The class warrior
Jun 19th 2008
From The Economist print edition
Jim Webb would make a poor running-mate for Barack Obama
IN 1983 Jim Webb spent a while working as a journalist in Lebanon. “On any given day in Beirut, one never knew who was going to shoot at whom, or for what reason,” he recalls in his new book, “A Time to Fight”. During a typical skirmish he observed, Lebanese army soldiers started shooting at some Druze militiamen, who responded by firing on American marines (who were supposed to be keeping the peace). Then a Syrian unit let rip its heavy machineguns at both the marines and the Lebanese. Meanwhile, in the distance, Christian Phalangist militiamen “engaged in an artillery duel with another unit that we were unable to identify.”
Mr Webb’s experiences in Beirut (where 241 Americans were killed in a suicide attack that year) convinced him that America should never occupy territory in the Middle East. When the idea of invading Iraq was first mooted, he opposed it. He predicted America would get stuck there for 30-50 years, that Muslims everywhere would be outraged and that Chinese and Iranian influence in the region would increase at America’s expense.
In his prescience on this issue, Mr Webb, who is now a senator, has much in common with Barack Obama. The difference is that Mr Webb is a military man. He attended the Naval Academy (also John McCain’s alma mater), was decorated four times and wounded twice in Vietnam, and served as Ronald Reagan’s secretary of the navy. His father was in the air force; his son served in Iraq. No one, therefore, can accuse Mr Webb of being an effete peacenik. That lends weight to his views on Iraq, and leads many Democrats to conclude that Mr Obama should pick him as his running mate.
In some ways, Mr Webb would be a shrewd choice. He is from Virginia, a battleground state with 13 juicy electoral votes. At 62, he is reassuringly older than Mr Obama, but he has been a politician for less than two years, which fits nicely with Mr Obama’s message of freshness and change. Among party activists he is a hero, since his white-knuckle victory in 2006 handed control of the Senate to the Democrats. And he compensates for some of Mr Obama’s weaknesses. Unlike his party’s flag-bearer, Mr Webb understands America’s warrior culture. He also has solid experience both of grappling with bureaucrats and of running something big: the entire navy and marine corps.
Mr Obama is a scholarly and cosmopolitan chap who has so far struggled to connect with working-class whites. During the primaries, he lost in West Virginia to Hillary Clinton by a staggering 41 percentage points. Mr Webb, though also a successful writer, is a gruff warrior who glories in his humble southern roots. His mother grew up sleeping on a corn-shuck mattress and brushing her teeth with twigs. His uncle Tommy once took on three men together in a brawl. Other Democrats may talk about thumping Republicans; Mr Webb has punched Oliver North repeatedly in the face. (During a boxing match at the Naval Academy which, to be fair, Mr North won.)
奥巴马是一位具有学者风范和大都会气质的毛头小伙，一直以来他竭力和工人阶级白人拉关系。在初选期间他以令人难以置信的41个百分点的差距在西维吉尼亚负于希拉里克林顿。虽然韦伯也是一位很有成就的作家，但他同时是一位性情恶劣的勇士，他对自己卑微的南部出身甚是得意。他的母亲自小就睡在谷壳做的床垫上，刷牙用的是细树枝。他的叔叔汤米有一次和人打架，竟然以一敌三。其他的民主党人或许叫嚷着要重击共和党人，而韦伯曾对准奥利弗诺斯（Oliver North） 的脸部不断地用拳猛击。（说句公道话，在海军军官学校的一次拳击比赛中，诺斯胜出。）（译者注：Oliver North是当年伊朗门的主角，里根总统的替罪羊，为民主人所憎恨。）
Mr Obama enjoys huge support among blacks and rich white liberals. That was enough to win him the Democratic nomination. But to win the general election, he needs Reagan Democrats-working-class whites who worry about national security, are somewhat culturally conservative and whom the Gipper was able to persuade to change political sides. These folks might well prefer a plain-spoken war hero like Mr McCain to the articulate and arugula-munching Mr Obama. But they would vote for Mr Obama if he ran with another plain-spoken warrior, especially if that warrior questions the ban on school prayer and has a union card, two Purple Hearts and three tattoos.
That, at least, is what Mr Webb’s boosters argue. No one but Mr Obama knows whom he will pick, but the buzz around Mr Webb is loud enough to make him the favourite on Intrade, a betting website. So it is worth examining his weaknesses, too.
On the other hand
Mr Webb is an indifferent campaigner. His speeches are awkward, he clearly dislikes all the flesh-pressing and he looks like an angry potato. He has infuriated some Democrats (but pleased others) by bucking party orthodoxy on matters of race and sex. He thinks it unfair to poor whites that racial preferences designed to atone for slavery and segregation should be extended to virtually every other minority group. And in 1979 he wrote an article opposing combat roles for women entitled, simply: “Women Can’t Fight”. (He has since changed his mind.)
The main worry about Mr Webb, however, is that he is a genuine fire-breathing economic populist. He appears actually to believe the sort of stuff that Mr Obama only says during Democratic primaries. Since vice-presidents sometimes become presidents, this matters. American workers, says Mr Webb, “are at the mercy of cut-throat executives who are vastly overpaid, partly as a consequence of giving [the workers’] jobs away to other people.” Illegal immigration and globalisation “threaten to dissipate” the American middle-class way of life. He predicts that, unless the government acts to restore “economic fairness”, America “may well go the way of ancient Greece [or] greed-ridden Rome”.
然而韦伯让人最担忧的则是他是一位彻头彻尾的极具攻击性的经济民粹主义者。他似乎真的相信奥巴马只是在初选时说的那套东西。由于副总统有时也会成为总统，兹事体大。韦伯说：”如今的美国工人任由那些薪水极高的高管摆布，造成这种情况的部分原因是工人们的就业机会被赠与他人。”非法移民和全球化 “威胁驱散” 美国中产阶级的生活方式。他预计，除非政府采取措施重塑”经济公平”，否则的话，美国很可能重蹈古希腊抑或深受贪婪之累的罗马之覆辙。
America may be horribly unequal, but it is not, as Mr Webb imagines, apocalyptically so. And judging by his book, Mr Webb has only a shaky understanding of the economic system he decries. He thinks South Korea is more productive than America, and that “most” investors are among the wealthiest 1% of Americans. (In fact, about half of Americans own shares.) He is worryingly hazy about how he would make America fairer. But his instincts are plainly hostile to the free flow of goods, investment and people across borders. Mr Obama, who has recently started to sound less protectionist on the campaign trail and has appointed a team of impeccably centrist economic advisers, can surely do a bit better.