- Foreign Policy & National Security
- Economic Fairness & Social Justice
- Government Accountability & Balance of Powers
June 3, 2014
Subject: Jim Webb, Re-entering the Debate
When I left the Senate in January, 2013, I decided to take a full year away from all media interviews, editorial articles, and direct political activities. Part of this decision was personal, as Hong and I readjusted to life away from the Senate. Part of it was professional, as I returned to the routine of writing, resulting in my tenth book I Heard My Country Calling, which was published on May 20th. And part of it was due to my desire simply to reflect privately on the very serious issues that confront our country, as I have done several times in the past after leaving other periods of public service.
I am now ready to re-enter the debate, and I am asking that you consider helping me do so. In recent years the political arguments in this country have become ever more extreme and unproductive, long on speeches and short on results. I don’t need to tell you that our country has suffered for it. I’m often reminded of what the legendary Congressman Sam Rayburn once said – that “any jackass can kick a barn door down, but it takes a carpenter to build one.”
That doesn’t mean that this has to be the case. The results we were able to accomplish during my time in the Senate prove it. People often say that you can’t get anything done in Washington, and that bipartisan solutions have become impossible. I happen to disagree. We did great things during my six years in the Senate, despite the paralysis that has characterized so much of our political process.
As soon as I was elected to the Senate in 2006 – and even before I was sworn in as a Senator – I sat down with legislative counsel and wrote the Post 9/11 GI Bill. I introduced it on my first day in office. Despite the strong opposition of the Bush Administration and some of its congressional allies, I worked hard with members on both sides of the aisle. We proved that bipartisan cooperation was possible. Within 16 months we passed the most important piece of veterans’ legislation since World War Two, giving those who have served since 9/11 the best GI Bill in history.
We also brought economic fairness to the forefront of the discussion, years before it became such a frequently discussed topic. In early 2007 when I was asked to give the rebuttal to President Bush’s State of the Union address I made economic fairness the dominant topic of the speech.
From my positions on the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees we were able to capitalize on my years of military and Pentagon service and my long-time involvement with foreign policy, particularly in Asia. From my Senate office we originated what later became known as the “pivot” to East Asia, two years before President Obama’s election. I have spent a lot of time in Asia during my life and while in the Senate I made many trips to the region, meeting with numerous national leaders, focusing heavily on strengthening our relations with South Korea, Japan, and the ASEAN countries, particularly Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and Burma. In 2009 I made an historic visit to Burma, becoming the first American leader to visit that country in ten years and opening up a dialogue that eventually resulted in political changes that few believed were possible.
Directly from our Senate office, we led the national discussions on criminal justice reform that that brought our country’s broken criminal justice system out of the shadows and into legitimate public debate. When I first started talking about the vital need to fix our criminal justice system many political advisers were warning me that even to discuss the matter in a state such as Virginia was political suicide. But it is the essence of leadership to find problems, to reach for solutions, and to take personal risks on behalf of the public good. After numerous hearings and scores of meetings, we developed legislation that was supported across the philosophical spectrum, from key law enforcement groups to the ACLU and the Sentencing Project. Once avoided by political leaders as a discussion topic for fear of being labeled soft on crime, our nation is now, finally, having an open discussion, with support from both political parties.
These issues, and others like them, can indeed be solved. What it takes is leadership.
Over the past couple of years I have become increasingly worried about the future of our country. The problem in our country is not something as simple as a budget deficit. It is the pervasive lack of vision, courage and practical problem-solving at the national level. We are suffering from a leadership deficit.
I want to do what I can to help move things in a better direction. I would like to lend my support to good leaders who share these concerns, in some cases to help them win re-election and in others encouraging them to run for office.
Frankly, in order to do so, I need your help. Those who are comfortable with the status quo are not going to invest in the kind of changes that strong, innovative leadership is capable of bringing to our economic and political systems.
If you trust my vision and are able to help, I can pledge to you that I will do my best to help bring greater fairness and a more sensible foreign policy to our country. Your contribution will not be wasted.
Thanks again for all of your support.