Home 2017 Races The Northam/Perriello Contest, and the Longstanding Problem of Liberal Weakness

The Northam/Perriello Contest, and the Longstanding Problem of Liberal Weakness


My piece of last week — “My Concerns About Ralph Northam– And Why on June 13 I’m Voting for Tom Perriello“– elicited a good deal of response. Understandably, these responses included many emphasizing Ralph Northam’s virtues and years of dedicated service.

Nothing in my piece called any of that into question. Though I’m not deeply familiar with Mr. Northam, I am willing to stipulate that he is all that his supporters stepped up to declare.

What those comments did not engage, however, is the one main point of my piece: namely, that Mr. Northam’s conduct at two crucial junctures in our political history makes me doubt that he grasps the nature of the fundamental political battle being waged in America in our times.

Perhaps that lack of engagement with the heart of my argument, by these defenders of Mr. Northam, was a mere political strategy. Perhaps the desire was simply to stand up for their man, and it was judged advantageous to simply ignore the issue that detracts from the case for his being the nominee.

I can understand that rhetorical tactic, though the truth-seeker at the heart of my being doesn’t much like it. But my fear is that it reflects, rather, that same lack of recognition of the political reality of our times that I’m attributing to Mr. Northam.

Here’s how I summarized that political reality back in 2014, when I launched a series called “Press the Battle.”

The Truth of Our National Crisis:

The once-respectable Republican Party has been taken over by a destructive force.

The response from Liberal America to this threat has been woefully weak.

For those who don’t see any big problem on the Liberal/Democratic side that warrants being called “woefully weak,” what are your answers to these questions:

  • How do you explain how it happens that the Democrats have lost so much power — control of both houses of Congress, of the White House, of the Supreme Court, of the great majority of state legislatures and governor’s mansions — to a political Party, despite that Party lying about practically everything?
  • How to explain the Democrats’ losing so much power to a Party, despite that Party having advanced virtually no policies that make the nation better or improve the lot and prospects of average Americans?

If you don’t have any good answers to those questions, shouldn’t that give you pause before you declare what we most need in our nominee for governor?

One paragraph in my earlier piece said:

The evidence of American history since the turn of the millennium suggests to me that being right on the issues is insufficient. Those who are right on the issues but neglect the more profound level of the political fight — destructive vs. constructive, lying vs. truth-telling, caring vs. cruel — have limited success at best. (And meanwhile, our democracy is being dismantled, and our cultural integrity degraded.)

My piece was not written to advance an anti-Northam or a pro-Perriello agenda. My agenda is the same I’ve sought to advance in a couple of thousand other articles I’ve written since the fall of 2004: to direct attention to what we’re up against — the destructive force that has taken over the right — and to what is required of us to prevail in the battle against it.

How are we to turn this battle around if we do not see the battlefield clearly, and don’t read well where the attacking force must be engaged?

One year before the 2016 election, I published a piece here to show the nature of the battle, and to describe how it is that the balance of power between constructive and destructive forces has shifted so adversely in our times. The piece was titled “Cry the Benighted Country: What’s Gone Wrong in America.”

What’s gone wrong in America is not just about the destructive force. It’s about the lack of response from the rest of the body politic.

The election of Ralph Northam to the governorship this November would be good news. At the least, a Governor Northam would be able to block — as Governor McAuliffe has done — the many destructive measures the Republicans would be likely to send him, if they still control the General Assembly.

But the election of Tom Perriello to the governorship this November has at least the chance of being the kind of good news we really need– as Virginians and as Americans. A voice  –from one who better perceives the dark force animating today’s right –that might be able to summon forth the better angels in the nature of our citizenry to join the battle to turn back that force of darkness.

  • Withheld Information

    “My piece was not written to advance an anti-Northam or a pro-Perriello agenda.”

    You endorsed Perriello and said Northam doesn’t understand the times we live in. You’re entitled to that view, but don’t try and lie to us about what you intended to do with that article.

    As others have said, and as I have said, I cannot even grasp the merit of your argument. You criticize Northam for not turning into a slobbering, foaming at the mouth firebrand because Trump was elected? Northam is running for Governor of Virginia. His campaign should be about the issues that face everyday Virginians and what he can do to fix it as Governor of Virginia. Not to panic people about a President Northam has no influence over, has no ability to remove.

    Northam is a reserved man. He’s calm and very much a listener. He’s a doctor of course, so that shouldn’t be a surprise. His refusal to panic people or speak out on an issue that is not truly relevant to the office he is running for should not be something that is counted against him.

    If anything, I view Mr. Perriello’s anti-Trump rhetoric cheap. An attempt to catch on with angry voters without actually discussing the issues that face Virginia.

