Jim Webb’s Stubborn Nostalgia for the Confederacy

Having said earlier today that there really aren’t any Democrats left who defend the display of Confederate insignia anywhere other than a museum, I was pretty shocked to read that a putative 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, Jim Webb, was waffling on the issue. MoJo’s Max Blumenthal and Tim Murphy remind us today that Webb has a long history of sympathy for both the Confederate soldier (who of course was not necessarily complicit in the crimes he was implicitly defending) and for southern white resistance to Reconstruction (a very different matter). One passage from a 2004 book that passionately made the latter argument was, the MoJo writers note, repeated in Webb’s 2014 memoir.

Still, might not Webb get with the program now that there is fresh bipartisan impetus to relegate the Lost Cause to the past for good? Here’s an update from Blumenthal and Murphy:

Webb has weighed in on his Facebook page, writing that “[t]his is an emotional time and we all need to think through these issues with a care that recognizes the need for change but also respects the complicated history of the Civil War.” He calls for “mutual respect” and says the flag shouldn’t be used “as a political symbol that divides us,” but does not take any clear stance on the flag publicly displayed on the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse.

Blumenthal and Murphy also point out something else I hadn’t realized:

Webb’s longtime strategist, Dave “Mudcat” Saunders, is an even more ardent fan and defender of the Confederacy. As the New Yorker reported in 2008, Saunders “sleeps under a Rebel-flag quilt, and when challenged on such matters he has invited his inquisitors to ‘kiss my Rebel ass’—his way of making the point that when Democrats are drawn into culture battles by prissy liberal sensitivities they usually lose the larger war.” Saunders is currently advising Webb on his potential presidential campaign.

Ugh. I’ve never been a fan of Mudcat’s Dixified shtick, which has often conflated stereotyped southern cultural appeals (you know, Mark Warner’s NASCAR vehicle) with genuine issue positions that happen to strike a chord with southern working-class folk. I didn’t realize Sanders was still in Webb’s circle (though anyone who has looked at the vote patterns in Webb’s one Senate victory in 2006 probably knows Webb didn’t win by taking Mudcat’s advice; he won with pretty much the same urban-suburban coalition that Tim Kaine put together a year earlier).

In any event, if this is Webb’s final word on the subject I think he’s disqualified himself from serious consideration as a Democratic candidate for president. It’s not entirely news that Webb’s admirable record in the Senate is sometimes overshadowed by conservative cultural attitudes he’s advanced in the past, often, like this one, a product of his stubborn self-identification with the bad as well as the good aspects of the Scots-Irish people from whom he (and for that matter, I) descended. It’s really just too bad.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.