At this point, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam should be chased from office for continuing to treat voters like they’re a bunch of credulous idiots.
If you had dressed up as a Klansman or put on blackface for a costume party when you were a 24-year-old student, would you remember the incident? Smearing black makeup all over your face to look like Michael Jackson or draping yourself in a white sheet to cosplay a racist cross-burner—even way back in 1984 Virginia—wasn’t just another Saturday night out drinking with friends. It would take a bit of effort. It might be noticed. It might even make the yearbook.
If someone accused me of attending a costume party dressed as a member of the Schutzstaffel, I would be exceptionally confident in my answer. Yet Northam couldn’t initially recall if he was the one wearing blackface or the one wearing the KKK robe in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook photo with his name attached—which is definitely a weird thing to be unsure about.
In any event, Northam admitted to being in the picture. “I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo,” he admitted (italics mine.) Soon he walked back that statement only conceding that he once “darkening his face” to look like Jackson—maybe in his yearbook photo; maybe not.
Northam promised to investigate his own behavior, and after a report by the school was released yesterday, the governor now says he is surely “not in the racist and offensive photo that appears under my name.”
Well, the university’s external investigation, which Northam claims exonerates him of stupidity, actually didn’t “conclusively determine” the identity of either person shown, but did state that there’s no reason to believe any mistakes were made by the yearbook staff. So, in essence, it tells us nothing about the picture.
Buried in the report, though, is this little nugget: both the current president of Eastern Virginia Medical School, Richard Homan, and his predecessor, Harry Lester, knew about the racist photo of Northam and said nothing. Did either president have an ethical obligation to divulge information about a gubernatorial candidate who was possible closet racist even if it embarrassed their school? Seems like a fair question.
What if we learned that both Lester and Homan also contributed to the Northam political campaigns, which is not mentioned in the report? Does that change the perception that these men were merely protecting the school? The notion that Homan didn’t want to get involved and create the perception that he was involving the school in the election is unconvincing because withholding information is getting involved in the election. It seems more plausible Homan was protecting a politician at the expense of the school, which could have gotten in front of the ugly story.
In fact, when the Northam yearbook story broke, Homan, who had talked about how embarrassed he was about the backwardness of his state after the Charlottesville tiki torch incident, intimated that he was shocked by the photos. But how could he have been shocked if he knew about their existence all along?
Whether or not a person should be forgiven for the stupid things he did as a young adult is a question we no longer seriously entertain in this deeply partisan environment. Maybe Northam is genuinely regretful. Maybe he’s a different person. Maybe voters don’t even care what politicians did 35 years ago.
Most people also understand that a yearbook picture of a blackfaced Republican governor would atomize a career within hours. Then again, the chance of a racist photo of a conservative politician being kept from the media for years is in the vicinity of zilch.
It’s true that Democrats will occasionally push out their own if the next-in-line is also a member of the party (Al Franken comes to mind). Yet they balked at removing Northam when it became clear that the line of succession might be a cascade of potential scandals that would end with a Republican governor. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax would soon be accused of sexual assault and Attorney General Mark Herring would admit he had also dressed in blackface. Democrats have different sets of rules for themselves.
One also imagines that people like CNN’s Chris Cuomo wouldn’t be “okay” with moving on if a conservative governor had been seen wearing blackface. “If you hold on to your guns, and you wait,” he told Anderson Cooper yesterday, “there is a good chance that if the media can’t make it happen soon, they will go away.” A skeptic may note that the way the Northam stories have been covered tells us that the media doesn’t want it to happen.
In a decent world, Northam would have stepped down after casually describing and defending legal infanticide while discussing a Democratic Party bill that would have allowed abortion until the very moment of birth without any restrictions. But don’t worry, you survived, governor. You can stop treating everyone like a bunch of gullible fools.