    Excuse Mr. Northam for staying on topic. I had no idea that was a bad thing now.

    • Andy Schmookler

      You accuse me of lying and then immediately confess that you “cannot even grasp the merit of [my] argument.

      It seems that before you declare that I’m lying about my intent, you ought to make sure you do understand the argument.

      What I meant about my intent is that I am pursuing a purpose — based on an understanding of our situation — that has animated me for a dozen years.

      A pro-Perriello agenda, as I would mean it, would be one where helping him win was my ultimate purpose, and I concocted my argument to achieve that end.

      On the contrary here: I have a clear purpose, one that anyone can see written across the pieces that I’ve published here on Blue Virginia for years, and that is the guiding vision of my 2015 book WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST: The Destructive Force at Work in Our World– and How We Can Defeat It https://www.amazon.com/What-Were-Against-Destructive-World/dp/0996301305 ).

      That understanding comes first, and it generates my “concern” about Northam (and his apparent limitations), and my consequent endorsement of Perriello.

      Would I be wrong in believing, Mr. Anonymous, that your relationship to this contest goes in the opposite direction: that you support Northam, and that your arguments are the fruit of your pro-Northam agenda?.

      • Withheld Information

        I accused you of lying and then used hyperbole to express how I found your argument to be ridiculous and disingenuous.

        Your article was spouting a pro-Perriello agenda, and that is absolutely fine with me. Just don’t claim it’s for anything more than that, and certainly don’t claim it wasn’t an attempt to smear his opponent when you did your best to paint him as ignorant, ineffectual, and out of touch.

        And nice ignoring everything else I had to say. Clearly you have no way to refute it, but I’d have appreciated an attempt.

        As for me, it’s Ms. Anonymous first off, and yes, I am pro-Northam. I have donated money to him, door knocked for him, met him, and I intend on voting for him.

        The difference between you and I is that I don’t insist on being called ‘impartial’ and I don’t pretend to be anything but pro-Northam in this primary.

        I’m not calling you out because of your choice of Perriello and your preference for him, I’m calling you because I found your article to be misrepresentative of Northam, a man you’ve already claimed to know little about, and to also be disingenuous and not truthful.

        And must your talk/write like that?

        • Andy Schmookler

          I think we’ve reached the end of our interaction, Mr. Withheld. If you find my argument to be ridiculous and disingenuous — an argument that rests on twelve years of intense work on America’s crisis, a mission to which I’ve devoted my life — I see no promise of further interaction bearing any kind of fruit.

          • Withheld Information

            Jesus are you thin skinned. Which I find to be ironic given that you’re essentially advocating for politicians to be loud mouths who talk about things that don’t matter immediately.

            But regardless, I won’t bother you any more. I’ll continue to call out bias where I see it of course, until one of the moderators here bans me for it, but if you won’t even try and defend your piece (though I have to question how) then we truly are done here.

    • Al

      This observation is spot on: “If anything, I view Mr. Perriello’s anti-Trump rhetoric cheap. An
      attempt to catch on with angry voters without actually discussing the
      issues that face Virginia. The words of an opportunist”

      Mr. Perriello found himself out of a job after the election, and wanted to have some way to keep his name out there. He jumped in the governor’s race because he saw an opportunity to latch onto anti-Trump sentiment. I don’t think that makes him a bad person, but I do think it draws a contrast with Dr. Northam.

      I also think it’s weird that the OP is holding up Northam as an example of liberal weakness given that reproductive rights (a key liberal issue) is an issue where Northam has been absolutely rock solid while Perriello’s actions have been murky.

  • No question, as Andy has brilliantly laid out in his writings over the years (e.g., see my review of his book, “What We’re Up Against”), liberals have been far too passive, disengaged and in denial about the incredibly dark, destructive force that has always been with us, and that has reached its apotheosis (and hopefully not gotterdammerung) with the election of President Trump. The main thing liberals, progressives – and anyone not consumed by the destructive/dark force Andy accurately describes – can do right now is to RESIST, as best we can, what’s befallen our nation. In the political arena, that means winning elections, starting at the local and state level, where Democrats have been decimated in large part due to “presidential-only” Democratic voters “dropping off” in non-presidential years. That had better not happen this year or next…or in 2019 or 2020, or we are really screwed. On the other hand, if we turn out in large numbers, we can pick up a bunch of seats this year in the Virginia House of Delegates, hold the governorship (and LG and AG positions), and keep winning local elections like the PW County Clerk of the Court race Jackie Smith won on Tuesday evening. Thanks to Andy Schmookler for his consistent, urgent warnings about the dark force. Now it’s up to all of us to act on those warnings…before it’s too late.