Can We Step Back And Ask, Why Not Forgive?

I want to believe Ralph Northam, but I don’t know which statement to believe.

I want our political discourse to recognize everybody has made mistakes, everybody has at least one clay foot and most of us two, all who judge shall themselves be judged.  But the American political arena now resembles the blood-soaked sand of the Roman Coliseum, with the crowd cheering each subsequent execution.  

Enough.  It needs to stop now.  If Northam gets through this, if a year from now he is chastened but still serving as our governor, America will be a stronger place.  If the mob on both sides takes him down, another victim will be sought and then another.

I have no idea yet what the truth is about that stupid 35-year-old photograph, and one correct word for whoever wore those racist costumes, whoever chose to publish those blackface photos in that yearbook, is stupid.  Initially Northam confirmed being one of the people, then denied it, leaving all of us left to wonder.

Frank Atkinson, who has hiked the high ground of Virginia politics during the decades when I wandered in the weeds, has this pastoral poem to a kinder, gentler past in this morning’s Richmond Times-Dispatch.  He’s right that when the cameras are turned off, the press corps out of the room, the mood changes and people can work surprisingly well together.

What’s changed is the camera is never off, the shrinking press corps supplemented by an explosion of camera phones and Twitter feeds, hungry for the gotcha moment.  That was in full swing right before somebody ambushed Northam with the yearbook page, and perhaps was the cause, that or the pipeline dispute.

I am consciously not referring to Northam with his current title, a title I normally always use even with ex-governors.  At question here is Ralph Northam the person, and the unrealistic perfection we demand of people who seek and hold elected office.

Ralph Northam woke up this morning the same person he was when he treated children in hospital, served in the General Assembly, and took the oath as governor.  If he were truly a racist, the people around him would have noticed, his behavior in private would show it.

I had the same attitude about Brett Kavanaugh, believing that if that one report were true, there would be a long parade of other credible witnesses confirming him as a sexual predator.  No such line formed to condemn Kavanaugh, and those who tried proved non-credible.  Now we get to watch for such a line forming to condemn Northam.  I’m betting none does.

I was prepared to doubt that photograph in the yearbook Friday, until Northam himself confirmed it.  “I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo…”  In later denying that photo, Northam then confirmed another blackface incident, so the hue and cry continues.  In 1984 I would have winced at blackface, but admit it would have been the Klan robes I considered more racist and offensive.  I would not assume anybody who wore blackface to a party or performance 35 years ago was a racist, then or now.  Klan robes?  That’s another thing.

I wish Northam had stood by his original statement, stood by his assertion – which we can all make – that things we thought long ago, blatant examples of poor judgment in the past, ought to be balanced by the full life record.  Either we believe in forgiveness and redemption, or we don’t.

All signs are we do not.

The recent death of former delegate and stellar human being Bill Axselle got me thinking about the other ghosts I daily see populating the halls in Mr. Jefferson’s Capitol, dozens of deceased legislators in both parties I’ve seen up close and personal, at their best and worst.  No man is a hero to his valet and that was often my role.  Some of them remain heroic to me.

Those who had racist attitudes often revealed them in private settings.  Other deep sins were noted.  But in general such flaws were rare and the spotlight was on current attitudes, current behavior, not the past.  I can think of two, and you can fill in the names, who were not haunted by their past but by their continued behavior toward women.

Here is the big problem.  It is incredibly hard to persuade well-qualified people to run for office.  The pay is lousy, the constituent demands overwhelming, the time commitment crushing, and the partisan purists in both parties nothing short of insane at times.  Add to that the chance that some misstep from 30 years back wastes all your effort, overshadows every accomplishment, and you wonder why anybody runs.

Enough.  It needs to stop now.  We need to get back to a more rational place.  If Northam toughing this out gets us there, or closer to there, then it’s a good thing.

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29 responses to “Can We Step Back And Ask, Why Not Forgive?”

  1. NorrhsideDude Avatar

    Lines have been drawn in the sand and it stinks. If you are anything but very left leaning and/or belong to a protected class you are deemed deplorable, priveleged, or worse a systemic racist. Unfortunately next to no one can live up to the new standards, which aren’t applied equally.

