By David Swanson
I have the distinct displeasure of being misrepresented in Congress by Virgil Goode, a man best known outside Virginia’s Fifth District for having thrown a fit when Congressman Keith Ellison asked to be sworn in on a Koran instead of a Bible. Goode defeated a fine Democratic candidate, Al Weed, in the past two elections, with 64% of the vote four years ago and 59% two years ago. He did so in part by purchasing television ads accusing Weed of supporting “amnesty” for “illegal immigrants,” and “socialized medicine,” and by making false accusations against Weed.
The Fifth District voted 56 to 43 for Bush over Kerry, who didn’t bother to try to win Virginia. But it also voted 52 to 46 for Democrat Mark Warner for Governor, and 50 to 48 for Democrat Tim Kaine for Governor. Kaine is a big Obama supporter. Mark Warner will join Obama on the ballot this year as a Senate candidate, which should help Tom Perriello. Perriello is the Democratic nominee who hopes to finally unseat Goode, who himself was first elected to Congress as a Democrat in 1996, but who became a Republican in 2002 after behaving like one for years. Warner, of course, is a borderline Democrat himself, and while Perriello has had nothing but praise for Warner, Perriello sounds more progressive.
According to his website, http://www.perrielloforcongress.com
“After receiving his law degree from Yale University, Tom accepted an assignment working to end atrocities in the West African countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone, which had suffered long civil wars fueled by blood diamonds. Tom’s work with child soldiers, amputees, and local pro-democracy groups in Sierra Leone played a significant role in the peace and reconciliation process that ended twelve years of violence in that country. Tom then became Special Advisor and spokesperson for the International Prosecutor during the showdown that forced Liberian dictator Charles Taylor from power without firing a shot. After this success, Tom served as a national security analyst for the Century Foundation. He has worked inside Darfur and twice in Afghanistan.”
Perriello’s campaign has raised significantly more money than Goode’s and has already raised more than any previous challenger to Goode. The campaign has raised over $600,000 and reports over $500,000 cash on hand. Perriello also claims to have logged over 1600 volunteer hours. In addition, Goode’s embarrassing Koran incident happened since the last election.
(I’ll be interviewing Tom Perriello live, and he’ll be taking questions from callers, between 8 and 9 p.m. ET on Wednesday, April 30, 2008, at http://thepeoplespeakradio.net/listen-live You can call in tollfree from anywhere in the United States or Canada at 888-228-4494 or anywhere else in the world at 877-489-6350. If you missed the live show, you can find the audio clip at http://thepeoplespeakradio.net/audio/2008 )
I don’t plan to ask Tom about money or polls or religion or flag pins, or about some friend of a friend of a friend of his who once knew a communist. I think other media outlets can handle those important areas of our public education just fine. I plan to ask what Congressman Perriello would do for our world, country, state, and district if elected.
Perriello’s website provides single paragraph positions on five issues. The first is Economic Fairness:
“Tom will fight to ensure that all hard-working Americans are guaranteed a living wage and secure retirement. Parents should have time to spend with their families instead of having to work multiple jobs just to put food on the table. Tom will end the practice of giving tax breaks to companies that take American jobs overseas and will make sure that corporations and CEOs are held accountable for their actions.”
This sounds a heck of a lot better than Virgil Goode, but could use some detail. What dollar figure does Perriello think is a living wage? Would he favor setting the federal minimum wage there and indexing it to rise with the cost of living? Does Perriello support the Employee Free Choice Act, punishing companies that do not allow legal labor organizing, and establishing the right to card-check labor organizing? At the end of World War II, corporations paid half the cost of the federal government. They now pay 7 percent, and many of them pay 0 percent. Would Perriello raise taxes on corporations or merely close some of the loopholes? Wealthy individuals paid significantly more in taxes just 7 years ago. Would Perriello raise their taxes? Those who receive millions in income only pay into Social Security on the first $90,000. Would Perriello eliminate that cap? And what of environmentalist proposals to lower income taxes across the board and replace them with taxes on fossil fuels?
