In Cormac McCarthy’s novel No Country for Old Men aging Sheriff Ed Tom Bell laments the events unfolding around him in his West Texas town.
His once-peaceful county has erupted in violence. The world has changed; he has changed, too, but not in the same way.
“I always thought I could at least someway put things right and I guess I just don’t feel that way no more. … I’m bein asked to stand for somethin that I dont have the same belief in it I once did.”
It was with the same melancholy and frustration that former Sen. Jim Webb announced Tuesday he was suspending his campaign for the White House.
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Why? Because there was no place for him in the Democratic Party.
Most Americans probably have never heard of Jim Webb.
Fewer still are aware that he was seeking the Democratic nomination for president.
Indeed, his presidential bid was a long shot. He barely registered in the polls.
But as far as candidates go, Webb had a lot to offer.
An author and screenplay writer, his résumé was unique to the Democratic field.
A Naval Academy graduate, Webb served as a Marine company commander in Vietnam and received multiple commendations for his service.
After a stint as a House staffer, he was appointed assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs by President Ronald Reagan. In 1987, Webb became secretary of the Navy.
But the gruff-talking Marine broke with the GOP on Iraq. He adamantly opposed the invasion, pointedly asking in a 2002 Washington Post op-ed whether “we as a nation are prepared to physically occupy territory in the Middle East for the next 30 to 50 years.”
In retrospect, his position seems prescient.
Webb’s Republican ties weren’t a hurdle to his political future at first. He won a Senate seat as a Democrat in 2006, elected to represent an increasingly purple Virginia.
The rising star legislator was even asked to deliver the Democratic response to President George W. Bush’s 2007 State of the Union Address.
And in the Senate, Webb served the Obama administration well. He was a reliable Democrat, rarely breaking from his party’s agenda.
But Webb never quite lost his affinity for conservatism, and that was his undoing in an era of hyper-partisianship.
In his remarks Tuesday, he articulated this dilemma: “Some people say I am a Republican who became a Democrat, but that I often sound like a Republican in a room full of Democrats or a Democrat in a room full of Republicans.”
That dynamic was evident during Webb’s performance during the first Democratic presidential debate.
“I got a great deal of admiration and affection for Sen. Sanders. But, Bernie, I don’t think the revolution’s going to come. And I don’t think Congress is going to pay for a lot of this stuff,” he bluntly informed his self-proclaimed socialist opponent.
Indeed, there is a streak of conservatism, or at least realism, running through Webb.
Much to the annoyance of his largely progressive audience, Webb bragged about his service under Reagan and his efforts in the Senate to reach across the aisle.
If that wasn’t the nail in his coffin, then Webb’s response to a question about his greatest enemy certainly was. “I’d have to say the enemy soldier that threw their grenade that wounded me,” Webb said. In contrast, front-runner Hillary Clinton said, “Republicans.”
A decade ago, Webb’s centrism, his military service and his interest in political compromise — if only rhetorical — would have been seen as an asset in the Democratic Party.
Today, they are reasons to ignore him. Any move toward the center, any suggestion of bipartisanship, is a liability.
It’s widely accepted that the nature of contemporary politics has driven the party power structures to the extremes, but this seems most evident in the Democratic Party.
Webb said so himself.
“My views on many issues are not compatible with the power structure and the nominating base of the Democratic Party. … Its hierarchy is not comfortable with many of the policies that I have laid forth, and frankly I am not that comfortable with many of theirs.”
What’s profoundly sad about Webb’s withdrawal is that his political perspective is probably more similar to that of millions of frustrated Americans.
And like Webb, they are finding there is no longer room for moderation; no party for those in the middle.
Just like Sheriff Bell, it seems this is no longer a country for people like Jim Webb.