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Jim Webb: We need a voice for economic fairness, new doctrine on U.S. security

February 26, 2015 at 6:30 PM EDT
Jim Webb, former senator of Virginia, as well as a veteran, author and the former secretary of the Navy, is one of several men and women who may decide to run for the White House next year. Webb joins Judy Woodruff to discuss American economic challenges, how to handle the Islamic State and what motivates him to consider a presidential bid.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tonight, we begin a series of interviews with the men and women who are considering running for president next year. It is a wide field from both the left and the right.

And we start with Democrat Jim Webb of Virginia. He’s an author and veteran who served six years in the United States Senate and was secretary of the Navy under President Reagan.

Senator Jim Webb, thank you for joining us.

FORMER SEN. JIM WEBB, (D) Virginia: Well, thank you for having me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you formed an exploratory committee. Why are you considering running?

JIM WEBB: I think leadership.

I think the country really is in need of leadership that people can trust. And this is sort of the third time that I have done this in my professional career, in terms of deciding to come into public service after leaving for a while. I have had to — this professional life, where almost exactly half the time, I have worked as a writer and a business consultant, sole proprietor.

And then, half the time, I have been in public service. And I came back in actually to the Reagan administration after I had been in Beirut with and when the building blew up and 240 Americans died, I called the Reagan administration, who I had talked to before. And I said, I think it’s time to put my oar in the water and actually try and lead and do some things, rather than to observe.

I did the same thing when I ran for Senate. And so I think I have had a set of experiences inside and outside of public service that would help me understand the issues that we have, and hopefully be able to put together the kind of an administration that can actually get things done.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What would be, say, the economic landmark of a Webb administration? What would you do, for example, about — to get employers to raise wages in this country?

JIM WEBB: Well, I think we have seen, over about the last — over the last 30 years the breakdown of the way that our corporate leaders took care of the average American worker.

And I have spoken about this during the Senate campaign and during the time that I was in the Senate, that we don’t — we don’t have two Americas anymore. We have three Americas. We have people at the very top who have moved away from the working people in the country. And we’re seeing two different sets of challenges with respect to working people.

The first is growing our economy, getting manufacturing jobs back. We can do that by reducing the corporate income tax, eliminating loopholes, incentivizing the money to come back in. The American worker is the most productive worker in the world.

The second is the reality, particularly among younger workers today, that the old model doesn’t work anymore. People are basically becoming independent contractors, rather than full-time workers. And we have to create solutions for people who are in that situation over a career.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You have also talked the two parties — both parties, you said, have been taken over by elites.

Hillary Clinton is someone you have suggested, and along with others, who may be too close to Wall Street. How do you see that part of what the Democratic Party has done?

JIM WEBB: Well, I haven’t really commented, and I don’t want to comment, on other people who might be running. But…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because one assumes she’s the front-runner, even though she hasn’t announced.

JIM WEBB: But, in general, I think we need to be developing formulas that will create an understanding of true fairness in our country.

And the biggest breakdown, if you look at the time period from April 2009 to today, when the recession bottomed out and started to come back, has basically been between people who have capital safeties, people who are part of the corporate environment particularly, and people who are just salaried workers.

The stock market has tripled since April 2009. It’s above 18000 now. It was about 6400. The average working person’s income has actually gone down, and we need a voice in the Democratic Party that will focus on the economic fairness package as a principal governing factor.

JUDY WOODRUFF: When you said — you have been quoted as saying Democrats have — quote — “used white working males as a whipping post for a lot of their policies,” in an effort to focus on the poor, women, and minorities.

JIM WEBB: Well, no, I didn’t say on an effort to focus on the poor, women, and minorities. There are a lot of poor white working people.

Here’s — I think what I said has been a little misunderstood by some of the people who have been reporting on it. If you look at, for instance, your show, your recent show that talked about the demographics looking into, I think 2060, was on your show. And one of the projections was that, by 2060, I think it was 37 states will be majority minority.

The term majority minority is an Orwellian term. It shows what’s happened in this country, and that is that we have all these different racial groups that have I think aligned themselves by party, rather than by economic circumstances. Every single racial group in this country has people who are very successful and people who are not.

And that also includes the whites, by culture, rather than simply individual — individuals. The poorest county in America is Clay County, Kentucky, which is 94 percent white. So, what I have been saying is, in terms of inclusiveness in the Democratic Party, they need to include this group and — as we move forward in terms of issues of economic fairness.

JUDY WOODRUFF: White working males.

JIM WEBB: Well — well, you know, that rather than dividing people by race, we should be examining the obligation to everyone in terms of their economic circumstances.

I think the Democratic Party can do a much better job of this.


JIM WEBB: And we’re going to see a transformation in the American political process over the next 10 to 20 years.

We’re going to put racial politics aside. And we’re going to start looking again at economic issues.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just a word about — excuse me — about foreign policy…


JUDY WOODRUFF: … because you have been very critical of the Obama administration, former Secretary of State Clinton about interventions, in Libya in particular, overseas. You were against the Iraq War under President Bush.

My question is, how far removed would you keep an American military presence? For example, right now in Iraq, the hundreds of U.S. trainers who are there working with the Iraqi military, the Kurds, to fight ISIS, what would you — would you take those trainers out? What would your posture be toward ISIS?

JIM WEBB: Well, again, this wasn’t simply a comment about the Obama administration and Libya.

I have been saying this ever since the end of the Cold War, that we need to have a new doctrine that clearly articulates American security interests around the world, and to build our objectives based on a clearly articulated doctrine.

On the one hand, I did say five months before the invasion of Iraq that this was going to be a strategic blunder. And I did say that the way that we went into Libya creates serious problems for us. But at — on the other hand, I have led what has been called the pivot to Asia. I have focused on this all my adult life…


JIM WEBB: … the fact that we need to be militarily, economically, and culturally strong in East and Southeast Asia. So this isn’t simply, you know, we shouldn’t be using military force.

It’s clearly articulating the circumstances under which we address our national policies.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What would you be doing about ISIS right now?

JIM WEBB: Well, ISIS has demonstrated, I think, clearly that they are an international terrorist organization.

Their principal focus is not the United States. I don’t see that. It is in that region. But since they have demonstrated that they are an international terrorist organization, we should be carefully articulating a military policy that goes after these people. I don’t think there’s any question about that.

That doesn’t mean we should become an occupying force in that part of the world. We now are reaping the consequences of the way that we invaded and occupied Iraq.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jim Webb, who is considering running for president, we thank you for talking with us.

JIM WEBB: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, for the record, Senator Webb won an Emmy for an essay he did for the NewsHour back in 1983 on Marines in Beirut. That was just before the deadly bombing of the Marine barracks there. You can watch that on our Web site,