Since 2001, the United States has endured arguably the two worst presidents in its history. America cannot afford a third. But the Republocrat imperium that controls America’s governance, and the oligarchs and One Percenters who own and operate that imperium, seem determined to provide yet another disaster.
The Republican presidential dumb-fest drags on, and on, and on, offering little more than dementia, delusion, dyspepsia, drivel, and brain-dead invocations of whatever eternal truths they’re currently manipulating to their own benefit. On the other side of this roistering vacuum, Hillary Clinton presses forward with her time-tested mantra.
“Ask not what the Clintons can do for you. Ask what you can do for the Clintons. And never ask what I’ve accomplished for America since I first inflicted myself upon the nation, so many years ago.”
If nothing else, Mrs. Clinton bids fair for the honor of becoming the most shopworn candidate since Harold Stassen.
Meanwhile, the ABC (“Anybody But Clinton”) crowd casts frantically about for a plausible messiah. Currently favored applicant: a seventy-something Jewish socialist from a lovely, minuscule state, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
I like Bernie Sanders. I’d vote for him, were I not already pledged to a candidate who, at the time of his official announcement of entry into the race a few days ago, stood in the polls at two percent.
Jim Webb. Vietnam Marine war hero. Best-selling novelist, memoirist and historian. Emmy-winning television journalist. Attorney. Former Congressional counsel. Former assistant secretary of defense. Former secretary of the Navy. Former senator from Virginia, who won his seat in one of the toughest races of 2008, then chose not to seek re-election in 2014.
The closest thing America has to a Renaissance Man.
The Constitution specifies no pre-requisites for the Office of President, save that the person must be at least thirty-five and a native-born American, i.e., an American by birth. The Constitution doesn’t specify lots of things, not because they’re unimportant, but because they can’t be legislated, executive-ordered, or judicially mandated into existence.
Among them: the necessary character of those who would be President.
“Is he Presidential timber?” Not so many centuries ago, that was the question voters pondered. Circa 1992, the query shifted to, “Paper or plastic?”
Perhaps now would be a good time to recover the notion that while character may or may not be destiny, it certainly matters. And to remember once again that the character of leaders may, under the right circumstances, bring forth the best in others.
I first met Jim Webb in the late 1970s, or perhaps the early 1980s. Either way, it was long ago. I suspect he found me a curiosity: an Ivy League-educated Jewish Marine. My reaction to him was far more complex — a sense that this man was capable of historical greatness, should the opportunity arise and should he prove able to take it. We’ve stayed in touch sporadically since then. When I learned last September that he was considering a run, I shot him a fast Go for it email. He responded and asked me for my thoughts on Israel and recent columns. I provided. I also did a post on this blog.
My next post here, on Friday, 17 July, will be an “open letter” to Senator Webb on the subject of Israel. For now, a bit on the man’s character. His resume speaks for itself. But what of the traits he’d bring to the White House?
I find him character-qualified in three ways.
The first is that, while his core beliefs — a clear set of virtues and values revolving around love of country, honesty, service and self-discipline — haven’t changed, his sense of many issues has. Not quickly, but carefully.
To the Founders, one of the most important political virtues was what they called prudence or prudential reasoning: the ability to apply general principles to specific situations, especially as those situations change over time. Senator Webb has demonstrated this skill by his actions in the Pentagon, his voting record in the Senate, and in his statements since. Other candidates waffle, lip-synch and pout away the issues. I expect that, as the campaign progresses, Senator Webb’s positions will become ever more specific.
Today, this quality of prudential reasoning shows up in two of his major campaign themes. We are wasting, unconscionably, millions upon millions of Americans, of all kinds; this must stop. And while America must regain its global leadership potential, so sadly squandered since 2001, military commitment must be undertaken with caution and clarity. And America should never again occupy foreign countries.
The second character-qual is his sense of himself. This is one intense, driven man, successful in multiple careers. But he rejects the whole “Best and Brightest” ethos of preening elitism and invincible self-regard, and often reaffirms what should be obvious — that it’s better to work with, and trust, ordinary, honest, competent people than cope with devious geniuses.
He understands that without honesty, there is nothing.
The final character-qual: He understands pain. Physical pain (two Purple Hearts from Vietnam, medically retired). The pain of sending fifty of his men home in body bags. Other pains associated with that war’s aftermath. The prideful pain of having three sons serve as Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. The lowering pain of watching your country destroy itself.
The pain of knowing that America’s political and economic elites are committed to that process of self-destruction.
In any struggle, the heroes are self-selecting: the men and women who, at the critical moment, are suddenly there. But for heroes to emerge, first there have to be people with the stuff of heroes in them. And there has to be a there, an opportunity, a critical moment.
Since 2001, America has staggered through its critical moments. Heroes have been few and far between. A new president, who calls a halt to the staggering, and to the self-delusion and torpor and fear that make it possible, and who opposes those who profit by the national degradation, might well call forth heroes sufficient unto the day.
Next: An open letter to Senator Webb on Israel.