Jim Webb arrives in the age of Sanders and Trump
© Greg Nash

Years ago, when I went to the Baptist South to work at a college, the country women who came down from the hills to work in our offices offered life advice as I, coming into the country from New York City, seemed likely to need it. Which I did. Like when our last child was about to be born, they would ask, "Did you get your girl yet?" Actually, no. All boys so far. "She'll come on the moon," they would say. And as I recall, she did come on the full moon. They would often advise, "When God closes a door, he opens a window," which was pretty metaphysical stuff but might be as accurate as any historical hypothesis: Things begin again where they end, and the world starts again right there as if from scratch.


It came to mind yesterday afternoon, when South Carolina Gov. Nikki HaleyNikki HaleyCan we protect our country — from our rulers, and ourselves? In calling out Trump, Nikki Haley warns of a more sinister threat Nikki Haley unveils PAC ahead of possible 2024 White House bid MORE (R) announced that the Confederate battle flag would be removed from the State House. Fifty years ago it went up, not so much to respect the tradition of honor and bravery in America's most difficult and important moment, but to repudiate congressional passage of the civil rights efforts.

The Confederate flag, shorn of original intent, symbolically represented that counterforce and yesterday it ended. So it was an auspicious day for Jim Webb (D), former Virginia senator and secretary of the Navy under President Reagan, who announced last week that he will run for president, to make his public debut in a morning interview on "CBS This Morning."

The battle flag has "long been due to come down," he said. Webb had been criticized on comments recently on the history of the South and the Confederate flag. And it was a good interview. It slowed things down. Webb explained his thinking as the interviewers egged him on to speed it up and get to it: How you gonna beat Hillary, that's what we're talking about.

But that was not what Webb was talking about. When Webb cited statistics about slave ownership and participation of the Civil War, he explained himself, citing the master historian John Hope Franklin, bringing his own tempo to the discussion.

It may have been one of those days yesterday when the South awakened as if from a great sleep, or another day, possibly beginning a new era in which the South will fight for its life and our own. As oddly enough, history has turned in the last few weeks and Webb comes to us in that turning.

Vermont Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden tax-hike proposals face bumpy road ahead Senate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate MORE (I-Vt.) and celebrity entrepreneur and politico Donald TrumpDonald TrumpIran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries Pardon-seekers have paid Trump allies tens of thousands to lobby president: NYT MORE enter fate virtually at the same moment. The mainstream media tell us not to worry — they will soon go away (it is their job to say so) — but one can look with some disgust today at former Presidents Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThe challenge of Biden's first days: staying focused and on message Why the Senate should not rush an impeachment trial Revising the pardon power — let the Speaker and Congress have voices MORE and George W. Bush on stage together, Bush declaring that former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.) and former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRep. John Katko: Why I became the first Republican lawmaker to support impeachment Can we protect our country — from our rulers, and ourselves? For Joe Biden, an experienced foreign policy team MORE, both candidates for president, will "elevate the discourse." It is, as might be heard in the hills, "enough to gag a horse."

Instead, for whatever else might be said about these two, Sanders and Trump, they transcend the painful banality of Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush and awaken new energies. Energies, however, which suggest or approximate the formulation of the the last world more than a hundred years ago, when Leon Trotsky was writing his first dramatic prose in Russia and Gabriele D'Annunzio rode bareback on the beach to the rise of fascism in Italy.

Sanders has hundreds of thousands of Facebook followers and has commandeered the millennials. Trump comes at a time when at least two dozen American states in the middle and north of Texas are looking for a dramatic, public figure to oppose the federal government on a garden variety of issues. They will not go away. It is Jeb Bush will go away. Hillary Clinton will go away. Like Haile Selassie, god king of Ethiopia, an old antique lost in the attic of history, they are suddenly caught in history's cross fires and will remain mystified to the very end about their sudden irrelevance.

Said here in The Hill recently, as the Confederate flag comes down, the Gadsden flag goes up. We face a coming era of civil disobedience, commentator Pat Buchanan writes this week, but this time it will be conservatives. Indeed, it is well underway as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) brings an impressive posse of heartland governors to challenge the president's executive order on immigration. The idea has caught on. As The Hill reports, "State legislators around the country have introduced more than 200 bills aiming to nullify regulations and laws coming out of Washington, D.C., as they look to rein in the federal government."

This movement needs a dramatic (flamboyant) public spokesperson and it will be Trump. And New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) today rallies the major cities against the governors, in coordination with the president and the federal government. He likewise needs a dramatic, charismatic public figure as spokesperson and that surely is to be Sanders.

This is where Webb enters history, and he arrives with a sterling endorsement by one of the most respected scholars and commentators today, Andrew Bacevich.

Of all proposed candidates, writes Bacevich, "Only Webb has the bona fides to promote a serious debate that looks beyond bogus issues such as Benghazi."

Possibly it is nature that sends the single indispensable warrior to us at times like this, as the women of Appalachian hills will say, to open a window. That warrior is Jim Webb.

Quigley is a prize-winning writer who has worked more than 35 years as a book and magazine editor, political commentator and reviewer. For 20 years he has been an amateur farmer, raising Tunis sheep and organic vegetables. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and four children. Contact him at quigley1985@gmail.com.