Tom Perriello is no fool. Rather, Perriello is a close student of history who knows that the roots of the progressive movement are firmly planted in the advent of the populist movement.
So it comes as no surprise that, much as Mark Warner labeled himself a “radical centrist” (which amazingly enough, the advocates of the nouvelle droite and the alt-right in Europe have borrowed the term — and not with Warner in mind) that Periello seems to want to capture that segment of the Trump voter that remains allergic to the conservative establishment.
There’s some truth to this in the difference between conservatives and populists. Conservatives seek to preserve liberty; populists seek to recapture what has been lost.
…that sense of loss is what Perriello hopes to recapture.
“I’m a populist in the sense that I think the people are often smarter about what’s going on than the leadership in Washington,” Perriello said. “I’m a populist in the sense that I think we need to understand that growth really comes from the purchasing power of the working middle class out, it doesn’t trickle down from the top. I’m a pragmatist in that I’m not out here to be a bomb thrower, I’m out here to solve problems.”
Compelling argument, if not for the fact that it’s the same progressive shtick that exploded coal communities in Southwest Virginia and helped dismantle and destroy manufacturing jobs all along the Southside.
No one buys the idea that Perriello embraces a form of populism that will bring back the coal jobs and tie folks back down to a factory bench for 10 hours a day. That’s not a future; that’s a sentence — and we can do better.
Interesting to any outside observer is this: just as Republicans dive into Northern Virginia hoping to mollify those huddled around Washington that they will not declare war on their livelihoods (i.e. government), so too must Democrats go into “real Virginia” and attempt to mollify those huddled around the husks of remaining industries… offering the siren song that maybe, just maybe, a Democratic administration will revive their fortunes.
There’s a problem with that approach. In Southside and Southwest Virginia, the mines are already closed. In Northern Virginia, the mining of the public trust via the federal government continues apace. One industry is still at roaring speed; the other shuttered without a tear of sympathy from the power brokers in Washington.
Pragmatic populism is just shorthand for screwing other people first. For those already feeling the effects of “hope” and “change” as the old economies shutter, the solution is not going to be slowing the process of creative destruction.
Rather, the solution will be to unleash Virginia’s energy potential, reinvest in workforce development, creating opportunities for microfinance and access to capital so that the Southwest and Southside can revitalize themselves with newer and high-tech manufacturing (commonly known as Manufacturing 2.0), build STEM Academies and robust four year institutions that complement Southside’s geographic advantages between the Golden Triangle in Raleigh and the Golden Crescent anchored in Virginia.
Only the free market solutions championed by conservatives — Gillespie chief among them — will revitalize the core communities ravaged by the progressive politics of the past. Perriello embraces that past… conservatives rally around the future.