Recently, our friend E. J. Dionne has offered two models of an unabashed progressivism as a way forward for Democrats, Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania and Tom Perriello in Virginia. Both lost. Here was E. J. on Sestak:
A Sestak victory would be an especially powerful tonic for progressives because the former admiral has been brave in supporting trials for the Guantanamo detainees and a ban on assault weapons.
He has also been unabashed — and far more entertaining than most Democrats — in defending his votes for the stimulus, health-care reform and the Wall Street rescue. . . .
A Sestak victory would certainly be a major defeat for Tea Party-style conservatism. But it would also offer progressives lessons in how to develop a down-to-earth outside game of their own.
And on Perriello:
Rep. Tom Perriello is this election’s test case of whether casting tough votes is better than ducking them and whether a progressive who fashions an intelligent populism can survive in deeply conservative territory. . . .
The normal course for a Democrat in a Southern countryside district would be to declare himself a conservative, ally with the Republicans on as many roll calls as possible and tell the president to find his votes elsewhere.
Perriello didn’t do that. Instead, he supported the stimulus package, the cap-and-trade bill and health-care reform. Not only that, he proudly defends his votes and sees the administration as being not forceful enough in presenting its program as a coherent effort to deal with the nation’s biggest problems. . . .
Thus has Virginia’s 5th District become a laboratory test of many propositions. Do politicians who vote their convictions over their obvious political interests get rewarded or punished? Can a Democrat use populism to trump garden-variety conservatism? And will the massive intervention of corporate money turn this election to the Republicans, or instead turn off voters? A lot rides on this one-term underdog who turns 36 on Saturday.