Then there’s Goode’s favorite topic: the evil Muslim Mexicans (he doesn’t seem to make distinctions). The Virginia Democratic website Raising Kaine asked Perriello about immigration ( http://www.raisingkaine.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=13297 ) and Perriello did something very few politicians are serious enough to do: he changed the topic from the symptom (immigration) to the cause (corporate trade policies that make it difficult for people to earn a living at home). Here’s the question and answer:
“Would you favor comprehensive immigration reform that provides a path to EARNED citizenship for people who pay a fine, learn English, and play by the rules? In general, what is your position on immigration into this country?”
“There’s no doubt that we need comprehensive immigration reform. I think our starting point has to be enforcing laws that we know work while making sure that our enforcement strategies are not dehumanizing to immigrants, most of whom play by the rules and work hard in search of the American dream. The single best strategy for reducing illegal immigration is to reduce the availability of their jobs by holding employers accountable for hiring undocumented workers, starting with the most egregious cases. But I also believe we need to think beyond zero-sum games. For example, we need to work for better trade agreements and support international rights to organize so that we can help create job parity across borders to reduce the pull for illegal immigrants to this country and for our jobs overseas.”
This avoids the question Goode will push of whether immigrants are deported or given a path to citizenship, but it doesn’t do so just out of political calculation. That actually is the wrong question. The much more significant question is: what exactly will Perriello do about corporate trade policies? Will he support ending NAFTA and the WTO?
The second issue of the five mentioned on Perriello’s website is Healthcare:
“Every American deserves access to a doctor, and none of our elderly should ever have to face the soul-crushing choice of whether to buy medicine for a spouse or put food on the table. Furthermore, our employers should not be burdened with healthcare costs that put them at a disadvantage to their competitors in other countries.”
Well, that’s true, but who are you going to find to disagree with it, and what sort of a policy does it create? I find it highly unlikely that Perriello doesn’t know about the advantages of single-payer health coverage, which is – of course – private health care with public insurance, a much less “socialized” system than our highway system, our parks system, our school system, our law enforcement system, our fire and rescue system, etc. Does Perriello support single-payer, or does he support some third-way proposal that offers the choice of national health coverage, or does he support tweaking the system we’ve got and covering more kids? Perriello put out a statement yesterday condemning Goode’s vote against expanding SCHIP (the State Children’s Health Insurance Program). Congressional leaders’ promotion of that bill was arguably a farce given the guaranteed veto. But the important question for Perriello is whether he thinks such minor fixes are all that is needed.
Third on Perriello’s list of issues is Education and Job Training:
“There is no higher calling for government than to help its people reach their God-given potential, and there are few better ways to do that than to ensure that all our children receive a quality education. We must support our local teachers and help recruit and retain new ones. We must develop better ways of evaluating our schools to encourage a focus on knowledge and learning. Educational opportunities must begin earlier and continue later in life by prioritizing a pre-K year, affordable and accessible college education and vocational training, and the lifelong skills training required to ensure American workers remain competitive in the global economy.”
Again, this is miles ahead of Virgil Goode. So I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m picking nits when I ask what Perriello would do for those of us in his district who do not believe in God or “God-given potential” or appreciate his insertion of religion into unrelated topics. Perriello actually does this very often. In his Raising Kaine interview he said: “My faith helps sustain me through difficult times, shapes my commitment to service, and defines my belief that we will ultimately have to answer for how we have treated the least among us.” Do those of us without “faith” then lack an important tool for believing we should care for the least among us? This is not an academic question. Virginia schools have a long history, still present today, of teaching religion in violation of the law. One common practice is setting up trailers just off school property and giving students the option of attending Bible Study there or studying on their own for an hour while being shamed by their teachers and classmates. Is this discriminatory environment helped by a congressional candidate who can’t stop advertising his theism? Virginia schools are also suffering horribly from not enough money and too much testing. Does Perriello favor increased federal funding for schools? How would he fund preschool and college? Does he favor eliminating the testing requirements of the “No Child Left Behind” law? Does he favor eliminating the section of that same law that requires schools to send students’ names and information to military recruiters?
