I’d like to take a few minutes of your time to ask you to consider the most important question facing America today: Is it possible that our next President could actually lay out a vision for the country, and create an environment where leaders from both parties and from all philosophies would feel compelled to work together for the good of the country, despite all of the money and political pressure that now demands they disagree?
As one who spent four years in the Reagan Administration but who served in the Senate as a Democrat, I believe it is possible. It is also necessary. We desperately need to fix our country, and to reinforce the values that have sustained us, many of which have fallen by the wayside in the nasty debates of the last several years. I hope you will consider joining me in that effort.
Over the past few months thousands of concerned Americans from across the political spectrum have urged me to run for President. A constant theme runs through these requests. Americans want positive, visionary leadership that they can trust, at a time when our country is facing historic challenges. They’re worried about the state of our economy, the fairness of our complicated multicultural society, the manner in which we are addressing foreign policy and national security challenges, and the divisive, paralyzed nature of our government itself. They’re worried about the future. They want solutions, not rhetoric.
I share every one of these concerns.
I have proudly spent several periods in government but I’m not a career politician. I come from a family of “citizen soldiers.” My father served 26 years in the Air Force as a pilot and a pioneer in our missile programs. I learned early about the sacrifices a family makes when a member is repeatedly deployed, and also the fulfillment that comes from serving our country. My brother, my son and I all became Marines. I fought as an infantry Marine on one of the Vietnam War’s harshest battlefields. After leaving the Marine Corps I studied law and found a fulfilling career as an author and journalist. But again and again I came back to the personal fulfillment that can only come from public service.
I spent eight years on active duty in the military, four years as a committee counsel in the Congress working to help our veterans, five years in the Pentagon, one as a Marine and four as assistant secretary of defense and Secretary of the Navy. And I spent six years as a member of the United States Senate. Each time I served not with the expectation of making government a career, but to contribute to the good of the country during a period of crisis or great change.
In that spirit I have decided to launch an Exploratory Committee to examine whether I should run for President in 2016. I made this decision after reflecting on numerous political commentaries and listening to many knowledgeable people. I look forward to listening and talking with more people in the coming months as I decide whether or not to run.
A strong majority of Americans agree that we are at a serious crossroads. In my view the solutions are not simply political, but those of leadership. I learned long ago on the battlefields of Vietnam that in a crisis, there is no substitute for clear-eyed leadership. We are the greatest country on earth, overflowing with innovative thinkers. We need bold leadership that can tap into this talent, for the good of the country. We need people who will put the well-being of all of our citizens ahead of any special interest group, and who understand how to manage our complex federal system of government.
Americans are a complicated and unique people. For nearly 250 years, we have been a beacon of hope throughout the world. We are a country founded not by conquest but by the guarantee of freedom. Our Constitution established a government not to protect the dominance of an aristocratic elite, but under the principle that there should be no permanent aristocracy, that every single American should have equal protection under the law, and a fair opportunity to achieve at the very highest levels. Throughout the world, our insistence on individual freedom and opportunity has been at the bottom of what people think when they hear the very word “American.”
We haven’t been perfect and from time to time, as with today, we have drifted to the fringes of allowing the very inequalities that our Constitution was supposed to prevent. Walk into some of our inner cities if you dare, and see the stagnation, poverty, crime, and lack of opportunity that still affects so many African Americans. Or travel to the Appalachian Mountains, where my own ancestors settled and whose cultural values I still share, and view the poorest counties in America – who happen to be more than 90 percent White, and who live in the reality that “if you’re poor and White you’re out of sight.”
The Democratic Party used to be the place where people like these could come not for a handout but for an honest handshake, good full-time jobs, quality education, health care they can afford, and the vital, overriding belief that we’re all in this together and the system is not rigged.
We can get there again. The American Dream does survive. I see it every day in the journey of my wife Hong, who at the age of seven escaped with her extended family on a fishing boat when the Communists took over South Vietnam in 1975. Not knowing whether they would live or die, they were rescued at sea by the United States Navy, taken to refugee camps in Guam and Arkansas, later moving to New Orleans. Hong began working at the age of eleven. She learned English – something her parents were never able to do – and through her own determination became a graduate of Cornell Law School.
Everybody deserves that opportunity. In too many places it has been lost as our economy has changed its structural shape and whole communities have stagnated. But we can get it back again, for all of our people. And we must, for the greater good.
