For reasons that defy comprehension, former Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) has emerged as the trendy answer to the question of who, if anyone, will mount the most serious challenge to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump: 'Good news' that Obama is campaigning again Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada MORE for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. Webb, who served only one term as senator from Virginia and has limited name recognition nationally, has formed the dreaded “exploratory committee” and looks very likely to run. A recent spate of articles, sympathetic to Webb’s politics and relatively bullish on his chances to make a sustained run in the primaries, have created the kind of insider “buzz” reserved for candidates with more “serious” bipartisan bona fides than, say, Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersTrump's trade war — firing all cannons or closing the portholes? The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump rips 'ridiculous' spending bill | FBI dragged into new fight | Latest on Maryland shooting Poll: Most Massachusetts voters don't think Warren should run for president in 2020 MORE.

Evidently bored with the inevitability of Hillary, then, it looks like many in the media have settled on Webb as the other candidate to focus on, and he may therefore be the one who most casual followers of politics will assume is the only realistic alternative. With this in mind, it’s worth looking closely at Webb’s record, particularly since he is someone who has skillfully crafted a certain political affectation. And when one looks beneath the surface, one finds that, as with so many other media-friendly politicians, Webb’s reputation is mostly a farce. But he has long presented himself as the sort of politician who disdains politics and yearns for some mythical political culture in which elected leaders are guided only by their high-minded principles. And mainstream pundits, of course, are eternal suckers for this kind of “above the fray” posture. (The bookers of “Morning Joe” have probably already allotted dozens of hours of time for Webb in 2015.)


Weirdly, Webb has found fans on the left, right, and center of the media spectrum. Writing for The Week, Michael Tracey lavishes praise on Webb for his views on foreign affairs, economic policy, and even social issues, before advising Democrats to “turn their gazes to Webb” if they want a “better way forward.” Al Hunt of Bloomberg gushes over Webb with so much enthusiasm that it’s virtually indistinguishable from campaign propaganda. We learn from Hunt that Webb’s “trademarks” are “fearless and unpredictability.” Indeed, he is a “maverick” who would bring “authenticity” to the race, and may be “Hillary Clinton’s worst nightmare.” Wow. Even some conservatives find themselves seduced by Webb’s charm: Noah Millman pronounces in The American Conservative that we “desperately need more people like him in our politics.” The man is downright saintly.

The first thing to say about this sudden - albeit superficial - momentum for Webb is that it’s genuinely bizarre. Jim Webb is a former Republican who endorsed George Allen for Senate in 2000. He has no particular constituency in the Democratic electorate. He was one of the most ideologically conservative senators in the Democratic caucus, but his supporters seem to think he can run to Hillary’s left, and nobody will notice.

Much of the praise for Webb’s policy credentials has to do with his sincere effort on reforming the criminal justice system and his opposition to empire. On the former, Webb deserves unqualified praise; he fought hard to bring attention to the issue of prison reform despite the limited political benefit involved. Some caveats do apply to his reputation for being anti-war, though. Webb is a hardened Vietnam veteran, not a dove (Webb said in 2007 that he “still strongly supports the Vietnam War”). His objection to post-9/11 militarism has never included any kind of fundamental critique; his arguments have been of the “strategic error” and “national interest” variety. Nevertheless, Webb has certainly been more enlightened than many Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, on these two areas of policy.

Elsewhere, though, the record is not good. On climate, Webb was one of the worst Democrats in the Senate, as Ben Adler of Grist recently detailed. From cap-and-trade, to Copenhagen, to EPA regulations, he actively attacked anything remotely resembling progress on energy issues. He supports the Keystone XL pipeline and voted to force approval of it.

Known as a “populist,” Webb opposed his party’s effort to raise taxes on income over $250,000, deeming it unfair to the rich. He was the only Democrat in the Senate to vote against reducing interest rates on student loans. Back in 2009, he joined other conservative Democrats in the Senate in effectively burying the Employee Free Choice Act, after corporations ratcheted up the pressure. This is a very strange kind of populism.

Webb opposes affirmative action. He describes himself as a “strong supporter” of the Second Amendment. On health care, Webb wanted President Obama to show more “leadership,” by which he meant pursue more modest legislation in order to draw Republican support (he voted for more than a dozen Republican amendments to the Affordable Care Act). Webb is also a proud supporter of the Confederacy. He thinks the Civil War is “misunderstood” and he doesn’t have any particular problem with the Southern states’ decision to secede. This is, as the kids like to say, problematic.

In short, Jim Webb, who will be 70 years old on Election Day, is the exact opposite of what Democratic voters seeking an alternative to Hillary Clinton will be looking for. He’s on the wrong side of numerous issues that progressives care about. Literally none of the conditions that allowed Obama to stage his upset of Hillary in 2008 apply to Webb today (most importantly, Webb cannot raise money on her level, and he cannot perform as well as Obama did among African-American voters). So let’s stop pretending this ludicrous idea of “Jim Webb, Democratic nominee for President,” is worth taking seriously.

Doolittle is a freeloance writer based in New York City, with a M.A. in Public Policy from Stony Brook University.