The fourth topic Perriello discusses is National Security:
“Americans are less safe today than on September 12th because of the decisions made by this Administration and many in Congress. Tom has spent much of his career fighting for justice-based security solutions in Western Africa, Darfur, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and he will apply the expertise he gained by focusing on results instead of rhetoric in Congress.”
Pointing out that the actions of Bush and Cheney have made us less safe is important and not done enough. But what would Perriello do about it? He gives a longer answer in the Raising Kaine interview:
“The Iraq war was fundamentally flawed in more ways than one,” Perriello says, “We were wrong about our intelligence – not just the WMDs, but the even bigger mistake of not realizing that Al Qaeda considered Saddam Hussein an enemy. Like Brer Rabbit asking not to be thrown in the brier patch, we ended up removing a regime Osama Bin Laden hated while making it easy for them to pitch this as West vs. Islam, rather than rule of law vs. terror. President Bush, Rep. Goode, and others did not mean to make America less safe, but they have repeatedly committed the error of fighting on the battlefield Bin Laden wanted instead of on our terms. And in the meantime, we broke a 225-year American principle of opposing preventative strike and torture.
“But now we have a mess that we can and must fix. There are solutions in Iraq but every General has agreed that they are political, not military solutions. For the past two years, I have been advocating for a N.E.W. plan for Iraq that uses troop reductions as leverage to force a new power-sharing arrangement that is at the heart of any successful strategy:
“NEGOTIATE. Iraq will be stabilized by a negotiated political process, not military force. All Iraqi factions and neighbors must be included.
“EMPOWER THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY. Neither the US, nor the Iraqi government can lead this process. Only more impartial and legitimate international actors like the United Nations, EU and OIC can mediate the new talks.
“WITHDRAW RESPONSIBLY. The US should respect the wishes of 78% of Iraqis and permanently and completely withdraw its military presence from Iraq under an agreed timetable supported by the Iraqi people.
“Both parties have been wrong to focus on troop size as an end in itself. The goal of commitment to full withdrawal is to bring the Sunnis back to the table and reset the rules of governance. The military has done its part in Iraq, but the politicians have failed miserably to provide a strategy for victory. It is time for leaders who don’t rest until the job is done.”
Perriello consistently claims that Bush and Cheney made outrageous mistakes but did not intentionally mislead. The evidence is, of course, overwhelmingly the other way: http://afterdowningstreet.org/keydocuments And the purpose of discussing this is not to be gratuitously mean to Bush or Cheney, but to set a precedent for future administrations. A negotiator of peace settlements should be aware of the importance of truth and justice and the damage that can be done by coverups.
And Perriello seems to promote the “Now that we’re there we can’t simply leave” line, which justifies the prolongation of a genocidal crime.
But Perriello, much better than most of those in Congress or trying to get into Congress, points out that the occupation has benefitted al Qaeda, points out the glaring reversal of American opposition to aggressive war, includes the war crime of torture as part of the description of the war, understands the significance of Iraqi opinion, proposes working with international bodies, and proposes a COMPLETE withdrawal. While Perriello talks about time tables and implies an acceptance of the “Pottery Barn Theory,” he favors complete withdrawal on a timetable “supported by the Iraqi people.” That’s a fast time table.