  2. The thing is, for me I have been unhappy with the Northam admin.

    Last year we had the Dominion TV ad blitz forcing a pro-utility financial plan onto us…but what was that all about? Voters did not hear about that until we got buried alive with Dominion TV ads. Then we had Northam’s secret plan to “conform” to federal taxes by hiking Virginia state taxes on Virginia itemizers (eg; NoVA). Can you show me another state doing that?

    This year we already have the coal ash excavation capitualtion which seems to be a sell-out. Northam is still hoping to get the tax increase he calls “conforming”. Now we have the abortion and blackface issue, and also I feel like we need RGGI like we need a hole in the head, but McAuliffe *might* have capitulated on that too…not sure. $45 tolls on I66, and we are not even done yet.

    I would call it all into question at this point.

    I had no big problem with the McAuliffe admin, they started out great/pragmatic maybe got a little too paritisan at the end.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    no shortage of irony:

    ” Gillespie Voices Support For Keeping Confederate Statues Up In New Campaign Ad

    The latest campaign ad from Gillespie against Democratic opponent Ralph Northam is anything but subtle.

    “I’m for keeping them up,” Gillespie says in the ad, referring to Confederate statues in the state. “And he’s for taking them down. And that’s a big difference.”

    Following the deadly attack, Northam said at the time that Confederate statues should be taken down. But during last month’s debate in Tysons, Northam softened his stance, and said he wouldn’t require them to be removed.

    “Personally, I think the statues would be better placed in museums with historical context,” said Northam. “But I am leaving that up to the localities.

    While Gillespie agreed that decisions regarding memorials should be up to localities, he said they should stay.

    “We don’t have to glorify the objects of the statues, we can educate about them,” said Gillespie at the debate. “We have to learn from history. And that is a difference. That’s my view that we should maintain the statues.”

    I can forgive Northam. I think he is a good man and he has spent his life helping others regardless of their race.

    But the way in which he has handled this issue …there is no other way to say it – grossly incompetent …He and his advisors had to know about this and prepared to deal with it when it blew up and instead they obviously reacted in panic. This is not how leaders handle crisis – of any kind and he has done great harm to those who believed in him.

    And this followed his botched involvement in the abortion issue – he walked right into a buzzsaw and one can only wonder what he was thinking with his words on that issue also.

    The Governor is more than one man (or woman). It’s a group of people – advisors – who, in theory, carefully consider issues, especially controversial ones, and even more so -partisan ones – before crafting responses that are defensible.

    These are not minor blunders… He drove right into the ditch…..

  4. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Steve, I would have agreed with you before the Governors last act, and before his first act. What has happened now has happened. He can’t successfully be put back together as a believable governor. Nor should he be, or try. Accountability, decency, and honorable government, requires that he step down. If he does not, matters will get far worse for all concerned. This is not about a man. It is about a state and a state government and a society worth having.

  5. Jane Twitmyer Avatar
    Jane Twitmyer

    I agree with Larry’s comment …
    and one comment I heard on TV … He didn’t stand up and talk about how his view had changed over the years, though for me the 80’s wasn’t very long ago. If he had he might be in a better position

  6. Northam’s racist background, evident from a time when he was a mature medical-school graduate, is mild relative to his newly minted willingness to kill a newborn if the mother and doctor so choose. That is infanticide by choice, not justifiable even if the child is not perfect, but consistent with the views of Northam, Tran, and most Democrats, that killing the baby just a few months earlier is also a morally justifiable choice — infanticide in the womb.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Yes, I agree, Fred. As important as these racists photographs are, the issue of infanticide is greater if only because infanticide, and that is exactly what the Virginia bill represented, is a rising threat to the foundation of our civilization. And Northam was complicit in that bill, because he did stand up and oppose it or tell the truth about its consequences, if passed, but instead he intentionally misrepresented what he had to have known was the import and dreadful consequences of that bill, if it were passed. And he is yet to step forward and tell the truth on that matter either. Instead, in his press conference toward the end, he chose to blame others for the photos and proposed to launch an investigation into the culprits behind his graduation page, yet another witch hunt.

      The last few minutes of his press conference were not only “Bizarre, those last few minutes of him talking were frightening, in the extreme. Everyone, should rewind the tape, and watch. Not excuse what he said and did, until he resigns from office.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        Correction to 2nd sentence of comment above.

        “And Northam was complicit in that bill, because he did NOT stand up and oppose it or tell the truth about its consequences, if passed, but instead he intentionally misrepresented what he had to have known was the import and dreadful consequences of that bill, if it were passed.”

