Steve Teles, resisting the backlash, lists his reasons why Obama should choose Jim Webb for VP. Ezra Klein, meanwhile, argues that for all the political juice he might bring, Webb deserves better than the VP position. He wonders if Webb could make the compromises it takes to be a loyal second to the president:
This would be a less critical question were Webb’s beliefs not both idiosyncratic and strongly held. Some of Webb’s positions, like his opposition to Clinton’s soft approach toward China in the 1990s (a critique he reprises in A Time To Fight), suggest conflicts with the mainstream of the party. His skepticism of the intervention in Bosnia — and the type of war that represented — could bring him into conflict with Obama, who viewed the deployment more positively. His commitment to the military’s ability to control its own culture could have him locking horns with liberals down the road. And that’s not even getting into his continuing fury toward those who protested the Vietnam War.
I agree with both Steve and Ezra in that I think Webb would be a politically useful choice but the inherent contradictions in a potential Obama/Webb administration would be spectacular. The combination would certainly not “work,” if “working” means “engendering political support, administrative harmony, and ideological coherence all at the same time.” But this is the sort of political failure I’d most like to see, and I say this without a trace of Schadenfreude. If we assume for a minute that the Republican party will implode, rather than resurrect itself as a legitimate opposition party, then the new alignments of American politics will probably emerge from the tensions in the ruling Democratic establishment.
The case against our two-party system is that citizens get stuck with false disputes around a consensus imposed by the political elite. I have no doubt that we’d be doomed to the same fate under whatever polarity emerges, but the inherent contradictions between Webb and Obama could serve as good poles around which future debates could coalesce.
For example, we’re probably stuck with a maximalist view of America’s role in the world. Global hegemony is taken for granted across the political mainstream, so the only influential disputes take place at the margins of this consensus. Once you resign yourself to empire, though, there are real differences between Obama’s interventionist impulses (and I agree with Daniel Larison that he has them, if not to the extent that Daniel describes) and Webb’s vision of force projection through sea power. I happen to believe that the latter is less likely than the former to get us mired in more Eurasian land wars, and might be the best stance for someone like myself to grudgingly take.
Of course, this assumes that the tension between president and VP can actually amount to anything more than hurt feelings and a few sensational interviews. Could the Obama/Webb contradictions actually work their way into real politics? Maybe we’ll get the chance to find out.