Jim Webb, a former Senator who once killed a guy, dropped out of the Democratic primaries race back in October. We miss him. We miss him so much. We are so delighted to see Jim Webb, back in here with a very exciting op-ed about the $20 bill and “the myth of universal white privilege.”
Webb took to the sometimes baffling pages of the Washington Post on Sunday to weigh in on the idea of Harriet Tubman replacing Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. He’s not against it, exactly, but he does see the dialogue surrounding the new bills as evidence that political correctness is warping the nation and tarnishing the legacy of one of our least-racist racist presidents:
One would think we could celebrate the recognition that Harriet Tubman will be given on future $20 bills without demeaning former president Andrew Jackson as a “monster,” as a recent Huffington Post headline did. And summarizing his legendary tenure as being “known primarily for a brutal genocidal campaign against native Americans,” as reported in The Post, offers an indication of how far political correctness has invaded our educational system and skewed our national consciousness.
This dismissive characterization of one of our great presidents is not occurring in a vacuum. Any white person whose ancestral relations trace to the American South now risks being characterized as having roots based on bigotry and undeserved privilege. Meanwhile, race relations are at their worst point in decades.
Far too many of our most important discussions are being debated emotionally, without full regard for historical facts. The myth of universal white privilege and universal disadvantage among racial minorities has become a mantra, even though white and minority cultures alike vary greatly in their ethnic and geographic origins, in their experiences in the United States and in their educational and financial well-being.
I mean: Jackson did sign the Indian Removal Act into law, paving the way for the Trail of Tears, one of the most devastating chapters in American Indian history. (Webb generously allows that the Trail of Tears was “a disaster,” but argues, as some historians have, that Jackson’s primary intent was to put a stop to frontier wars. We could also see the IRA as a brutal, amoral land grab, built on the inherently racist concept of manifest destiny, but we’re getting kind of intense for a parenthetical.)
And true, Jackson did adopt a Native American boy, Lyncoya, although Webb forgets to mention that the boy was originally intended as a “companion” (meaning, basically, a pet) for one of Jackson’s biological sons.
And Jackson did, uh, own slaves, as Webb points out, just as forgivingly:
Self-made and aggressive, he found wealth in the wilds of Tennessee and, like other plantation owners such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, owned slaves.
One could conceivably argue that Jim Webb, too, is debating this issue “emotionally.” It does seem like he could’ve perhaps written a stirring defense of Andrew Jackson, Guy Who Wasn’t That Bad By the Lax Moral Standards of His Time, without devolving into an extended rant about white privilege being fake. But we’re so glad that he did. Welcome back, Senator Webb. Please continue contributing to the discussion in your own, unique way.
Jim Webb in August 2015. Photo via AP