I’m a Virginia conservative, and I don’t think Northam should resign – Washington Examiner
Gov. Ralph Northam’s now-infamous blackface-KKK yearbook photo may soon end his career. A large swath of the public, including many prominent liberals, progressives, and Democratic politicians, are demanding that the Virginia Democrat step down. Even notable institutions like the editorial board of the Richmond Times-Dispatch immediately called for Northam to step aside.
Northam now claims he wasn’t actually in the 1984 picture. If it’s later proven that he is in the photo, he should absolutely resign for lying while in office. Regardless, Northam admitted to dressing in blackface to impersonate Michael Jackson. But that offense, from more than three decades ago, would not alone constitute grounds for resignation.
If it’s revealed there’s more to the story than that awful decision, then yes, Northam should absolutely be out of office. Nasty behavior three decades ago is bad, but lying about that behavior today is disqualifying.
Still, on its own, in the context of Northam’s life and career, a single blackface incident from 1984 does not render Northam unfit for office.
Ask yourself this: Do we want to be a culture that can forgive very old, offensive behavior when a transgressor recants and seeks forgiveness? Or do we want to be the kind of culture that ruthlessly seeks out past transgressions and savagely drives all transgressors from polite society, whether or not they are sorry?
It seems that we are heading toward the latter. Our sociopolitical discourse, amplified by social media, is increasingly becoming a game of revenge-driven one-upsmanship, a dizzying race to dig up as much dirt as possible on the private lives of political opponents and punish them to the fullest extent possible for it. This is increasingly a bipartisan affair, and it is catastrophic.
Such is the case with Northam’s blackface photograph. Hardly anyone has been able to say just why this photograph should compel Northam to resign. The Richmond Times-Dispatch’s editorial board came the closest when it argued that the 1984 photo “reveals a lack of adult judgment that is disturbing.” But who among us has never had moments of unadulterated carelessness, graceless behavior, or idiotic deportment? Some of us have even done truly offensive things. Is forgiveness impossible? Is one infraction enough to warrant someone’s total exclusion from public life?
Others had even less-convincing outrage. Former Vice President Joe Biden said that Northam “has lost all moral authority and should resign immediately.” But this is absurd coming from Biden. In 2010, Biden spoke favorably of former Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., a former avowed segregationist and exalted cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan. Surely Northam’s stupid, insensitive behavior is far less offensive than Byrd’s leadership in the actual Klan.
One of the only voices of reason has been former Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democratic Party’s vice presidential nominee in 2000. He told CNN, “I think there’s a rush to judgment that is unfair to him. … Really he ought to be judged on the context of his whole life.” Former Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., also urged people to judge Northam more fairly.
Northam apparently participated in an ugly, unfunny dress-up stunt several decades ago, long before his political career. Does his stupidity in 1984 affect his ability to govern in 2019? Is there anyone who sincerely believes that Northam is actually racist, anyone who before last week believed Northam was a moral man who suddenly believes he is a racist governor pushing racist policies?
This is not the same as other politicians done in by long patterns of immoral behavior. Former Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., for example, was accused of groping multiple women both before and after he took office, not just one. Similarly, if evidence of other racist behavior were to come out about Northam, the rush to oust him would make more sense.
But we have grown so used to reflexive outrage and immediate calls for professional destruction that we often discard our better judgment and rush to conclusions rather than wait for more evidence. Yes, a public servant should definitely be obligated to explain why he dressed up in a racially inflammatory costume during his college days. No, such incidents are not politically disqualifying — at least not automatically. One transgression should not be a ruiner of careers, in politics or elsewhere. We need a higher standard than that.
If there is more to Northam’s sordid past than a repugnant costume stunt, he most assuredly should resign. If he is lying about it, then that’s worthy of resignation, too. But saying one offensive costume should result in the end of one’s political career is a wild overreaction.
We all have more sense than this. Outrage culture, where we simply seek to jump to conclusions before considering context and other evidence, has to come to an end.
Daniel Payne is a writer based in Virginia. He is an assistant editor for the College Fix, the news magazine of the Student Free Press Association. He blogs at Trial of the Century.