Forget the polls, the noise and the nasty TV ads. The challenge before us is far greater than the task of winning an election. It is how to govern, with foresight, fairness and administrative skill, once an election is over. We need to put our American house in order, to provide educational and working opportunities that meet the needs of the future, to rebuild our infrastructure and to reinforce our position as the economic engine and the greatest democracy on earth. We need to redefine and strengthen our national security obligations, while at the same time reducing ill-considered foreign ventures that have drained trillions from our economy and in some cases brought instability instead of deterrence.
With enough financial support to conduct a first-class campaign, I have no doubt that we can put these issues squarely before the American people and gain their support. The 2016 election is two years away, but serious campaigning will begin very soon. The first primaries are about a year away. Your early support will be crucial as I evaluate whether we might overcome what many commentators see as nearly impossible odds.
We are starting with very little funding and no full-time staff, but I’ve been here before. In February, 2006 I announced for the Senate only nine months before the election against an entrenched incumbent. We had no money and no staff. We were more than 30 points behind in the polls. I promised to work on the same themes I am putting before you now: reorient our national security policy, work toward true economic fairness and social justice, and demand good governance, including a proper balance between the Presidency and the Congress. We won. And despite the paralysis in our government, we delivered on these promises, in measurable, lasting ways.
In 2007, I gave the response to President Bush’s State of the Union address. I put economic fairness for our working people and small business owners at the front of my response, noting the immense and ever-growing disparities in income between corporate executives and those who do the hard work. When I graduated from college the average corporate CEO made twenty times what his workers made. Today that number is greater than 300 times. The inequalities between top and bottom in our country are greater than at any time in the last hundred years. And the disparities between those at the very top and the rest of our society have only grown larger since the economic crash of late 2008 and early 2009.
The stock market has nearly tripled during this so-called “recovery,” while ordinary income and loans to small business owners have actually decreased. I believe we can address these concerns while still supporting the American Dream of economic success for the risk-takers and visionaries who are at the forefront of the future. I’ve spent most of my professional life as a sole proprietor. I’ve lived under the load. We don’t need to overburden our economy with more government intrusion and additional piles of paperwork. We might begin by requiring an examination of all of the paperwork programs in our government. But we need to get going. And we need to fix these inequities in a fair way.
On my first day in the Senate I introduced a new GI Bill for those veterans who have served our country so faithfully and well since 9/11 – including my son, who left college and volunteered to fight as a Marine infantryman in Ramadi, Iraq, during some of the worst months of that war. I personally wrote this GI Bill along with legislative counsel. Within sixteen months we had guided the most important piece of veterans’ legislation since World War II through the Congress, gaining bipartisan support along the way. It is the best GI Bill in American history, covering a veteran’s tuition, books and fees and providing a monthly stipend. Today, more than a million Post- 9/11 veterans have been able to use it.
We also brought the need for criminal justice reform out of the shadows and into the national debate as a bipartisan issue of leadership rather than one of divisive politics. When we began this effort I was warned that it was political suicide to call for such reforms, but when others in the political process saw the support we received across philosophical lines, the need for criminal justice reform became a popular topic even for many conservative Republicans.
As soon as I was elected we began calling for America to strongly reengage in East Asia, with a special focus on Japan, Korea, and the ten countries of ASEAN, particularly Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and Burma. I’ve spent a lot of time in Asia over the years. We put this issue on the table two years before President Obama came to office and three years before his Administration announced what they called a “pivot” toward this vital region. We led this change in policy.
With respect to accountability in government, I partnered with Senator Claire McCaskill to pass legislation creating the Wartime Contracting Commission, identifying and fixing large-scale fraud, waste and abuse in government contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. This Commission has been credited with identifying as much as 60 billion misspent dollars in those places, and creating a process through which future contracts would become fully accountable.
True leadership makes a difference. Results can be obtained, even in a paralyzed political environment, and in fact I believe we can un-paralyze the environment and re-establish a transparent, functioning governmental system in our country. I invite you to learn more about my positions at www.jameswebb.com. I can assure you that we will be focusing not on petty politics or how to match a position with a poll, but on the future of our country and on solutions that will rebuild and unite us. In politics nobody owns me and I don’t owe anybody anything, except for the promise that I will work for the well-being of all Americans, and especially those who otherwise would have no voice in the corridors of power. All I ask is that you consider the record I am putting before you, and give me the opportunity to earn your trust.
Time is indeed of the essence. As I consider this effort I am asking that you support the exploratory committee with a donation and that you encourage other like-minded Americans to do the same. Visit our website at www.Webb2016.com to register your support. Any help will be greatly appreciated.
Thank you. Let’s fix our country. Together.