Blue Ridge Journal
BRJ Front Page See all Essays Send a Comment
Suggested Related Essays:
A fable of fools,   Hillary's revenge,   The rot of campaign financing.

Democrat Presidential Candidates?

Where are they?

March 2015

True, we're still twenty months from the next U.S. presidential election, but by this time the field of candidates is usually overflowing. The present candidate pools are: Republicans about 20, Democrats about 2. What's up with the Dems?
Here's what's up with the dems: They're waiting. In a scenario that evokes a deja vu from fifteen years ago, Democratic candidates are sitting on their hands waiting for the former President's wife to say the word. Just as in the New York Senate race in 2000, Hillary Clinton seems to have somehow gained control of the nominating process. At that time, a mere word from Bill Clinton that he would like his wife to be a New York senator (never mind that she'd never lived in New York) was enough to drive all other Dem candidates under ground. And now (never mind that she has already run a failed campaign for the nomination) the scenario is repeating itself. Hardly any prominent Democrat has had the gumption to announce a candidacy until Hillary speaks. I cannot remember a similar case in the 50-some years that I've been voting: with no incumbent president running, the lack of Democrat candidates is downright spooky. What is it about the rumored candidacy of the ex-president's wife that scares off the competition? It must be money – but that's an issue for another time.

To date, only two fearless Democrats have dared to challenge the Clinton money machine; fortunately two candidates of good repute: former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor Martin O'Malley, and former war hero, Secretary of the Navy, and senator from Virginia Jim Webb.

I am not a Democratic voter, but independent (as I think voters ought to be), though I've probably voted for more Democrats than Republicans. But I often vote for independent or small party candidates, since very often the candidates of the two major parties are, frankly, crooks – although we don't use that word in the U.S. for politicians who accept huge sums of money from supporters who are expecting something in return. So this year, seeing the mass of clowns who've announced on the Republican side (a third Bush!!, a gluttonous bully from New Jersey, and a bunch of science-denying true believers), I'm hoping to find a vigorous, experienced, and level-headed candidate among the Democrats.

I've looked most closely at the three who are probable candidates, starting with Hillary Clinton. Clinton Frankly, I think it's finally time to get past the stupidest foreign policy decision that the U.S. has ever taken – the invasion of Iraq – and I'd like to get past the ignoramuses who authorized George W. Bush to do that, like then-senator Hillary Clinton. The senators who voted for the idiotic and irresponsible attack on Iraq, which has damaged U.S. world-wide relations and reputation like nothing else, and which incidentally led to all the subsequent horrors in the Middle East, are just as culpable as Dubya Bush himself in this disaster, which killed so many Americans, not to mention that it destroyed the nation of Iraq. It's time to give the reins to someone who does not carry this stupid and deadly foreign policy decision on their CV.

Even apart from her approval of the Iraq invasion, which I consider disqualifying in itself, Hillary Clinton has been associated with a number of questionable decisions, both in her role as "First Lady" (her husband's eleventh hour pardons netted her a tidy sum) and as Secretary of State, which I won't bother reciting again. Further, in my mind she suffers from never having held a responsible leadership position (Secretary of State is essentially a roving ambassador job). We experienced in the election of 2008 that both of the Democratic front-runners were without significant leadership experience, both hoping to gain that on the job as President. One of them won the presidency, and we've seen the result of inexperienced and weak leadership: the calculating Mr. Obama blowing with every wind, and occasionally lashing out with a "line-in-the-sand" attempt at firmness, such as in the Syrian poison-gas debacle, where he was rescued from even greater ignominy by Mr. Putin's intervention. The time has come for a President who doesn't have to learn leadership on the job. There are enough things for a new President to learn, without adding that.

The second reasonable choice seems to be the recent Governor of Maryland, Martin O'Malley. Mr. O'Malley is young compared with the two other candidates discussed here (he's 52), O'Malley has been relatively popular as Mayor of Baltimore and as Governor (though his popularity has taken a dive in Maryland lately), and is considered a comer in the Democratic party. He represents the "liberal" wing of the party, and there may lie his weakness in the general election. It is true that some of his positions taken in Maryland, such as supporting same-sex marriage and granting free State University tuition for some illegal aliens, which would have meant death for a presidential candidacy just a few years ago, can now be maintained, at least in Maryland. Whether they will fly nationally time will tell.

