Over at the New Republic Elspeth Reeve has written an interesting piece on Jim Webb, who, she suggests, was once “supposed to be exactly what the Democratic Party needed.” In 2005, Reeve recalls, the Democratic party was in despair, fearing that it would never take back power from the ostensibly ascendant Republicans:
Then along came Jim Webb, and a crew called the “Redneck Caucus.” Webb had served in Vietnam. He’d been a Republican. He’d opposed the Iraq War but in this super-cool, tough-guy way. He had a campaign aide named Mudcat. Webb had written a book, Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America, about how his ancestors had stood up to tyrants of all sorts. GQ reported, “odd and romanticized as it sounds, Webb believes he came to Washington to represent the Scots-Irish, or at least their modern-day heirs.” The senator told Virginia voters he would “bring more people back into the Democratic Party. … People who will understand the basic message of what I call Jacksonian democracy, and that is that you measure the health of your society not at its apex but at its base.”
As we now know, though:
liberals did not have to change. They had to wait. It wasn’t new ideas that fixed Democrats’ problems. It was demographics, and a cultural shift in their direction. In between the era of Nascar angst and this election is the Obama administration. But the bridge between the old view and the new one is Hillary Clinton.
In consequence, poor old Jim Webb has gone from savior to throwback in just under a decade.
Because she doesn’t definitively say, I’m not entirely sure whether Reeve is arguing that demographic change is going to guarantee that the Democratic party owns the future, or whether she is noting just how quickly politics can change. Either way, it is the latter idea that I took away from her essay. Putting herself back in the mid-2000s, she asks:
How could Democrats grow big and strong and win back America’s heart? Demographic trends looked bleak, the Los Angeles Times reported: “new long-term population projections from the Census Bureau show that anyone who believes Democrats can consistently win the White House without puncturing the Republican dominance across the South is just whistling Dixie.” (The demographic tables have turned.) Democrats concluded “their party must speak in language familiar to, among others, the disaffected hog farmers of Missouri,” the New Yorker reported in May 2006.
That was just 9 years ago. Now, we hear pretty much exactly the opposite.
I don’t know what the future will hold. But, as I argued in my book, the press has a weird tendency to presume that what is true now will be true always. In 2004, the GOP was going to win forever; in 2008, it was going to go the way of the Whigs. After Bush was re-elected, America was a conservative country! When Obama replaced him, America was a progressive country! Maybe, just maybe, history doesn’t work like that?