A Weekend at Bernie’s? Maybe we should hit the Jim, instead

Rarely am I one to read either Daily Kos or that most eminent economist of the Grey Lady’s, but a Facebook friend shared this, and I went for it like a bluegill for bacon fat.

Here’s the original Krugman column, which starts with a brilliant bit of humor from the author: “The 2016 campaign should be almost entirely about issues. The parties are far apart on everything…”

This post isn’t about Hillary Clinton directly, but it’s worth considering something risible noted by Krugman and echoed by DK:

The press, I’m sorry to say, tends to punish open-mindedness, because gotcha journalism is easier and safer than policy analysis. Hillary Clinton supported trade agreements in the 1990s, but now she’s critical. It’s a flip-flop! Or, possibly, a case of learning from experience, which is something we should praise, not deride.

(My emphasis. — TGFI)

Krugman, ever the good liberal, declines to convey the nuance of the cited article.

We looked into Clinton’s past remarks on NAFTA and concluded that she has changed her tune, from once speaking favorably about it to now saying the agreement needs “fixing.”

[…]

Today, Clinton’s campaign Web site says plainly, “NAFTA was negotiated more than 14 years ago, and Hillary believes it has not lived up to its promises.”

Semantics? Maybe. Clearly, though, Mrs. Clinton isn’t critical of NAFTA per se, but only to the extent that it has not delivered as promised — something about which wiser men, like Pat Buchanan, forewarned twenty-one years ago. That Mrs. Clinton has come out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership is heartening, but, pace Krugman, the cynic is compelled to question the political motivation for such opposition from the spouse of Bill “Free Trade” Clinton. It’s all about running to the left. Duh.

President Obama has proven himself to be a centrist — an actual liberal, in the mold of — Wait for it! — President Clinton, the “New Democrats”, and the DLC. As he has followed the same inclinations toward unnecessary and disastrous foreign engagements and capitalism-über-alles, he has brought the Evil Party closer to the Stupid Party, creating a gap that previously caught the eyes of Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, and now draws into the race Senators Bernie Sanders and Jim Webb — and, purportedly, the good First Lady/Senator/Secretary/Wal-Mart board member/Wall Street harlot.

Needless to say, I’m skeptical that Mrs. Clinton is any less a liberal than President Obama, her husband, or the right-wing liberals of the Grand Old Party. I am willing, however, to entertain the possibility, as displayed in Krugman’s column, and as hoped for by the more socially democratically inclined members of the Democratic Party and the American electorate, that, politics being the art of expedience, Lady Hillary will be forced to campaign further to the left, especially with the entrance of Senator Sanders into the race, and this is all the more reason for those (not voting Republican) to reject the Green Mountaineer in favor of the Hillbilly.

Okay, so, excessive prefatory remarks out of the way, I am compelled to add a few more. Anyone who knows me or has read NathanContraMundi in the past knows that I’m either a right-winger or a conservative (though not both; I’m not sure which is the more appropriate term, but I am certain that “right-wing conservative” suggests something that I ain’t). My ideal candidate is a softer version of Pat Buchanan meets a saner version of Ron Paul meets a milder version of Ralph Nader. Oh, hell, just give me Bill Kauffman, please — or Andrew Bacevich  In the meantime, I’m tepidly (more so than I was with his father) supportive of Rand Paul.

That said, being skeptical of both libertarian capitalism (I really ought to discourse on why I’m not a libertarianwhy I am, nonetheless, so sympathetic to the libertarian conservatism of the Doctors Paul; and where I draw the line.) and the Republican Party’s tendency to choose Bob Dole over Pat Buchanan, as well as, you know, thinking that it’d be swell were “both” of our part”ies” to offer some kind of big-tent variety, what happens in the Democratic primaries is of great interest and concern to me.

So, here we go, the meat of the article, which, in characteristically Nathan-ish fashion, likely will be far shorter than the preface. (I can’t say for certain because most of this is stream-of-consciousness, and I’ve not exactly outlined what’s to follow.) Also, it’ll likely be a pretty superficial analysis, because, well, it’s midnight, this is the first time that I’ve posted at NCM in more than four years, and, well, I’ve reached the point at which I’m even inserting this soliloquy. (I aver that, should I get back into the habit of updating this Weblog with any frequency, the writing and arguments will improve — presumably good rationale for not redoubling my efforts!)

However much I’ve come to prioritize, at least short-term, concerns about foreign-policy recklessness and the concentration of economic power in the hands of relatively few, I am, undeniably, a cultural conservative who is typically politically “socially conservative” (though perhaps less so at the federal level than at the state and local).  This makes any contending Democrat less than appealing to me off the bat,  Senator Sanders more so than his Virginian counterpart, who, though certainly a “social” moderate-to-liberal, is arguably a cultural conservative. For me, though, this is as much a matter of practicality as it is a personal concern: there may be a certain attractiveness about Sen. Sanders to the fairly small cohort of Americans who embrace social democracy, and even to a number of more-liberal progressives, not to mention some of us despondent conservatives, but Jim Webb is likelier to have a broader appeal, while still drawing Her Majesty toward the left during primary season.

I truly believe that Sanders-ites are right to be excited that HRC will be compelled to campaign to the left as long as the soi-disant socialist of Vermont is in the race. I also believe that thinking that this sinister pull matters is rather deluded: expecting Mrs. Clinton, I fear, to live up to the faux-populism that she’s already been displaying on the campaign trail is akin, in retrospect, to expecting George W. Bush to keep his promise of a “humble foreign policy” (in the wake of the hawkish presidency of none other than Mr. Clinton!) or thinking that Barack Obama would really be delivering any substantive hope or change.

