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U.S. Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) poses for photographers as his wife Hong Le Webb and Vice President Dick Cheney (right) look on during a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony Jan. 4, 2007, at the U.S. Capitol.
U.S. Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) poses for photographers as his wife Hong Le Webb and Vice President Dick Cheney (right) look on during a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony Jan. 4, 2007, at the U.S. Capitol. Alex Wong/Getty Images
Sen. Jim Webb's upset win in Virginia secured control of the Senate for Democrats. A strong advocate for a new direction in Iraq, Webb traces his political roots to Andrew Jackson. The following is an edited version of Webb's interview with Renee Montagne:
On what issue are you closest to the mainstream of the Democratic Party?
It's really had to define the mainstream Democratic position. We could define the leadership's position. And I think on the issues that the leadership put on the table here, I'm pretty much aligned with most of them. I've decided to be an initial co-sponsor on eight of the original 10 [bills]. And they range from ethics reform, raising the minimum wage, doing different things on energy, and [on] all of those I'm pretty well aligned with the leadership of the Democratic Party.
Why did you switch from being a Republican to being a Democrat?
I grew up in a family that was Democratic. And I went over to the Republicans, like a lot of people did at the end of the Vietnam War, based on national security issues. And again, like a lot of people, I was never comfortable with the Republican Party platform as it related to economic fairness, and some issues of social justice.
The last book that I was writing ... [a] nonfiction book about the Scotch-Irish migration ... [was] basically about the creation of populist-style democracy in the United States, Jacksonian democracy. [It] caused me to do a lot of thinking about where both political parties are. And when I decided to run, I felt most comfortable with, shall we say, the Jacksonian wing of the Democratic Party. And this is why I decided to run as a Democrat.
Then you'd say you are focused on the gap between rich and poor?
I think Andrew Jackson said it first, and said it best, when he indicated that you measure the health of a society not at its apex, but at its base. You measure the true health of a society not by what the stock market is doing, but what the average-wage earner is facing.
I don't think there are too many of us who are over here on the so-called populist side who want to see the American economy stutter; what we want to see is a much fairer distribution of the benefits of this economy.
What's do you think about proposals to raise troop levels in Iraq?
The first thing that we need to get clear here is that this proposal by the administration, whatever it actually ends up being, is not really strategic in nature. It's a tactical issue, unless they want to present it as a totally new way to address Iraq writ large. We're talking about a surge of troops, basically in reaction to what they believe is a different type of situation in Baghdad and out in al-Anbar.
One of the biggest problems in the entire approach to the Iraq war is that this administration has never articulated a strategy that will show you an end point. If you can't tell this country when this war is going to be over in specific terms, then you don't have a strategy.
Would the Democratic Party really try cutting off funding for troop increases?
The difficulty with that — and I understand where the leadership is coming from on that — the difficulty with doing that is that it's hard to separate, really, the surge from the rest of the troop deployments.
What we have to do, is we need to have a diplomatic approach involving the countries in this region that are tangential to Iraq, and other countries that have historical interests in the region. We need to bring a situation to bear where we can withdraw our combat troops, where we can still address the issues of international terrorism, and where we can also repair our national strategy with respect to our interests all around the world, because that's suffering as well.
We've been burning out our ground troops in one spot in the world, which I warned about five months before we even went into Iraq. We are not solving the problem there. We need to increase the stability in the region. And we're not going to do that, really, until our combat troops are out of Iraq.