CBS’s Smith: Sen. Jim Webb ‘The Least Political Person I Know’

On Monday’s CBS "Early Show," co-host Harry Smith interviewed Democratic Senator from Virginia, Jim Webb, about the Senator’s new book and began by declaring that: "...you seem to me the least political person I know who's ever run for political office." [Audio available here] Of course this is the same non-political Jim Webb that said he "wanted to slug" President Bush after a White House meeting in which the President asked how Webb’s son, a Marine serving in Iraq, was doing.

Smith went on to ask Webb: "What was that like? Talk about your experience of running for the Senate and were you really prepared for the rough and tumble of what it was really like?" Webb proceeded to give his resume, perhaps in preparation for a vice-presidential nomination: "I've been involved in political debate for my entire adult life. You know, I've got four years as a committee counsel in the Congress, five years in the Pentagon, was Secretary of the Navy, journalist, written a lot of – " Smith then interjected: "Phenomenal novels." Later in the interview, Smith also described Webb’s novels as "amazing."

Webb also decried the "negative stuff" in politics: "And actually that's one of the reasons I decided to write -- write this book is that in the -- all the negative stuff that was flying back and forth, the years of experience that I had in these different policy areas were kind of lost, so." Smith agreed with that assessment: "Yeah, we see it everyday in the politics -- I mean the message gets lost in the arcane – " Speaking of "arcane" issues that cloud American politics, in February, Smith wondered: "Born in the U.S.A. John McCain wasn’t. Can he still be president?" in reference to McCain being born on a military base in Panama.

Webb continued: "Yeah, everything gets down to 30 second sound bites and controlled message and these sorts of things, when we need to think deeply a lot about -- about a lot of these issues so we can come to better conclusions." Of course it was the infamous 30 second sound bite of incumbent Republican Senator George Allen referring to a member of Webb’s campaign staff as "macaca" that ultimately led to Webb’s victory in 2006.

At the end of the segment, Smith asked Webb about the possibility of a VP nomination and Webb replied: "I'm happy were I am. You know, I think we've been able to a lot of good things and what we have to do is get a government that can -- that can bring people across party lines." Wanting to punch the President of United States is probably not a good start for bipartisanship.

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

8:06AM SEGMENT:

HARRY SMITH: Senator Jim Webb proudly claims to be the only person in the history of Virginia to be elected with a union card, two Purple Hearts, and three tattoos. He's also the author of nine books, including his latest work, hitting bookstores today, 'A Time to Fight: Reclaiming a Fair and Just America.' And Senator Webb is with us live this morning.

JIM WEBB: Morning.

SMITH: I want to talk about the GI Bill -- the new GI Bill in just a second. But you seem to me the least political person I know who's ever run for political office. What was that like? Talk about your experience of running for the Senate and were you really prepared for the rough and tumble of what it was really like?

WEBB: Well, you know, I've been involved in political debate for my entire adult life. You know, I've got four years as a committee counsel in the Congress, five years in the Pentagon, was Secretary of the Navy, journalist, written a lot of --

SMITH: Phenomenal novels.

WEBB: Et cetera.

SMITH: Right.

WEBB: But no I -- you know, the difference between writing about politics and running for office is the difference between reading a book and writing a book. It's totally different.

SMITH: Right.

WEBB: I had no comprehension of what a campaign would be like.

SMITH: Let alone getting into the Senate, which you described as what, 'a jar of 100 scorpions.'

WEBB: When carefully balanced, don't shake -- be careful how you shake the jar, you know.

SMITH: Exactly what?

WEBB: Well, you know, I -- I started -- the one thing that I did not comprehend at the beginning was how much money drives politics. I started nine months to the day before the election, against an incumbent who had a lot of money, with zero dollars and no campaign staff. And so I found myself on the one hand trying to -- to do all the things that people usually do years before and get my message out. And actually that's one of the reasons I decided to write -- write this book is that in the -- all the negative stuff that was flying back and forth, the years of experience that I had in these different policy areas were kind of lost, so.

SMITH: Yeah, we see it everyday in the politics -- I mean the message gets lost in the arcane –

WEBB: Yeah, everything gets down to 30 second sound bites and controlled message and these sorts of things, when we need to think deeply a lot about -- about a lot of these issues so we can come to better conclusions.

SMITH: Went to Annapolis, served in Vietnam, amazing novels that you wrote about your service over there. You're working very hard on the GI Bill and one of the aspects of it is to guarantee somebody who serves a college education. Why can't this get passed?

WEBB: We -- we -- I think we'll get it passed this year, I really hope we do. I -- it was a surprise to me that it would be this difficult, the concept's very easy. We say this is the next greatest generation, give them the same opportunity to a first class future that the greatest generation had. Give the same GI Bill, pay their tuition in school, buy their -- buy their books, give them a stipend.

SMITH: Right.

WEBB: I started off -- I introduced the bill my first day in office and started bringing people in and working across the lines to try and make this a non-partisan issue and we now have 58 sponsors in the Senate, more than 300 sponsors in the House and a --

SMITH: Yeah, you need about two more.

WEBB: We need -- we need a president who's -- who won't veto it.

SMITH: Yeah. Very quickly, your name has been thrown around as a possible vice presidential running mate. If asked would you serve?

WEBB: I'm happy were I am. You know, I think we've been able to a lot of good things and what we have to do is get a government that can -- that can bring people across party lines. I mean, I go back, I was in the Reagan Administration, watching Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill, you know bash into each other all day and then go have a beer at six o'clock. Sensibly I was never there with them, but that kind of concept of government what we need to bring back.

SMITH: Yeah, comity was the word we used to hear from once -- once in a while. Senator thank you --

WEBB: We can get there.

SMITH: Yeah. Thank you very much for being here.

WEBB: Sure.

SMITH: The name of the book: 'A Time to Fight: Reclaiming a Fair and Just America.' And you can find out more about it on our website.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC