Home National Politics “The Nation” Magazine on “The Perriello Way”

“The Nation” Magazine on “The Perriello Way”


I couldn’t agree more with this.

In the wake of Perriello’s loss, it’s tempting to conclude that conviction politics simply doesn’t work. But the fate of Perriello’s fellow Virginia freshman Democrat Glenn Nye suggests it’s not so simple. Nye also beat a Republican incumbent in 2008, though in a district Obama won-rather than lost-by a narrow margin. But he took the opposite tack from Perriello, distancing himself from the national party and the president almost immediately, voting against cap and trade, healthcare reform, patient protection and extending unemployment. Fat lot of good it did him. He lost his race by seven more points than Perriello did.

Strange as it is to say, the lesson of election night, in Virginia and nationally, may be that Congress members’ voting records don’t matter all that much.

If that’s the case, you might as well vote for what you think is right. The point of being in Congress isn’t to get re-elected; it’s to make the country better while you’re there-something that seems to have been lost on so many Democrats who took the easy way out. On election night, Perriello told his supporters that his father had told him when he got into politics, “Judgment Day is more important than election day. It’s more important to do what’s right than what’s easy…. I’m proud of what we’ve done and what we’ve accomplished.”

Everything from the tenor of his voice to his wistful smile communicated that he meant it.

Exactly right, these are exactly the reasons why I like and admire Tom Perriello so much. The question is, can we get a lot more Democrats like Perriello — and a lot fewer like Nye — running for Congress?  Given a system that rewards those who can raise and spend huge sums of money, who can follow what the polls and “focus groups” tell them to do, who can appear blow-dried and bland so as not to offend anyone, to go along with what the corporations and wealthy donors want, it’s not gonna be easy. In fact, it might not be possible at all.  Except…just about when I’m ready to despair, somebody like Tom Perriello comes along, practicing some crazy thing called “conviction politics,” and he actually wins an election!  Sure, he lost this time around, but not by a wide margin in what was a “tsunami” year for House Democrats.  Given that, while I can’t say I’m super-optimistic that “The Perriello Way” is something we can mass produce and spread across the country, I am confident that it can work now and again – at least when it’s practiced by a superb, skillful, principled person like Tom Perriello. Now, we just have to find a bunch more of them!

h/t: Daily Kos

  • richmonder

    The problem with generalizing from Tom Periello’s admirable example is that becoming a ‘conviction politician’ appears to be less a choice than an innate trait. Maggie Thatcher was ‘convicted’ and so are a few other national leaders (left and right), but they didn’t get there by choosing this as a strategy. It’s how they think about public policy and practice engagement in the political arena. It’s who they are. Maybe I’m being too idealistic about this, but it seems to me that many pols can have moments of courage and do the right thing on individual issues, but moral consistency often escapes them — as it does many of us in daily life. I hope Tom finds a way to stay in public service, because as you say, his breed is rare. We need his example to enhance the dismal quality of governance, especially here and especially now.