James Webb and Obama’s Scots-Irish Problem

Jim Webb courtesy of NBC

Now that Josh Marshall has outlined Barack Obama’s political problem with the Scots-Irish, the table has been set for the solution: James Webb. Webb, who appeared yesterday on Meet the Press pushing a new book would blunt some of Obama’s political weaknesses. Webb also supplied the cover story for the highly read but buzz-free Parade Magazine yesterday.

Marshall argues in a sharp post, which reflects his background as a Phd in history, that Obama’s inability to win in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia stemmed, in part, from long-standing tensions between Appalachian highlanders and lowlanders. Marshall explains: “These regions were settled disproportionately by Scots-Irish immigrants who pushed into the hill country to the west in part because that’s where the affordable land was but also because they wanted to get away from the more stratified and inegalitarian society of the east which was built by English settlers and their African slaves. Crucially, slavery never really took root in these areas. And this is why during the Civil War, Unionism (as in support for the federal union and opposition to the treason of secession) ran strong through the Appalachian upcountry, even into Deep South states like Alabama and Mississippi.”

Enter Mr. Scots-Irish, Webb, who is the author of a popular history of the Scots-Irish in America, “Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America.” Webb reclaims the Scots-Irish identity in the book:

“This people gave our country great things…It’s bloodlines have flowed in the veins of at least a dozen presidents, and in many of our greatest soldiers. It created and still perpetuates the most distinctly American form of music. It is imbued with a unique and unforgiving code of personal honor, less ritualized but every bit as powerful as the samurai code. It’s legacy is broad, in many ways defining the attitudes and values of the military, of working-class America, and even of the peculiarly populist form of American democracy itself.”

Webb, like his fellow Scots-Irish counterpart John McCain, famously graduated from Annapolis and served in Vietnam. Should Webb end up on the ticket, it would be ironic that McCain blurbed his book. “James Webb, a legendary fighting man, tells a remarkable story — how the Scots-Irish and their fighting faith in America shaped the great nation we are today,” McCain wrote back before Webb was a senator or even a candidate for the senate. “His profound insights deepen our understanding not only of this unique people, but also of America’s past and present.”

And future, it could be added, if Marshall is correct in his Appalachian hypothesis. But for the fact that Webb is even more junior in the senate than Obama — albeit carrying strong military credentials — he would be a logical running mate for the Illinois senator.

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3 Responses to “James Webb and Obama’s Scots-Irish Problem”

  1. Mike Says:

    Seth brings up an intersting notion regarding Webb. I think Sen. Webb’s lack of Senatorial experience could be more than offset by his family experience — his son was active duty when he was running for Senate. Indeed, Webb wore a pair of his son’s field boots pretty much non-stop through that campaign and rebuffed the casual inquiry by the President regarding his son’s tour during one of that campaign’s stops.

    The former Navy Sec and author of 6 books could be of tremendous influence and value.

  2. michael castaldo Says:

    this is a fascinating angle that i have not considered before. thanks seth for adding to my knowledge base – again!

  3. Bex Says:

    Webb for secretary of defense instead?

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