It seems fair to characterize Mr. O'Malley as the quintessential career politician. Except for his first 2-3 years after law school, when he worked as a junior attorney for the city of Baltimore, he has spent his entire working career as an elected Maryland politician. Earlier, from the age of 19, he engaged himself in Democratic election campaigns, first for the presidential campaign of Gary Hart, then in the senatorial campaign of Barbara Milkuski, as well as working for a period in Senator Milkuski's offices, and in Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey's primary run for the presidential nomination. O'Malley is certainly a man who knows election politics inside and out, and his connections in the Democratic party runs more than thirty years deep.

Mr. O'Malley's deep knowledge of politics is balanced by his having practically no experience outside politics. To me, that raises a caution flag. The game of big-time politics in the U.S. has become so suffused with huge sums of money changing hands from those who want something to those who will be expected to deliver, that many of those of us who are concerned about the corrupting effect of money in politics are easily suspicious of someone as ingrown in this system as Mr. O'Malley. I conclude that Mr. O'Malley, even if he should win the Democratic nomination (though I suspect he is campaigning for the VP slot), is too far on the left in the political spectrum to win a national election for President at the present time, and that the lack of a private work history is also a weak point.

The third nearly-announced candidate is former Senator Jim Webb of Virginia.Webb Webb has a refreshingly diverse background for a politician. As a Marince Corps officer in Viet Nam, he was decorated "for exceptional heroism" in the face of mortal danger. Seriously wounded, he was selected early for the rank of Captain, and was assigned to work in the Secretary of the Navy's office in the Pentagon. A medical board decided on a medical retirement due to his wounds (he still carries shrapnel at several locations in his body). He attended law school and received a J.D. degree in 1975, at the same time authoring a book on U.S. strategy in the Pacific region. Webb then served as Assistant Secretary of Defence, and later as Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan. In 2006 Webb was elected to the U.S. Senate from the state of Virginia, and after a productive term he did not stand for reelection in 2012.

Webb has found time to write movie scripts and ten books (by my count), about half of them novels, the others on history or political issues. He has also written a large number of articles for political journals or newspapers. Of great significance to me is Webb's grasp of international issues, where he has specialized particularly in U.S.-Asian relations and strategy. At the time of the congressional debate in 2002 on the resolution to allow the invasion of Iraq, he wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post warning of the consequences of such an action. He saw clearly that there was "no exit strategy," that the U.S. would be seen throughout the Muslim world not as liberators but as Christian invaders, and that the artificial nation of Iraq could very well fractionate into sectarian conflicts once the strong hand of Saddam and his security apparatus was removed. Senator Ted Kennedy also made the same points, but these were lonely voices in Washington. The few clear heads in Congress were sadly outvoted by those, like Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, who rushed to judgment, and tragic error won the day, with the disastrous consequences that we all now see – consequences foreseen by Webb, Kennedy, and a few others. Webb has made it clear that he opposes casual use of U.S. military forces around the world, and insists on congressional authorization for the use of military force.

In addition to his foreign policy acumen, Webb has garnered accolades for his leadership and ability to achieve goals through cooperative problem solving. Among his chief domestic goals is reducing the growing income gap between the rich and the middle class in the U.S. – now one of the widest in the industrial world – as well as providing help and upward mobility for the poor, who have hardly been mentioned by the current administration. Another of Webb's domestic priorities is review and overhaul of the U.S. criminal justice system; the percentage of our population in jail is currently the highest in the world. Webb also believes that the unlimited injection of money into elections, recently allowed by the Supreme Court, is corrupting and should be overturned. None of the other candidates have stated this. (Mr.Obama declared his opposition to the Supreme Court's decision, but his opposition faded away. I believe Mr.Webb's opposition will be firm, and perhaps even productive.) Webb blends an empathetic social consciousness with some "conservative" elements, such as an enthusiasm for guns (one that I personally don't share), that I think will give him the ability to draw voters from much of the political spectrum.

It is time for a level-headed and capable president in the U.S., a president that understands national and international problems that cry out for solution. From Hillary Clinton we've heard no solutions, nor even ideas. I believe that Jim Webb is the man for the hour, someone who can help to right the U.S. ship of state.

© 2015 H. Paul Lillebo

BRJ Front Page See all Essays Send a Comment