Over at the New Republic, Eve Fairbanks has a terrific piece about Jim Webb. She hits the nail on the head here:
Webb is supposed to be Obama’s opposite: the angry white politician to Obama’s mild-mannered black one. But, oddly, Webb has something fundamental in common with Obama. Both men felt ill at ease at elite schools, leading them to embark on quests to rediscover their ethnic identities in their twenties. Both deepened these discoveries through writing. And both came to their identities as outsiders–as admiring anthropologists of the identity rather than people for whom the identity was organic from birth. This explains why Webb can celebrate anger without succumbing to it. It also helps explain his appeal to Democrats. Like Obama, he is not simply a member of a group historically important to the party; he is someone who embodies that group, someone who has turned that group’s narrative into his own. Webb–who, in our interview, defended Obama against charges of cultural elitism made by people “trying to cut Barack down”–has shown appreciation for the similarity between their projects. “If [the Scots-Irish] could get at the same table as black America, you could change populist American politics,” he told Joe Scarborough last month, “because they have so much in common in terms of what they need out of government.”
Thanks to their analogous symbolic roles, Webb and Obama have one more politically important and bizarre similarity: They appeal to the same voters, wine-track Democrats who come out in unprecedented droves to vote for a black man or a hillbilly white because they want their party to be bigger than themselves. While you’d expect Webb to attract poor, rural beer-trackers, in his 2006 Senate race he didn’t do any better than the previous Democratic candidate had among Appalachian voters in southwestern Virginia; instead, he was propelled to victory by Northern Virginia suburbanites–Obama’s base.
In fact, Webb’s failure to win Appalachian voters in his race against George Allen might be comparable to Obama’s initial failure to win over black voters in his primary contest with Bobby Rush. Obama was eventually able to win these voters over and perhaps Webb will do the same with his natural constituency. Or maybe Webb would add more to a hypothetical Obama-Webb ticket’s narrative — and its supporters’ desire for a Democratic Party that looks more like America than themselves — than its vote totals.
Hat tip: Dougherty.
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