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Tom Perriello: A Genuine Change Agent

Congressman-elect Perriello

Tom Perriello narrowly defeated Virgil Goode in Virginia’s 5th district. If the party switch was the whole story, the word "change" would be an understatement for the shift that’s taken place in this formerly blood-red district. Fortunately for all of us, the seat going from Republican to Democratic control pales in comparison to the substantive change Perriello brings to governing.

Congressman Perriello took part in a live blog Saturday. I’d like to highlight a few of his comments. First, there’s this:

As hectic as this transition will be for us and for all of those heading to Washington, this is a good time to draw out lessons from what I consider the first movement election of my lifetime. The mainstream media and poltical pundits will almost certainly continue to learn the wrong lessons from this victory, so keep asking the questions.

I’m not sure when I last saw a Democratic politician pack so much insight and fit so much cause for hope into two sentences. Let’s unpack it.

I begin with the second clause of the first sentence:

…this is a good time to draw out lessons from what I consider the first movement election of my lifetime.

Do you hear any other Democrats asking this question? I haven’t. Sure, I’ve heard politicians argue about the existence of a mandate… I’ve heard Democrats fret about where the majority should line up on the political spectrum… I’ve heard a few talk about reversing the near-decade long Bush disaster course.

But I haven’t heard anyone ask what we need to learn so that the new progressive movement doesn’t die on the vine. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve heard anyone speak of this as a "movement election".

Why is this important? Because, so far as I know, Congressman Tom Perriello is the only candidate talking about this having been a movement election. To me, that means he believes that the American people expect something different from their political leadership – that they really expect profound change.

I’m not sure I agree with him inasmuch that I don’t have a lot of faith in the American people. Say what you will about Hannity’s "Man on the street" interviews or Ziglers Zogby poll; there is a nugget of truth that enables the exploitation: Americans are woefully underinformed about their political leadership. There is an incredible deficit of citizenship in "The land of the free".

With that said, I believe the reason Perriello developed his belief that this has been a movement election has to do with his own worldview and the way he has used it to shape his life.

He graduated Yale Law school – by most accounts the top law school in the country. Yale grads pretty much write their own ticket; Perriello decided to get his punched by applying his faith to trouble spots in the world. His method was simple: he identified problems and worked to solve them. His idealistic enthusiasm, fortified by hard work and clear vision, led him into Charles Taylor’s Africa. In case you aren’t aware, the conflicts Taylor was involved in were characterized by childhood amputations (so kids couldn’t grow up to wield weapons against their assailants) and forced family killings (so that impressed young soldiers would not have the option of deserting since they wouldn’t be able to return home). The international community had for years and years sought justice; Perriello and his team found ways to get the job done.

When Perriello came back to his home in Albermarle County, Virginia, he found a congressional district that had been long-neglected by Washington. The congressman assigned to looking out for the district, Virgil Goode, was more inclined to speak in Rovian cliches than he was to do the heavy-lifting that the district required. I’m not going to provide a list of cities and their ailments, but trust me when I tell you that VA-5 is in bad shape.

Perriello decided to fix it. He took inventory of the problems, came up with proposed solutions and took his argument to the people. They bought in, fired Virgil Goode and elected Tom Perriello.

So… That is what I think Tom means when he says this was a movement election. More clearly, I think Tom believes that people have turned to democrats in a really big way because they expect us to solve problems instead of continue the constant Washington game of partisan bickering. Tom’s thesis is supported by the fact that Barack Obama made similar noises in his run for the Presidency; his resounding victory may be thought of as all of America buying into the problem-solving function of government.

Now like I said, I’m not as optimistic as Perriello is. I don’t really think too many people think too much about politics. They make noises about wanting more bi-partisanship and less discord, but really, that’s just because they are lazy thinkers unwilling to take the time to decide the merits of the issues for themselves. They think being in the middle some sort of virtue.

But… As much as I doubt Tom’s instinct regarding this being a "movement election", I love that he gives it. Why? Because it is a belief that Perriello will use to drive his agenda. And when Tom is driven, he gets results. Tom will be a problem solver in this Congress; he will be a leader.

Let’s turn to the second half of the paragraph:

The mainstream media and poltical pundits will almost certainly continue to learn the wrong lessons from this victory

This had my heart singing.

Perriello isn’t constrained by the all-consuming need to curry favor with David Brooks, Peggy Noonan and Tom Freidman. In fact, implicit in his statement is the fact that the pundits and media have been wrong up ’til now. He says they will "continue" to learn the wrong lessons… meaning they have been wrong for at least some time now. In other words, Tom Perriello is not going to Washington with an undue reverence for the Villagers. In fact, like us, he may even harbor more than a little bit of contempt for the assholes that cheered us into the Bush Presidency, the Iraq War and the Greenspan/Rubin reverence/orgy of deregulation.

I’m running out of time. I’ve got finals coming up and papers due. But let me leave you with a coupla more Perriello quotes from today’s liveblog:

People care about results more than the process that gets us there. Bipartisanship is generally a good thing, but not if it means (a) adding our pork with their pork to get something through, or (b) meeting at the 50 yard line when what we need is a touchdown

In campaigns, the biggest choices are not about policy but tactics, and I was determined to shape the campaign based on the idea that voters are smarter and more decent than traditional politicians give them credit for. People are also more independent than they are centrists, which means Americans respect leadership more than poll-driven politics.

By way of summary, I think it is pretty apparent that Congressman Tom Perriello ‘get’s it". He represents a deep-red district, yet found a way to speak past politics. He did it by running as a problem-solver and actually proposing solutions that did not involve political score-keeping. Of course, we all know that these days almost all solutions are relatively progressive in nature (and almost all problems have been caused by an excess of conservative ideology), so I suspect that int he end, Perriello will have one of the most progressive voting records in Congress. And he’ll do it while representing a very Republican district!!

Keep an eye on this guy. He’s one of ours and he’s burrowed his way into the establishment. Let’s support him as he works to change it.

Finally… one last book-keeping matter. Perriello faces a recount – he won by less than a 1,000 votes. Virgil Goode exercised his right to a state sponsored recount; the Republican Party of Virginia is spending full-tilt on their legal effort. Perriello can use out help. Donate here.

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