Most people are familiar with Jane Austen’s Emma, even if they don’t realize it. The often remade and modernized story shows up all the time either in new movie versions or thinly disguised TV shows, from a 2009 BBC series and the Miramax movie with Gwyneth Paltrow to the 80’s vehicle Clueless with Alicia Silverstone. Most recently, Emma showed up for me in, of all places, a Today show Obama political ad.
Yesterday morning I was watching the Today show waiting for the weather report as I have every morning for years when an Obama ad for Tom Perriello came on; a series of ads that can be credited with closing the numbers on the Virginia primary race for governor.
For those who don’t follow Virginia politics, Perriello is currently the younger and trendier candidate in a Democratic primary race for governor against Ralph Northam, the more staid but stable current lieutenant governor, in what has turned into a race between the the National party (Perriello is backed by Obama, Sanders and Warren) and the Virginia state party (Northam is endorsed by ranking Democratic Senator Dick Saslaw, and most Virginia based progressive organizations.)
On the Today ad Obama is smiling arm in arm with Tom telling us what a wonderful progressive Tom is, and how Obama hired him to head the progressive think tank Center for American Progress; but back to how that made me think of Jane Austen.
For those who don’t remember, Emma is a lovely, privileged and in many ways bright and capable young woman, who is constantly dabbling in the lives of her neighbors and friends. However, her narrow world and resulting lack of awareness of class differences blinds her to the destructive effects of her constant meddling.
You see, Emma’s friends, unlike her, live in the ordinary but wider world, dealing with daily survival and sometimes struggling to maintain the human dignity that Emma’s wealth and station automatically affords her.
So, Today Show/Emma Voila! First thing on a Wednesday morning it came to me. The National Democratic Party is an unrelenting and completely clueless Emma!
The tip off was Obama’s perception that everyone would see Perriello’s credentials with Center for American Progress (CAP) as progressive. No offense, but only a disconnected, aristocratic elite could think that. Center for American Progress was founded by John Podesta (Yes, the John Podesta of Clinton’s Whitehouse, and Wikileaks e-mail fame), and staffed by a mixture of Clinton pro-privatization Democrats and a collection of Reaganite economic neoliberals. It is mainline national party, but that is Not the same thing as progressive, even if they call themselves so.
That think tank Obama brags of Perriello heading for several years during the Obama administration was constantly behind the scenes dabbling in ordinary people’s lives, particularly in the case of local communities trying to run their schools, with no clue as to how badly they were screwing up things for those actually living the reality of their policy recommendations. CAP has supported school privatization and the disastrous education policies that have destabilized the lives of children in even our best schools. Ala, Emma!
Given the continued close connections between prominent school reform billionaires and those in the National party and CAP, I can only assume they are still wanting to “improve” public schools through similar but newly named policies in the ESSA bill. They still are like Emma, inviting poorer friends to the party so they set them up and can convince them to be more like the superior aristocracy.
The primary election in Virginia is coming up on June 13th, and the National is seriously wanting a statewide win, which sadly, was virtually assured before they injected themselves into the process. The state party is looking to avoid an ALEC-DeVos hostile takeover from the radical right and get some solidly dependable governance: Same goal, sort of, but world's apart in stakes and possibly in outcome. Not all Democratic wins are equal, just as Emma and her friends were looking to get married, but what they each needed was very different. Obama, Sanders, and Warren would like Virginia to marry Tom.
In the end of the book Emma has an epiphany, and though she still doesn’t really understand, she’s learned enough to grant her friends and neighbors a little more autonomy and a little less condescension. I'm pretty sure the National Democratic Party is not there yet. It seems they continue to believe the whole world would be great again if only everyone went to Harvard or Yale.
Tom Perriello says he no longer supports the testing-data-privatization movement Center for American Progress promoted under his leadership. It’s hard to argue with any of his currently pronounced positions. He says all the right things. But then, Ralph Northam actually cast his votes against charter schools expansion in Virginia in the last two state legislatures.
But don’t get any ideas that Gillespie or the Republicans would be a better choice than either Northam or Perriello. In Austen terms, voting for Republicans these days is pretty much like running away with Wickham; an entirely more dangerous proposition.