Much as they may quietly feel a certain schadenfreude watching numerous Democrats––including most of their declared presidential candidates––call for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to resign after the discovery of a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page from 1984, the spectacle may also make the historically minded conservative a bit queasy.
Northam certainly deserves no sympathy. Only a week ago he calmly defended infanticide while arguing for a law permitting abortion even at birth. Further, let’s not forget his utterly despicable election campaign, which featured ads implying with no factual basis that his Republican opponent supported racists chasing down dark-skinned people with pickup trucks.
Northam now claims that he was not in the offending yearbook photo, but admits that around the same time he had appeared in blackface in a Michael Jackson spoof, for which he apologized. This did not mollify his leftist critics, who continued to call for his resignation. As the head of the NAACP explained on MSNBC, there was no excusing such behavior in 1984. Particularly striking was another MSNBC guest, who told Ali Velshi that Northam needed to resign and engage in self-reflection about his racism.
Northam Doesn’t Get It
There is a deer-in-headlights character to Northam’s obstinacy. He does not seem to comprehend how this could be happening to a leftist champion such as he considers himself to be. However, the modern left’s intolerance for ideological or behavioral deviation goes far back.
In the 1790s, early leaders of the first leftist revolution in France, such as Georges Danton, were also astonished when they found themselves following the aristocrats to the guillotine. This self-immolation has characterized every leftist movement since. After all, Karl Marx denounced utopian socialists with the same or greater vigor than he used for capitalists.
The next great leftist revolution in Russia created the gulags and purges directed against dissidents and deviants from the ruling creed, regardless of their revolutionary credentials. These techniques were carried forward by every subsequent leftist victor, from Mao Zedong in China to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. So-called “democratic socialist” regimes were less bloody, using instead punitive government regulation, ostracism, and social pressure to assure conformity with the leftist orthodoxy of the moment.
For most younger readers, such comparisons may seem so last-century. Fortunately, the leftist filmmaker Armando Iannucci has provided us an arresting reminder in his recent Showtime film “Death of Stalin.” National Review’s Kyle Smith selected it as one of the 10 best conservative films of 2018, noting “it’s one of only a handful of films ever to explore the internal depravity and absurdity of the Soviet Union, and it does so to devastating effect.” This very dark comedy parodies the machinations of the communist goons ruling the Soviet Union when Joseph Stalin died in 1953.
Particularly instructive is the character of foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov, played by Monty Python veteran Michael Palin. In the film, Molotov is on the verge of being purged (an artistic liberty––in fact Molotov was removed from power several years before Stalin’s death). After long years in the system, Molotov reflexively blames himself for incurring Stalin’s displeasure, constantly running on about how deeply he regrets whatever he unknowingly did to deviate from the party line. I recommend the film and Palin’s groveling performance to Northam so he can better understand the behavior now expected of him (although not, of course, the part where Molotov allies with Khrushchev to kill secret police chief Beria).
Current Conduct Isn’t The Only Thing on People’s Minds
As Northam has learned, leftist purges do not just hold people liable for their current conduct. Almost every declared Democratic presidential contender has launched his or her campaign with profuse apologies for whatever beliefs or actions in their previous lives deviated from current progressive orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Of special note are candidates Kirsten Gillibrand and Tulsi Gabbard, who blamed their benighted conservative families for their past “incorrect” thinking on issues like gun control and same-sex marriage. Having bourgeois rather than proletarian origins was always a reason for suspicion among communists, and a conservative upbringing now appears likely to bring similar scrutiny on aspiring leftists.
Watching the swift and efficient dispatch of Northam, one is struck by the contrast with the right. Conservatives also certainly have their squabbles over ideology. Witness, for example, Ann Coulter’s fulminations against President Trump for any possible lapse in his fealty to the true faith of “build the wall.” However, let’s face it, conservatives are not very good at enforcing any orthodoxy.
Part of the reason may be that conservatives are too distracted. They are more likely to be married, have more children, be more religious, and are more involved in civic and charitable activities, too entrepreneurial and wrapped up in their businesses than leftists, and thus less able to concentrate all their energies on enforcing political purity.
Another reason for the right’s shortfall in policing its own is that, for leftists, the state is all. Hence, politics is everything. In contrast, conservatives not only have all of the aforementioned life distractions, but they reject the idea that the state is all. Consequently, they fail so often to generate the passion for ideological purity that characterizes the left in its campaign to purge Northam.
There is a rich irony in Northam’s fall to his party’s racism police, for his campaign ads implying that Republican opponent Ed Gillespie was in some way a racist were among the most vile and reprehensible examples of race-baiting in modern memory. And it is true that the modern left does not threaten us with re-education camps. (Who needs them, when public schools and universities are so effective at enforcing correct thinking?)
However, history tells me the Northam episode will only whet the appetite of our left’s zero tolerance of deviation. Like millions of others who have lived under leftist domination, we ask, Who will be next?