Agenda for Shared Prosperity

In the media

Webb's 'Economic Fairness' Marked His Campaign
By Greg Giroux
The New York Times
January 12, 2007

Virginia Democrat Jim Webb's narrowly successful Senate campaign in 2006 — the one that clinched the party's majority in the 110th Congress — attracted attention mainly for two reasons.

One was Webb's strong opposition to the Bush administration's policies in Iraq, views that gained greater potency because of his background as Vietnam War veteran and former Republican who served as Navy secretary under President Ronald Reagan.

And anyone who followed the Virginia Senate race surely knows that Webb received significant, though wholly unintentional, help in the form of a series of gaffes by Republican incumbent George Allen, who entered the race as a solid favorite to win a second term and squandered a big lead in the polls.

Because these two factors so dominated public discussion of the contest, one factor that marked Webb's campaign was often overlooked: His vocal and constant promotion of what he called "economic fairness" issues.

Though he prevailed in a Southern border state with a record of favoring conservative candidates, Webb has promoted a populist economic platform that highlights what he views as the perils of globalization and of corporate excess — including a growing divide between the affluent and less fortunate, and stagnating wages at a time when "macro" economic indicators are strong.

This aspect of Webb's agenda was highlighted Thursday when he spoke to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a left-leaning think tank, as part of its "Agenda for Shared Prosperity Project."

The project spotlights policies and proposals that include providing universal health care coverage, increasing the minimum wage, promoting "fair" trade policies that stem an "outsourcing" of jobs overseas and increasing investments in infrastructure.

Webb may yet become as readily identified for his economic stands as he is as an Iraq War opponent. One week after the Nov. 7 election, Webb wrote an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, not about Iraq, but about what he said was the most important issue in politics today: "our society's steady drift toward a class-based system, the likes of which we have not seen since the 19th century."

EPI President Lawrence Mishel referenced Webb's writing in his introduction of the new senator, whom Mishel said was "an economic populist in the tradition of Andrew Jackson and Harry Truman."

Webb said Thursday that he wants to "re-emphasize his commitment" to issues of economic fairness. Among other things, he expressed concern about the growing gap in compensation between corporate executives and average workers.

"Every single speech that I made for the entire campaign, I laid out the fact that we must get back to economic fairness — that we measure the health of a society not by what is happening at the apex, but by what is happening at the base," Webb said.

"We measure the health of a society not simply by what the stock market is doing," Webb added, "but whether the people who are doing the work of society are truly receiving a fair share" of the benefits.

Webb said that he planned to meet regularly and hash out ideas for legislative remedies with colleagues such as North Dakota Democratic Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, a prominent farm-state populist and a critic of corporations and other large entities.

He also cited a trio of fellow freshmen senators who struck similar themes in their own winning campaigns last November: Democrat Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a voluble opponent of trade pacts, who defeated Republican Sen. Mike DeWine; Democrat Jon Tester of Montana, who unseated Republican Sen. Conrad Burns; and Bernard Sanders of Vermont, the liberal and Democratic-allied independent who succeeded retired independent Sen. James M. Jeffords.

Webb said that he wants to "work on strong legislative proposals and intellectual approaches so that we can actually bring some true changes, rather than simply remonstrate about these issues."

Another participant in Thursday's event was Judy Feder, a Georgetown University dean and health policy expert who was the Democratic nominee in Virginia's northern 10th District in 2006. Feder lost by 57 percent to 41 percent to veteran Republican Rep. Frank R. Wolf.


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