His policy positions were straight out Republican talking points and his debate performance, in the eyes of many people, was terrible.
Webb’s first contribution came in a challenge from Anderson Cooper about affirmative action which Webb said that he supported affirmative action for African-Americans only as a result of their unique history in the United States, making specific reference to slavery and the Jim Crow laws. He was then asked about guns and argued that two issues were being conflated: who should have a gun, in terms of mental health, and who should people be able to defend their property with a gun.
On foreign policy, which Webb claimed to be his strong-point, he said that the Iraq War was a mistake, that the Arab Spring created power-vacuums in countries in the Middle East but then criticised the Iran deal. Considering that the Iran deal prevents Iran from getting a nuclear weapon for fifteen years whereas bombing their nuclear installations would set them back two years; if Webb thinks that the Iran deal isn’t good enough I would like to know how he would have done in the same situation, but I never will because he will never be elected. Webb went on to point out that the Iraq War destabilised the Middle East and that intervening in countries caused resentment among the local population.
For some reason Webb was also asked to give his view regarding Bernie Sanders’ decision to apply as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, and Webb was courteous enough not to criticise him for his decision. Webb’s strangest point on foreign policy was when he said, with emphasis, that China had no right to control the South China Sea, which, although true, is an issue that many people don’t know about; putting that concept as key in your foreign policy platform, although an interesting perspective, is not going to win you votes.
In response to a question about race, Webb touted his experience of fighting on behalf of a Vietnam veteran who had been convicted of a crime and how he had cleared his name three years after he had taken his own life. While this is a story that is commendable and speaks to his character he didn’t really give much of a policy position regarding race-relations or the plight of ethnic minorities in the US other than what he said previously about affirmative action.
Webb, much like Chafee, wasn’t given much time to speak about his economic plan but he railed against Wall Street in which he said “Wall Street is not risking as much as the American people”. When asked about undocumented immigrants Webb said that he had no problem with them receiving healthcare under the Affordable Care Act.
He was criticised by the other candidates for his position on climate change because he supports coal, supports the Keystone XL oil pipeline and supports offshore drilling, arguing that the problem had to be solved internationally. Admittedly he argued that there should be an increased focus on renewable energy, but I would argue that anybody that supports the coal industry, which admittedly could have been for political reasons as he was a senator from Virginia, should not be entrusted with negotiating treaties with other countries to combat climate change.
The other points that Webb made were largely regarding the current way the government functions: on Edward Snowden Webb said that the judiciary should decide; and that he would be different to Obama by reigning in executive authority and collaborating with Congress more.
In conclusion Webb successfully distinguished himself as separate from the other candidates but that was through a combination of appearing like he should still be a Republican, and his final contribution of note which was someone who threw a grenade at him when he was a marine as the enemy he was most proud of; all I would say is know your audience because gloating that you’ve killed a man probably isn’t a good idea at a Democratic debate. In the end he performed as I would have expected and although he was right to point out that he wasn’t given as much time as the other candidates he shouldn’t have complained about it so much.