The Pro-Perriello Argument

By David Swanson

This debate over the merits of one Democratic congress member may have relevance for others around the country.

I recently posted On Voting for Bad Democrats: the Perriello Predicament, expressing doubts about exactly how progressive Congressman Tom Perriello (D., VA-05) is.

Bill Lankford sent me a response, arguing in favor of supporting Perriello. I said I would post it, but asked if there was any way to strengthen it by mentioning even one thing Perriello had done in the past two years. Lankford had commented purely on who Perriello was deep in his heart. I like to vote for elected officials who do what I want done, more than those who just mean well.

Lankford got back to me with a list of good things Perriello has done. Pasted below, unedited, and included with his permission are: Lankford’s initial response, followed by his list, which he went in search of at my prompting. His support for Perriello came first. His search for some basis for that support came second. I point this out because it is a very common approach. I should also note my reaction to the list of reasons this Perriello supporter was able to unearth for supporting him. (Most groups pushing Perriello as a “bold progressive” don’t offer any reasons at all, so this is the strongest case I’ve seen made.)

First, there are only four good things on the list. One of the good reasons this peace activist found is “Voted for H.R. 4899: Making Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief and Summer Jobs.” Lankford found this in the Washington Post. The unfortunate thing about this vote is that it was for a bill to escalate the war in Afghanistan with $33 billion. Its title, I’ll grant you, sounds much more pleasant, but are we supposed to get out and work to reelect people who vote for bills with nice titles, when there are congress members in other districts in tight races who vote for bills that actually do good for the world? Ironically, one of the other three reasons to back Perriello is his cosponsorship of an unpassed bill that opposes international violence against women. Anyway, the case seems underwhelming to me, but rational and typical and worth considering. See for yourself:


Dear David,

I have read your email On voting for Bad Democrats, the Perriello Predicament with great care. I appreciate your argument and admire the use of your vote to make an important statement on war funding that I completely agree with. You not only made that decision, but backed it up with a protest action.

So its hard for me to criticize your position on the predicament of voting for Tom Perriello, as I intend to do. But I want to offer some counter arguments that lead me to that decision. The basic problem I have with your analysis is that we who have the luxury of following such principle, do not have to pay the price for its consequence.

I admit that much of my thinking is influenced by my work in Central America where it is clear that the hopes and struggles of the poor for a decent life have been constantly thwarted by the policies and actions of the US government representing the interests of large US cooperations. While Democratic administrations certainly share the blame for this, the Republicans are far worse, both when they are in power and when they are strong enough to influence the weak-kneed Democrats.

[Tom’s vow not to take donations from lobbyists or cooperations is clearly such a threat to the status quo that the National Republican Committee has had to attack him in their negative ads for doing just that. Of course they claim the opposite as usual.]

It is too easy to say that a good fifth district congressman should just vote his conscience. Almost any good person who did that would not be even a viable candidate, much less have any chance of winning. Sure we can imagine an ideal powerful person who might pull it off, but such supermen or even superwomen are hard to come by.

All the indications I have convince me that while Tom Perriello is not that superman, he is as close to it as we have any right to expect in Virginia. I disagree with his position on many issues that are important to me: war funding, nuclear power, gun control, for starters. But I am sure he sincerely believes in the right of all to decent health care, opposition to government control of women’s choices, and fundamental human rights. He is a caring human being.

If he has enough backing he will make the right votes. We have to continue to do the kind of work you are doing to educate the public on these issues. But until we are more successful, we cannot expect any politician to do the heavy lifting for us. I am convinced that Tom Perriello will be there for us if we give him enough support.

Now to the consequences of his not being there. It is races like his whose outcome will determine who controls the next congress. If the Republicans win, untold suffering will surely result. It is not just that Hurt is worse on all the issues in an intellectual sense, but that thousands around the world will suffer and die as a result of those differences. Even more than are dying in the current military wars. Supporting more Wall Street greed, even more brutal immigration policies, repeal of the recent significant increase in health care coverage, the maintenance of impoverished workers as well as losing any hope of reducing military wars will assure far more suffering.

It is the people who can’t vote, or have been so demoralized to not see any hope, that will suffer. Just as you cannot honorably vote for Perriello given your pledge, I cannot abandon the wonderful people I work with in Central America as well as similar people who for practical purposes are disenfranchised in this country. I am called not only to vote for Tom Perriello, but to work in his campaign.

We may reach the place where it is hopeless to try to work within the system, but I don’t think we are quite there yet. If we lose big this time, we may very well get to that point of no return soon. From what I have seen in Central America it is not a good place to be and the further down that road we go, the harder is to get back and the higher the human cost.

While I don’t expect or want you to stop the noble work you are doing and how you do it, I hope you will agree that there are other valid strategies in our quest to make things better.

In peace,

Bill Lankford
October 6, 2010


Hi David,

My quest for positive things in Tom Perriello’s congressional record has turned up more than I had expected. I started with the non-partisan services such as open Congress, Votes Database, Library of Congress, Wash. Post, and the like. That was an education in how hard it was for me to navigate these sources. I am sure you can do much better. There is an awful lot of fluff to wade through.

Then I looked at the Perriello’s campaign material on women’s issues because of my personal interest there. This is some of what what I found:

1. Voted for the Tribal Law and Order Act.
“ Major Victory for AIUSA which campaigned vigorously on the issue of sexual violence against Native American and Alaska Native women….” Amnesty International newsletter, Sept. 2010.
Signed into law by Obama, opposed by 90 Republicans in the House.
An important issue also for the Sheila Wellstone Institute.

2. Co-Sponsored H.R. 4594: International Violence against Women act of 2010.
GovTrack Insider
This is a long standing effort to bring the US into compliance with the much of the rest of the world on women’s rights. Long blocked by Republicans.

3. Voted for H.R. 4899: Making Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief and Summer Jobs …. 167 Republicans opposed.
Votes Database – Wash. Post

4. Co-sponsored H.R. 11 Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. Signed into law Jan.9, 2009.
Eight others on Women’s health and security
PerrielloCampaign Issues paper

Some of these benefit a relatively small number of people, but for those affected it is of great importance. This is where a better choice makes a large cumulative difference.

It’s been a busy week for me so I haven’t had a chance to look further, but I think it is important to emphasize again Perriello’s health care vote. I was also very disappointed in the final bill, but I think Tom’s decision to vote for it was a courageous one. I think he knew that it could cost him the election.

As bad as the bill was it was the best chance a first term congressman had to make some improvements in health care. If it did not have some important advantages for individuals, the insurance industry and the Republicans would not be so upset about it. If it really does expand health services to 14 million people, even through the private insurance system, that is a significant consequence. It also challenges the claimed right of insurance companies to screw people at will for profit, by eliminating pre-existing conditions, for example.

Thanks for all you do,

Bill Lankford
October 11, 2010

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