Saturday, January 27, 2007

SOTU Democratic Response

Thanks to my mother, I sometimes read political blogs. However, recently I've been feeling like I've just been reading the opinions of many white upper middle class guys. And reading the largely positive responses to Jim Webb's State of the Union Response and how great it was, this feeling has only become stronger.

When Webb was elected, he was dubbed a populist or a "people powered candidate." My far left politics nonwithstanding, I'm somewhat wary of white populists. According to my understanding of American history, many populists and labor organizers have historically mobilized working class whites against those swarthier than they. The questions of race and exclusion have played a large part in the history of organized labor. And anti-immigrant sentiment has always flared when jobs are scarce. Asian American history is an excellent example of this.

Looking at Webb's response to GWB's State of the Union address, there were a couple things that sort of bothered me. One of course was the mention of the "good American jobs" that were going overseas. It marks Webb to me as a populist to some extent. He positions himself in support of the working classes and the have nots. However, the flipside of the good American job line is that it has been frequently used in anti-immigration rhetoric and still is. I found its presence in Webb's speech rather disturbing. There was nothing overt about it, but to me it felt like a line was being drawn in the sand.

Furthermore, the presidents he referenced in his speech, Teddy Roosevelt, Andrew Jackson, Eisenhower, were all war hero presidents. Given the circumstances surrounding the State of the Union address it's really not all that surprising. I find it sort of interesting to note, however, that many of these presidents became war heroes by imposing American imperialism upon those swarthier than they. Webb even identifies as a "Jacksonian Democrat." As I recall, Old Hickory, who was a populist president, spent a large part of his career murdering Native Americans. Populism has often widened divisions between white people and people of color rather than it's united them.

For all that he's married to an Asian American lady and has a half Asian kid. And for all that he won his election based on the racial remarks made by George Allen to his South Asian staffer. For all that I still prefer him to George Allen. (I would probably prefer Pauly Shore to George Allen.) Webb isn't a populist for Americans who look like me.

Oh yeah, Webb's Vietnamese American wife account of how "her husband often teases her about the escape. "He says that if [U.S. troops] hadn't rescued me, I'd be snaggletoothed and selling pencils on the streets of Saigon," she said. "It wouldn't be too far from the truth. If I'd stayed behind in Vietnam, I wouldn't be where I am today."
doesn't really make me want to jump on the bandwagon either.


exangelena said...

I've never been a fan of populists of the Pat Buchanan variety or scapegoating immigrants and outsourcing (I say go after the companies instead). It might be the generation divide, too - I'm not sure exactly how old Webb is, but he's probably from a generation that celebrated Columbus Day without qualms. And I've heard older white politicians say that they support Theodore Roosevelt Republicanism, as it relates to environmentalism and a slightly more moderate approach to economic policy (well, as compared to the ultraconservatism of McKinley and Taft) because they're ignorant about the darker imperialism aspects of his presidency.
Did you read the story about the South Asian staffer staying with Webb's parents during the macaca incident? I wonder how that went ...
I haven't looked at a demographic analysis of the VA senate results, but I suspect that the white Reagan Democrat coming home angle is somewhat overrated. Some pundits have credited the influx of middle-class residents in the Washington suburbs - many of whom are Asian or South Asian - with the state's recent Democratic lean.

exangelena said...

Interesting links:
Asian American filmmaker comments on George Allen's "macaca" slurs and the real Virginia
Asian Pacific Americans for Progress

little light said...

I am really glad I'm not the only one who cringed visibly at the proud "Jacksonian Democrat" claim.
Jackson was mostly known for mudslinging, anti-intellectualism, calling out opponents' patriotism, and killing Native Americans, along with the whole Battle of New Orleans thing.
Honestly. Have some political sense, Webb ol' pal, even if you don't see the problem with these things.

lovelesscynic said...

Yeah, I read political blogs from time to time, and those guys all love Webb a lot. On one hand, I understand where they're coming from. He did bring us the Democratic majority in the Senate. And he did come out of nowhere, as a "people-powered" candidate as they say.

I guess, I just feel like drawing your ideology from Jackson and other such populists is good for them in some ways. In touch with the "common people", manly, etc. However that rhetoric also has another side.

I guess that's just how I feel about the whole thing. And when I hear Webb talking about all these war presidents, I am reminded that I am in fact just listening to a bunch of white guys talking to each other. I'm still not involved in the conversation.

Thanks Little Light, I'm kind of glad, someone else is not a huge fan of Jim Webb. I never have been.

disreputable bird said...

Oh well, I'm just always so glad I don't have to listen to George Allen on the C-SPAN anymore (also very fond of Bob Casey, altho he's sometimes soporific, because I don't have to see Rick Santorum anymore) that Webb looks pretty good to me. He says some right things, by my lights, and some things that are like... er, passable. After all, Webb was Reagan's secretary of the navy and also wouldn't shake John Kerry's hand because he didn't approve of Kerry's anti-Vietnam war actions, so he's not exactly John Conyers Jr. But he's an improvement.

There's this media fixation right now on so-called manly Democrats, which is very tiresome. It seems to be part of a swoony trend, as Avedon Carol points out in her post on Chuck Hagel Stupid school-boy crush

Sometimes we're deeply unserious people. Whatever, tho, Webb's moving some of the discussion in the right direction, and at this point, 6 years into the Bush-Cheney administration, that's good enough for me.

Laurel said...

Snaggletoothed? Jesus! Would you really marry someone who said shit like that? It worries me.

lovelesscynic said...

well, I wouldn't. But she certainly did.

disreputable bird said...

For what it's worth, here's Webb on the term "Jacksonian Democrat," from an NPR interview:

NPR: "Then you'd say you are focused on the gap between rich and poor?"

Webb: "I think Andrew Jackson said it first, and said it best, when he indicated that you measure the health of a society not at its apex, but at its base. You measure the true health of a society not by what the stock market is doing, but what the average-wage earner is facing.

"I don't think there are too many of us who are over here on the so-called populist side who want to see the American economy stutter; what we want to see is a much fairer distribution of the benefits of this economy."

(So I agree with exangelena about people's narrow definitions of the terms they use. Whether or not they should be more careful or specific - eh, that's another matter...)