If you watched freshman Virginia Sen. Jim Webb deliver the Democratic response to Bush’s State of the Union speech, you witnessed something historic -- a Democrat on national TV unabashedly ripping into six years of Bush rule for an uninterrupted 10 minutes.
With no O’Reilly or Hannity to disrupt or out-shout him.
Webb offered a populist, anti-corporate stand on economics and a blunt attack on Bush for “recklessly” dragging our country into the Iraq war – a sharply-worded address that must have startled millions of TV viewers accustomed to Democrat vacillation.
It was the kind of stirring appeal, both progressive and patriotic, that could win over voters at election time -- including swing voters, NASCAR dads, soccer moms, even Republican leaners. The new Senator – a novelist and former Secretary of the Navy -- reportedly discarded the speech handed him by Democratic leaders, and wrote his own.
But Webb’s speech was not just a rebuttal to Bush. It was also a pointed response to the tepid pablum that comes out of the mouths of mainstream media-anointed Democratic presidential candidates: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
TV viewers could easily see the contrast between Webb’s words and those of Clinton and Obama, since the two candidates were featured one after another on TV network after network soon after Bush and Webb. Yet they said so little.
Clinton and Obama were the only two Democrats so heavily spotlighted last night – which is how corporate media shape and bias the Democratic race while pretending to just be covering it. John Edwards appeared on a couple shows last night, and was more forceful.
Dennis Kucinich was invisible, though Webb seemed to be channeling Kucinich on economics.
In case you missed it, here’s a bit of what Webb said.
When one looks at the health of our economy, it's almost as if we are living in two different countries. Some say that things have never been better. The stock market is at an all-time high, and so are corporate profits. But these benefits are not being fairly shared. When I graduated from college, the average corporate CEO made 20 times what the average worker did; today, it's nearly 400 times. In other words, it takes the average worker more than a year to make the money that his or her boss makes in one day.
Wages and salaries for our workers are at all-time lows as a percentage of national wealth, even though the productivity of American workers is the highest in the world. Medical costs have skyrocketed. College tuition rates are off the charts. . .
In the early days of our republic, President Andrew Jackson established an important principle of American-style democracy: that we should measure the health of our society not at its apex, but at its base. Not with the numbers that come out of Wall Street, but with the living conditions that exist on Main Street. We must recapture that spirit today.
And Webb, a Marine in Vietnam, offered a blistering attack on the Iraq adventure:
The President took us into this war recklessly. He disregarded warnings from the national security adviser during the first Gulf War, the chief of staff of the army, two former commanding generals of the Central Command. . .and many, many others with great integrity and long experience in national security affairs. We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable - and predicted - disarray that has followed.
Webb called for reversing direction in Iraq: “an immediate shift toward strong regionally-based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq's cities, and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq.”
Webb ended his speech with references to two Republican presidents. He praised Dwight Eisenhower for recognizing the Korean War as a “bloody stalemate” and quickly bringing that war to an end.
And Webb invoked Teddy Roosevelt for standing up to “improper corporate influence” at the beginning of the 20th century:
America was then, as now, drifting apart along class lines. The so-called robber barons were unapologetically raking in a huge percentage of the national wealth. The dispossessed workers at the bottom were threatening revolt.
Whether intended or not, Webb was offering a way for Democrats to win elections -- a script for any presidential candidate who wants to distinguish him or herself in the primaries, and then defeat the Republicans in Nov. 2008.
And if taken from the realm of mere rhetoric to actual policy, a means to reform our country in a way that would give Democrats majority support for years to come.
Jeff Cohen is a media critic, recovering TV pundit and author of “Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media”. He consults for Progressive Democrats of America.