Lerner Reviews Senator Jim Webb's Most Recent Book

The October/November issue of the Hoover Institution's Policy Review contains an in-depth review by Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor Craig Lerner of Senator Jim Webb's most recent book, A Time to Fight: Reclaiming a Fair and Just America. Webb (D-Va.) was elected to the United States Senate in 2006 and is a novelist whose works include bestsellers that have received critical acclaim.

Lerner traces themes such as manliness, the martial virtues, and the concept of blood as destiny through Webb's novels and points to the author's effort to recover the pride of the Scots-Irish settlers and tell their story in his latest book. It is those Americans whose fighting and individualistic culture is now centered in states that tend to vote Republican in national elections, says Lerner. "Undoing the conection between the Scots-Irish culture and the party of Lincoln is the core of Webb's project in A Time to Fight," he explains.

Fighting Words, Policy Review, October/November. By Craig S. Lerner.

"In Webb’s view, the top echelon of the Democratic Party still consists of people who made their bones fighting the culture wars of the 1960s and 1970s and whose priorities are misguided as a result. Despite these concerns, he threw in with the Democrats soon after President George W. Bush’s election in 2000. He suggests there were two reasons. First is that the Republicans have, through various policies, coddled the 'very rich' in ways that have entrenched a money 'aristocracy.' America, in Webb’s view, is calcifying along class lines, and he makes disapproving references to globalization, immigration, nafta, the wto, and executive compensation. The second reason for Webb’s political conversion was the invasion of Iraq. He belabors his misgivings with this venture, documenting their origins prior to the messy occupation that turned some cheerleaders into skeptics. The wisdom of the invasion can, of course, be fairly debated, but Webb takes the charge a dubious step farther, accusing the war’s planners with not simply negligence, but 'conscious deception.' He adduces little evidence to support this latter claim, and it would seem that Webb’s animus towards the Bush administration has skewed his judgment. He berates Republican leaders as ‘"chicken hawks" who talked up the war [in Iraq] but who had "other priorities" when it came to serving' in Vietnam. It sometimes seems that Webb is unable to quite trust a man who has never been in combat, especially when he opines on matters of state. As he writes in one novel, veterans 'purchased their right to congregate and debate American foreign policy by sailing off to places like Belleau Wood and Biak Island.'

"Webb seeks to reclaim the Scots-Irish culture for the Democratic Party, but it will be a tricky sell as long as the party’s standard bearer, in unguarded moments, derides those who 'cling to guns or religion.' In the hopes of galvanizing his fellow Scots-Irish, he tars the Republicans as the party of the rich, but it is not a wholly credible accusation. Had Webb cast his gaze at his fellow senators, he would be forced to acknowledge that the richest (Kerry, Kohl, Rockefeller, Kennedy) tend to be Democrats. Webb’s preference for classically manly activities renders him skeptical of the value of any labor, such as investment banking, that does not generate calloused hands, and he singles out the great Goldman Sachs for censure; but in fact these masters of the universe have given more to Democrats than to Republicans in the latest election cycle by a two-to-one margin. Although he complains that 'an uncaring amorality has seized much of America’s business community,' Webb offers few, if any, concrete proposals to promote 'economic fairness,' and the book’s concluding chapter fails to deliver on its portentous title: 'What Then Must We Do?' The chapter meanders for some time, recounting his experiences as a platoon leader, then riffs into a discussion of a movie and a novel, and only in the final page is the flaccid punch line delivered: America should 'find good leaders and hold them accountable.' Suffice it to say that Webb’s rifle is locked and loaded, as it has always been, but he is still looking for a target."

Read the review