Advice for Obama

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Barack, listen up. This election thing is important. If you don’t win this fall, the US will be in the hands of a borderline-senile headcase who thinks we need more wars. The country can’t afford another eight years under an escapee from a psych ward. Which is why you ought to think about Jim Webb as veep.

No, you didn’t ask my advice (doubtless an oversight) and he didn’t authorize me to nominate him. I don’t know whether he wants the job. However, I am a citizen, and believe I have the right to inflict the vice-presidency on anyone.

Now, why Webb? Think about it. You’re a black guy running for president. Obviously race wasn’t a show-stopper. But there are a lot of people who are a little shaky about the idea — many not so much because of race per se as because they think you would go for all sorts of far-left social policies. In their minds, black equals Hillary but more so. (A few think you are a Moslem terrorist. I hope not, as then we would have two terrorists running. What kind of choice would that be?)

McCain has a lot going for him, as for example the war hero thing. That’s pretty heavy stuff in a lot of the country. He also has the like-me thing. America has an awful lot of white heartland types and veterans and families of veterans who look at McCain and see Someone Like Them. He’s the same color, he talks like them, and he can mine the patriotism lode. (I know, because I’m from the small-town South. Patriotism is huge, even when it makes sense.)

If you hang out with people in the Veterans of Foreign wars or American Legion or Disabled American Veterans (I’m a member of all three) you find that they are not nearly as robotically Republican and warlike as they are often painted. They are often intelligent and think about things. But they want a candidate who is Like Them. They can spot a slick phony and if you run with one you aren’t doing yourself a favor.

Now if these folk look at the Democrats and see a highly sophisticated black guy from Harvard (everything they aren’t) running with some tedious generic pol with good party credentials but not much else, the Space-Alien effect will occur. People from Harvard look like extraterrestrials to them. They’ll figure they have nothing in common with the Democrats, and that leaves God Help Us as president. You can’t do that to the country, Barack. It isn’t right. Where’s your sense of responsibility?

Now, Jim Webb. He is Like Them (and like me). He is very heartland, Scots-Irish, and did not grow up drinking designer water. He saw a lot of heavy combat as a Marine in Viet Nam. People know it because they have read his book, Fields of Fire, which he actually wrote.

He would be a splendid counterweight to McCain. On his war record, McCain is not a phony like Bush, Kerry, and Hillary the Sniper Dodger, but neither is Webb. I doubt that there exists a VFW post that would not be delighted to have him speak. If Hillary or Kerry came within telephone distance, they would probably put up concertina wire. Rich brats don’t play well in Legion halls.

Now, the Democrats are traditionally terrified of seeming Soft on Defense, and sometimes think they need to do something stupid but ferocious, so as not be come up a quart low on their virility dipstick. Webb, to put it mildly, in not vulnerable on this issue. He would provide an excuse for adult behavior.

In short, Barack, Jim Webb would give you what you ain’t got. Added to what you do got, which is a lot, I figure you could beat God Help Us. But please, don’t choose some slick party hack or retired, stunningly handsome buzz-cut general in arrested development.

But there’s more. There’s the character issue. I know Jim slightly, from days when I was on the military beat and he was Secretary of the Navy. In person he is not recognizable as a politician, which in any event for most of his life he wasn’t. No swagger, no show, no slime, not full of himself. If you talk, he listens. He isn’t always looking over your shoulder for a better name-tag. As best I can tell, he is incorruptible. This is a novel approach in politics, but I think the country can stand it. It’s worth the risk.

What I figure, Barack, is that a running mate who actually had character, as distinct from three pollsters, a speechwriter, and a police record, might have encouraging electoral effects. A friend of mine, a sometimes prickly Jewish feminist, would like to see Webb — explicitly not Hillary — as veep. Judy is not the sort who reflexively votes for former Marines who do not want women in combat. Why? She respects him, she says. What a concept.

Going for character might be worth a shot, what you think? When Hillary goes into a bar and waves a beer mug, you know you are looking at twenty million dollars in disguise. She wouldn’t touch the doorknob with rubber gloves if she weren’t campaigning. Jim Webb could go into any blue-collar joint in the country, Barney’s Rib Pit in Memphis or Slotky’s bar in Chicago and belong there. Highly intelliegent, but far from Ivory Tower.

I also think you might find his military advice very highly useful. Unlike the twerps and milkmaids at National Review and Commentary — who will be all over you — he has seen war up close and ugly, before it clots. No illusions. I’d call him a fighter who isn’t looking for a fight, and has nothing to prove. He would not, I think, be willing to get GIs killed without a very damned good reason; this cannot be said of Congress or the Pentagon. His is an attitude that could save a president a lot of trouble.

If he doesn’t accept, you should chain him to a backhoe and drag him to the White House. You can’t do better than Jim and, otherwise, you are likely to do a whole lot worse.

That’s my pitch. You can send me a check at your convenience.

Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well and the just-published A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be. Visit his blog.

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