I find these comments encouraging and a longshot better than Virgil Goode’s limitless support for slaughtering human beings as long as they’re Muslims. Perriello has also signed onto a plan with several other congressional challengers that is more of a mixed bag. They call it the “Responsible Plan”. You can read the 35-page plan at http://www.responsibleplan.com
The candidates supporting this plan are acknowledging that there is an occupation underway and are talking about it. They are talking about ending it and avoiding such occupations in the future. They are talking about diplomacy. They mention “humanitarian concerns.” They mention restoring the Constitution. They propose placing mercenaries under some form of law. They include the media problem as part of the war problem. They speak the words “war profiteers.” They oppose U.S. control of Iraqi oil. They want to prosecute those guilty of war crimes, and they say so – although they don’t name the guilty parties. These are all steps in the right direction.
But the plan has, I think, many weaknesses. First and foremost, it is being used as a tool to divert pressure on the current Congress to stop funding the occupation now. As the current Congress debates shoveling another $178 billion (give or take) into the occupation, the activist group True Majority is urging Congress to consider this “reasonable plan” to end the occupation at some future unspecified date. The rest of us, in perhaps a truer majority, are urging Congress not to fund another year and a half of slaughter, a move that – among its less significant results – will probably hurt Democrats’ election hopes this November.
There is no irresponsible plan to end the occupation of Iraq, and the implication of the “responsible” plan’s title can only be slowness. The sooner the occupation is ended the better.
The plan doesn’t actually include any plan in terms of committing any would-be members of Congress to doing anything at all, other than supporting a series of bills to recriminalize unconstitutional actions by the president (without holding him accountable). There is no mention of any commitment to ceasing to fund the occupation. A serious plan would simply say:
Congress shall cease to bring up bills to fund the occupation, and we commit to voting no on any such bills and on any rules to bring them up for a vote, and to publicly lobbying the leadership not to bring them up. This will quickly cause the legal funding of the occupation to come to an end. Misappropriation of funds by the president to continue the occupation will constitute yet another impeachable offense to add to the list on which we urge the House to act immediately.
Here’s a serious plan: http://www.actblue.com/page/outofiraq
In the “responsible plan,” there’s no mention of Iraqi deaths and destruction, no mention of restitution or actual reconstruction. There’s no mention of withdrawing contractors and mercenaries. And there’s no mention of the removal of impeachment from the Constitution and all that follows from that, and all that is hopeless without its reinstatement. In fact, supporters of the plan want to eliminate signing statements by passing a bill (think about that one for a minute). The authors appear to want an even larger military than the current one, which is the largest ever in the history of the world. They couch environmentally sane energy policy in the language of xenophobia. Prominently displayed on the list of endorsers are four military big whigs. Not a single expert in peace or diplomacy or democracy is listed.
Half of every tax dollar goes to military expenses now. Does Perriello favor a larger or smaller military, or does he think it’s just the right size?
In the Raising Kaine interview, Perriello was asked about Iran:
“Is it acceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons, and if not, what would you advocate doing about it?”
“No, it is not acceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons. The situation we find ourselves in today is a result of abject failure by both Presidents Clinton and Bush to salvage the NPT. President Bush has once again made things worse by choosing strategies of talking tough but negotiating weak. In fact, his tactics have repeatedly strengthened Ahmadinejad’s hand.”
Again, Perriello hits the important point that Bush has made us less safe and strengthened those he opposes. Again, Perriello goes to the root cause: in this case, our long standing failure to live up to and promote the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. We have more nukes now than at the height of the Cold War. What steps does Perriello favor to stop nuclear proliferation and encourage disarmament?
The fifth and final issue on Perriello’s website is Oil Independence:
“Our national security, our climate, and our economic competitiveness demand that we achieve independence from fossil fuels during this generation. Our leaders have lacked the courage to do what is necessary to make our country safe and to encourage the ‘dot-com’ boom of the next generation—alternative energy and efficiency technologies. Tom will ensure that the farmers, businesses, and consumers of the 5th District have the tools and the incentives to lead America through this challenge.”
