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Jim Webb's Baggage


Before Democrats get too enamored with the idea of the seemingly perfect-on-paper Obama/Webb ticket, it is worth revisiting Jim Webb's background, and specifically an article he wrote for the Washingtonian in November 1979 entitled "Women Can't Fight." In the lengthy article, Webb is blunt and stark as he makes a case for why women should not be sent into military combat or train with men at military academies. Some of the more incendiary quotes from the article include the following:

I should say that I believe most of what has happened over the past decade in the name of sexual equality has been good. It is good to see women doctors and lawyers and executives. I can visualize a woman president. If I were British, I would have supported Margaret Thatcher. But no benefit to anyone can come from women serving in combat.
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There is a place for women in our military, but not in combat. And their presence at institutions dedicated to the preparation of men for combat command is poisoning that preparation. By attempting to sexually sterilize the Naval Academy environment in the name of equality, this country has sterilized the whole process of combat leadership training, and our military forces are doomed to suffer the consequences.
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What are the advantages to us, as a society, of having women in combat units? I don't know of any.

Those who followed the 2006 Senate race in Virginia between Webb and George "Macaca" Allen will remember that Webb was questioned about the article during a debate on Meet the Press. Tim Russert also showed Webb a clip of Cmdr. Kathleen Murray (Ret.), a 1984 graduate of the Naval Academy, stating at a press conference that "James Webb's attitudes and philosophy were major factors behind the unnecessary abuse and hazing received by me and my fellow Midshipmen." While Webb hedged on whether and how the article reflects his current views, he did not flatly apologize for or reject it.

In another year, in which a female candidate hadn't mobilized millions of women voters and hadn't come so close to capturing the Democratic presidential nomination, Webb's article may not have presented as much of a liability to prevent his joining an Obama-led ticket. But this isn't any year. Senator Clinton's historic campaign will almost certainly end in disappointment for her and her ardent supporters, many of whom blame the media's gender bias for her loss. To then be confronted with a vice presidential candidate who couldn't suppress a snickering smile when asked whether he regretted referring to the Naval Academy as "a horny woman's dream," may be rubbing salt in the Democratic party's already deepening wounds.

Clinton and her surrogates have not hidden the fact that she would be interested in joining the ticket as Obama's Vice President. But should she not be asked and instead be passed over for a military man who has held regressive gender views, Clinton supporters who are now threatening to sabotage Obama's candidacy in November may become even more resolved to do so. No matter Webb's current party affiliation, his past views on gender are far from progressive and will give many women and men, both Democrats and Republicans, pause before supporting a ticket of which he is a part.

Webb took pains to explain away as best he could his past statements during his Virgina Senate campaign, but Obama and his advisers will have to decide whether they want to choose a running mate who will then have to re-run the media gauntlet on this issue on a national stage. Strategy-wise, vice-presidential candidates are about adding to a ticket and not causing any distracting, substantive problems for the presidential candidate. For all Webb's attractive political qualities (military experience, blue-collar appeal), he simply may not fit that bill.