Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb announced on his website Thursday that he would be running for president in 2016, but because he only served for one term in the Senate before retiring from politics in 2013, he has some way to go before his name is as easily recognized as front-runner Hillary Clinton, or even second-place candidate Bernie Sanders. Most recently, Webb generated a fair amount of controversy with his apparent defense of the Confederate flag following the shooting of nine black churchgoers at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina. This is just one of several issues on which Webb differs from his fellow Democrats. Webb and Clinton differ on key issues like gun control and the federal debt, but how are Webb and Sanders different?
Webb seems to stand to the left of Clinton on criminal justice and immigration reform, but he has also been more conservative and hesitant in vocalizing his support for marriage equality. Meanwhile, though running as a Democrat, Sanders is an Independent and self-described democratic socialist, and for many, a progressive champion. So while Webb has been asked on numerous occasions how he would compare himself to Clinton, it is equally important to examine how he and Sanders compare on three key issues: education, criminal justice, and immigration reform.
Sanders is outspoken about access to education. He has criticized the federal government for profiting off student loans and called for increased federal investment in student education in order to slash tuition rates. Talking to the Huffington Post in April, Sanders said that "higher education should be a right" and that granting low-income students access to a quality education would reduce inequality domestically, as well as increase American economic competitiveness internationally. Then, in May, he officially put forward a bill called the "College for All Act," which would eliminate $70 billion in tuition costs at all four-year public colleges and universities.
Webb has also been a proponent of access to higher education, though perhaps not as "radical" as Sanders. While Sanders comes from a perspective of targeting income inequality, it is Webb's military background that informs a lot of his work. In 2010, Webb received the Award for Strengthening U.S. Workforce through Education from the Educational Policy Institute for providing post-9/11 war veterans educational benefits similar to those received by World War II veterans. But Webb has also paid attention to other higher education issues; he has commented on college tuition rates being "off the charts" and has tried to encourage education for young to middle-aged adults.
Criminal Justice And Racial Tensions
Criminal justice reform is a big issue for Webb. When asked on multiple occasions to compare himself to front-runner Clinton, he said that Clinton has only been speaking about controversial issues to appease the Democratic Party's voter base. In the aftermath of Freddie Gray's death in Baltimore police's custody, Webb was finally explicit about his own dedication to criminal justice reform. "Secretary Clinton yesterday gave a speech on criminal justice reform — I've been talking about this for nine years," he told CNN. Webb added he would speak on the issue despite his advisers telling him that it was "political suicide." Webb has been calling for the criminal justice system to be "fixed" for decades, going so far as to criticize the prison-industrial complex — a concept that prevails in activist discourse but is not often discussed in mainstream politics.
But Sanders needs to step up his game when it comes to talking about criminal justice. When he launched his campaign, the Vermont senator talked in depth about education, income inequality, and climate change — but not about criminal justice or racism. Even Clinton, who is generally more moderate than Sanders, is talking about racial inequality, including terms she did not use a decade ago. Despite tackling similar systemic issues as many activists and communities of color, Sanders' plan for the primaries involves waiting for quite some time before trying to appeal to those communities. Even when he is directly asked about police brutality, Sanders points to the criminal justice system's problems and economic inequality instead of structural racism; as a result, a petition is circulating to ask him to include racial justice in his platform and to talk explicitly about high rates of violence and incarceration faced by communities of color.
In June, Sanders made a bold push for immigration reform, saying that if he was elected president, he would go even further than Obama to expand deportation relief by implementing executive action. "Despite the central role that undocumented workers play in our economy and in our daily lives, these workers are too often reviled by many for political gain and shunted into the shadows," Sanders said at the National Association of Latino Elected Officials conference. While immigration isn't a central issue on Sanders' platform, he did point out at that same conference that he had supported both the Dream Act, the comprehensive 2013 Senate immigration bill.
According to nonpartisan voter resource On The Issues, Webb has said in the past that he wants undocumented immigrants to have access to a path to citizenship, but he voted no on comprehensive immigration reform when he was a senator. He also voted yes on making English the national language of the United States, which could create yet another barrier to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. As recently as last year, he has expressed skepticism of increased immigration, setting him apart from most Democrats.
It is clear that Webb and Sanders differ in several key ways. While Webb may be further to left than Clinton on criminal justice reform — and perhaps even more so than Sanders — his conservative views on immigration and gun control might hold him back when it comes to winning the liberal vote.
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