Again, this sounds worlds superior to Virgil Goode. It gets even better in the Raising Kaine interview, in which Perriello is asked to support cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and replies that he favors complete independence from fossil fuels in a generation (a time period usually understood to be less than 42 years). But Perriello dodges the question of whether he would tax polluters:
“Do you support cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050? How would you go about doing that, and specifically would you support a revenue-neutral carbon tax on polluting industries?”
“We need to commit to independence from fossil fuels within a generation, and that will require major investments, a substantial shift in incentives, and a culture change as consumers. A revenue-neutral tax shift is one way to do this, but so are cap-and-trade systems that have worked to address problems such as acid rain. As for the target, I most often hear from experts that we must draw the line at no more than a 2-degree Celsius temperature increase. Our goal must be set not by what seems politically possible but what will actually produce the end result we need.”
Elsewhere, Perriello has been quoted ( http://perrielloforcongress.com/news/article-3-26-08-3 ) as saying “Farmers need to serve as freedom fighters from foreign oil.” Of course, the oil is not a problem because it is foreign, but because it is oil. And biofuels are not necessarily the answer even if they’re domestic and clean, and even if the Fifth District of Virginia has a lot of struggling farmers in it. What of the danger of putting fuels in competition with food for farm land? What about creating local markets for local food crops?
Among the issues missing from Perriello’s website is impeachment and the rule of law. Perriello has said the following:
“Telecoms should absolutely not be granted any kind of immunity for illegal wiretapping. They not only broke the law, they broke the trust of people, and they should not get a free pass. Our Constitutional principles should be absolute in this regard, and we should not set a precedent that corporations are let off the hook for breaking the law.”
But, of course, the President has openly confessed to breaking the same law. Should there be a precedent that presidents are let off the hook?
Perriello has made a good Youtube video on the topic of telecom immunity. He should make more videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxqUfpmLnHU
In this video, he says that the Bush Administration has spent a lot of time trying to undermine Constitutional principles. Elsewhere ( http://www.perrielloforcongress.com/news/article-3-26-08-3 )we find this:
“‘Peace is a good thing, but justice is what we wanted,’ said Perriello regarding his time spent working in other countries.”
Do we want justice in this country?
On Raising Kaine, Perriello said:
“Waterboarding is torture, and torture is an affront to human dignity. America is better than that. It is also true that torture produces bad intelligence – false leads far more likely to distract us from the ticking time bomb than to lead us there. These tactics are lazy intelligence gathering requested by lazy leaders without the courage to do what it takes for America to produce the quality intel networks we had during the Cold War. But even if it were not a strategic disaster, it is wrong and America is better than this. We should not torture or waterboard. Period.”
What should we do if a president authorizes torture?
Raising Kaine asked: “Do you agree with Al Gore that our nation is now facing a ‘constitutional crisis?’ If so, what would you advocate doing about it?”
Perriello replied: “Gore raises many strong points. While I would have liked to see more leaders in the US Congress stand up on issues like habeas and wiretapping, I believe that a new Democrat President will end the Imperial Executive. Regardless, we must worry about what precedents have been set and do what is necessary to correct the path.”
Perriello sounds like someone who knows what is right but wants to get along with current congressional leaders who obviously do not. On the other hand, Donna Edwards of Maryland, a fellow supporter of the “Responsible Plan,” backed impeachment until she won her primary this year (which in her district amounts to winning the election) and now she no longer supports impeachment. Even promises explicitly made are unreliable. Can we expect more from those merely hinted at?
Do you think I’m asking the wrong questions? Phone in and ask your own:
I’ll be interviewing Tom Perriello live, and he’ll be taking questions from callers, between 8 and 9 p.m. ET on Wednesday, April 30, 2008, at http://thepeoplespeakradio.net/listen-live You can call in tollfree from anywhere in the United States or Canada at 888-228-4494 or anywhere else in the world at 877-489-6350. If you missed the live show, you can find the audio clip at http://thepeoplespeakradio.net/audio/2008