You’ll never see a dance quite like the one staged by the Washington Post’s editorial board today. In a scathing condemnation, the paper demanded that Ralph Northam resign as governor of Virginia. For dressing in blackface? Kinda:
GOV. RALPH NORTHAM (D) can no longer effectively serve the people of Virginia who elected him. His shifting and credulity-shredding explanations for the racist photograph on his medical school yearbook page, and the silence into which he then succumbed for days — after initially promising to do “the hard work” of atonement and apology to restore his standing with Virginians — is simply too much. His decade-long record in public office is admirable; it is equally true that his governorship has been irredeemably wrecked by the self-inflicted, racially callous and clueless mess he has made in recent days. …
Facts do matter, and the ones surrounding the Northam fiasco remain unsettled and unanswered. First and foremost among the questions they raise: How could he possibly have admitted to something as damning as appearing in the photo if he was certain he wasn’t one of the people in it? How did that photo wind up on his page if he didn’t furnish it to the yearbook editors? What do the governor’s now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t statements say about his judgment? The explanations Mr. Northam has proffered are vague and unconvincing. Virginians deserve better. Mr. Northam’s time is up.
Did you catch the nuance in this declaration? It’s no longer the blackface that matters, but Northam’s reaction to the media coverage of it. Why might that be? Three guesses, and any without a Herring doesn’t count:
The man who would succeed him, Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, has his own problems: He has been accused of sexual assault by a college professor. That’s a serious matter. But it is not relevant to Mr. Northam’s travails or to his manifest inability at this point to be an effective governor. It cannot justify his remaining in office. Nor can Wednesday’s news that Attorney General Mark R. Herring, also a Democrat, who would become governor if Mr. Fairfax did not or could not, wore blackface to a party as a college student in 1980, according to a statement he issued.
It’s reasonable to guess that other revelations elsewhere, about other public figures with their own histories or photos of offensive, insensitive or racist conduct, may surface in coming days. Each should be judged on its own set of circumstances. In the case of Mr. Northam, the circumstances are decisive; what’s done cannot be undone. He must go.
It’s reasonable to guess that more blackface stories from the 1980s will show up? Growing up in Virginia must have been quite an interesting passage. Contrary to the editors’ argument, though, Herring’s past is very relevant to this question, especially because Herring publicly demanded Northam’s resignation over the blackface picture. Herring did so despite knowing of the incident in his own past when he dressed up like a rapper — just as Northam said he’d dressed up as Michael Jackson. How can the Washington Post editorial board excoriate Northam for his 48 hours of fumbling on the scandal while completely ignoring Herring’s opportunism and hypocrisy?
That’s actually an easy question to answer. With Fairfax about to get chased out of office over a sexual-assault allegation and Herring in the same position as Northam, a resignation might put Republican speaker Kirk Cox in the governor’s mansion. Ergo, the standard can’t be the blackface — it has to be Northam’s reaction to the controversy.
In that vein, Instapundit provided a rather curious bookend to the editorial disavowing Northam. Fifteen months ago, WaPo editors accused Ed Gillespie of stoking racial tensions and endorsed Northam for the job they’re now demanding he leave:
Unfortunately, Mr. Gillespie chose a different path. Faced with a choice of highlighting his undeniable command of policy or pandering to vile and racially inflammatory tendencies in his party’s base, the Republican opted for the latter. In so doing, he shocked even some admirers. …
Having used massive TV advertising buys to whip up the fears and hatreds of his party’s extremists — by equating illegal immigrants with violent Hispanic gangs; by embracing Confederate monuments weeks after they were the rallying cause for neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville; by distorting the facts on rights restoration for a convicted sex offender — the Republican candidate has swapped his cloak as a problem-solver for a demagogue’s mantle. Having chosen to campaign as a divider, Mr. Gillespie’s chances of governing as a uniter are dim.
Just call today’s editorial case of delayed buyer’s remorse.
Northam’s reaction to this has been self-destructive and contradictory, without doubt. However, he probably never saw this attack coming, which might explain the 48-hour story-shifting. Northam appears to be in way over his head, a perception that started with his infanticide comments. But demands for resignations from elected officials should be made under a consistent standard, not just what benefits a favored party most at one time.
Northam and Herring are in the same situation and should face the same expectations. If one has to go, then so does the other, and it should be over whatever the actual offense was rather than whether they handled it with immediate grace. If the blackface incident isn’t disqualifying, then a faulty memory of it thirty-five years later about it or even prevarication over it is hardly worse.