SAN DIEGO – Jim Webb, a former Democratic senator from Virginia, likes to joke that he is probably the only person ever elected to statewide office in the Old Dominion who has “a union card, two Purple Hearts and three tattoos.”
Now, as the fifth candidate to vie for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, Webb is aiming to become the first commander in chief with those possessions – along with many other credentials. The highly decorated combat veteran, who led a Marine Corps platoon and company in Vietnam, went on to serve as assistant defense secretary and secretary of the Navy. His other medals include the Navy Cross, the Silver Star and two Bronze Stars. He has also written 10 books (including six novels), taught literature at his alma mater (the United States Naval Academy), won an Emmy Award in 1984 for reporting he did on U.S. Marines in Beirut in as a journalist for PBS, and earned a law degree at Georgetown University. He’s the real deal.
Yet, when I was asked recently by a television producer what I thought Webb brought to the presidential race, the last thing on my mind was his resume. Rather, what occurred to me were the various constituencies – including Democrats and independents – that Webb might appeal to that are being ignored, feel they have no voice or haven’t found a candidate they can support.
The media don’t get it. The narrative I’ve seen is that Webb speaks for “Southern whites” – the kind of folks who, the rest of the country assumes, want to roll back affirmative action and save the Confederate battle flag.
It’s much more complicated than that. There are at least five different constituencies that might embrace someone like Webb:
For the media to ignore all this, and boil down Webb’s candidacy to crass racial politics and an attempt to give voice to Southern whites is an insult – not just to Webb but to the remarkable country that he has spent much of his life serving and defending.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is email@example.com.