It’s nice to see a real progressive challenger compel HRC to do some work before her coronation, but, ultimately, it’s just a delay. With her gender, her name, her perversely embraced reputation, and her being a Wall Street harlot all in her favor, she has too good of an opportunity to grab the nomination as long as a kook (And I say this not to reflect my own opinion of Senator Sanders, but to suggest that this is what a social democrat from Vermont is going to be appear to be in the eyes of Joe Middle America.) is her leading opponent. That’s not to say that Jim Webb is going to perform any miracles, but he has a better chance both of playing the role of dark horse and of having any kind of impact on the party of Jefferson and Jackson (purportedly) than his further-left colleague. Why?

1. He’s a Hillbilly. Seriously, he comes from “real America”, born in Missouri, traveling across “real America” as his father was transferred from one base to another, ending up in swing-state Virginia, and proudly and publicly embracing his Scotch-Irish roots. The guy is, simply, more relatable to more Americans than a Jewish socialist who grew up in New York City.

2. He’s a veteran. This matters not merely because of the weird American fetishization of veterans that occurs even as our idea of “support[ing] the troops” constitutes, mainly, smearing anyone who criticizes the wars in which our service personnel fight or the civilian leaders who send them to God-knows-where unnecessarily, but because he is a veteran, like the aforementioned Bacevich, who has not been shy about his opposition to some of our stupider forays.

If someone’s going to challenge Mrs. Clinton on the foreign-policy front (and someone needs to), and if someone’s going to try to move the Democratic Party (which, we need to remember, has always been the war party, the GOP being something of a Johnny-come-lately in the Twentieth Century), Sanders may have the benefit of having opposed the Viet Nam conflict at the time (unlike Webb, who served in said conflagration and seems to be less opposed, retrospectively, than fellow veteran Bacevich), but Webb has the street cred afforded to someone who’s been there and knows from personal experience (Remember, not only is he a veteran, but he served as SecDef under the Republican Reagan. In 1990, out of office, he warned against escalation in Saudi Arabia and against a permanent presence in the Middle East (and he was insisting upon Congressional declarations of war before it was cool).)

Nine years ago, Scott McConnell reminded us, at The American Conservative, of Webb’s prescient words in the Washington Post at the outset of the Second Bush’s Mesopotamian Massacre:

Webb questioned whether an overthrow of Saddam would “actually increase our ability to win the war against international terrorism” and pointed out that the measure of military success can be preventing wars and well as fighting them. He charged, “those who are pushing for a unilateral war in Iraq know full well that there is no exit strategy if we invade.” He concluded, “the Iraqis are a multiethnic people filled with competing factions who in many cases would view a U.S. occupation as infidels invading the cradle of Islam. … In Japan, American occupation forces quickly became 50,000 friends. In Iraq, they would quickly become 50,000 terrorist targets.” If any major senators were thinking like this long before the invasion, not many Americans heard of it.

3. He’s not as “extreme”. In terms of both voting records and perceptions, Webb is the moderate, the guy who gets it wrong on X, but gets it right on Y — and even may have a decent reason for his wrong view on X. (I speak from the conservative perspective, of course, in using ‘wrong’ and ‘right’.) Bernie Sanders isn’t. And winning elections is about securing the strongest in-party base during the primaries without turning off independents and dissatisfied voters who generally support the other party. Jim Webb is likelier to attract, I think, progressives than Sanders is to get the attention of Blue Dogs (if any still remain); in November, Webb is absolutely likelier to attract Republicans than Sanders is.

Sanders may well be the “better” candidate — certainly for the real progressives, social democrats, and fellow-travelers, to say nothing of those of us communitarian conservatives troubled by the hyper-individualism guiding economic policy and practice today. Practically speaking, though, backing Bernie, however nicely principled, is an onanistic act of futility that will leave the Democratic Party securely in the hands of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Jim Webb’s chances may not be significantly better than Bernie Sanders’s, but they are better, and he’s the candidate likelier to have a measurable, propitious impact on the Democratic Party and, we can hope, American electoral politics.

Besides, Jim Webb vs. Rand Paul sounds like one helluva race, right?

“It just seems the smaller the town, the bigger the turnout,” he said later.

“The first casualty of war is not truth — that expires during diplomacy — but the country.” -that sagacious Upstater, Bill Kauffman.

Nothing better evinces this than Chris Jones’ “The Things That Carried Him”, from the May 2008 issue of Esquire, to which I again direct you.

The real America

It ain’t what the idiots to the south of me in Washington project it as being. Bill Kauffman allays my hesitance to celebrate the Fourth of July at Counterpunch with a fine piece, “My America vs. The Empire”. What I excerpt here says it all, as far as I’m concerned.

There are two Americas: the televised America, known and hated by the world, and the rest of us. The former is a factitious creation whose strange gods include “Sex and the City,” accentless TV anchorpeople, Dick Cheney, Rosie O’Donnell, “Friends,” and the Department of Homeland Security. It is real enough–cross it and you’ll learn more than you want to know about weapons of mass destruction–but it has no heart, no soul, no connection to the thousand and one real Americas that produced Zora Neale Hurston and Jack Kerouac and Saint Dorothy Day and the Mighty Casey who has struck out.

I am of the other America, the unseen America, the America undreamt of by the foreigners who hate my country without knowing a single thing about it. Ours is a land of volunteer fire departments, of baseball, of wizened spinsters who instead of sitting around whining about their goddamned osteoporosis write and self-publish books on the histories of their little towns, of the farmwives and grain merchants and parsons and drunkards who made their places live.

Despite having too many books awaiting my picking them up already, I feel as if, now, I need to purchase some of Kauffman’s works, something I long ago ought to have done.

Many thanks to Patrick Ford, who, eliciting envy from me, occasionally posts at @TAC and serves as editor-in-chief of the George Washington Patriot