    2. Lovettsville Lady Avatar
      Lovettsville Lady

      That is the issue we should be focusing on and not some 35 year old photo and Northam’s ability to moonwalk. Much of the squawking now is beginning done by the left so they don’t have to deal with the abortion/infanticide issue. Democrats know they will lose any moderate voters if they seem to be promoting killing babies just prior to, and just after birth, and yet that’s exactly what Democrats in Virginia, lead by the Governor, advocated last week.

  7. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    People who live in glass houses. Northam and the Democrats characterized Gillespie as a racist for wanting immigration laws enforced. He also, as Larry notes, made a big deal out of the Confederate statues. Having thrown a couple stones through a glass window, Northam also has to be held to an impossibly high standard. When you call someone else racist, you need to be pure as the driven snow. And appearing in blackface plus having put the photo in the yearbook makes Northam look like a melting snow pile at an intersection that’s been there for a week or so.

    Also, after confessing and apologizing, Northam, like a common crook hauled in by the cops, changed his mind and recanted his statements.

    And to top it off, he’s not a Clinton, to whom no rules apply.

  8. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    That is exactly the point, TMT – as Northam and other Democrats played the “racist” card with abandon, their own hypocrisy (always there, STILL there) simmered in the background. The lesson we should draw, to be slow with such accusations and character attacks, will sadly be lost. Perhaps he must go after all, but if he does the outcome will not be “accountability, decency and honorable government” as Reed believes. Anything but. A chance to break the cycle will have been lost, although I admit his ham-handed and tone deaf performance over the past 48 hours weakened that chance.

    I stand by my first reaction to Bacon’s first post. While others are having great fun with presumed political advantage in this, I see only a tragedy.

    Democrats are already openly polling about what is really driving their frenzy, the fear that this will hurt their chances in November.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Steve, I think you are missing by rationale behind my statement that Northam has to go if there “accountability, decency and honorable government.”

      First, I make that statement due to my belief that he lied about obvious dangers of the Infanticide bill, and supported an abomination.

      Second, his first admission and deep regret statement for the horrible KKK photo followed by his complete reversal of facts of what happened, and proclamation of innocence, stripped him of any chance of being believable.

      Third, consider what I called despicable yesterday in his press conference, and characterized today as not only “Bizarre,” but frightening in the extreme.

      What do I mean by that?

      Two very important things.

      I read the video of press conference when he gathered his forces for shifting the blame for these photos onto others, combined with his then highly dubious claims of innocence, and his sudden change of demeanor, while shifting in the political attack mode, to be the start of another nasty race baiting slur campaign for political advantage. That is the last thing Virginia needs.

      Then, making Northam’s performance at the press conference even more frightening to me was his concurrent reference to his joining in the effort fight the “White Supremacists,” during the August 12, C’ville riots. I have deeply studied the Hunton Williams report on the riots and their lead up. I have written about the lead-up including the July 8 riots that no wants to talk about. Why? Because all the rioting was done by the counter protestors, not the KKK. That is an important point remember when trying to understand what happened on August 12. The only way I can read the Hunton Williams report as to Aug. 12 events is that most all Virginia officials, including State officials, withdrew any effort to separate the counter protesters from the white supremacists and, when doing so, they insured that what happened, the resultant violence, would happen. And they had to know it would happen. And I can find no other reasonable rationale for this gross dereliction of duty save for craven political advantage. And here we have Northam at his KKK photo debacle, working the craven political stunt all over again. So, Steve, read the Hunton and William report, and see if you come to a different conclusion.

      If I had preferred to expose this very ugly piece of history, I would have done long ago. Now I have no choice. But it’s all plain to read in Hunton William report.

      So I do not think any chance to break the cycle will have been lost if Northam resigns. Instead, I believe its essential he resign so that we all have a real chance to break the cycle of hate and violence at long last.

    2. I come out the same place. Thanks for articulating so well what I struggle with, here. Others have noted what most of us feel, “I am so conflicted on this,” and “There is a lot of piling on”; but you find as well this key lesson: be slow with such accusations and character attacks. The same can be said of the Statue Debate, or Me Too versus Kavanaugh. No-one’s past is perfect; but if perfection is required of every elected official, no decent, normal citizen will ever dare to run. Indeed, we have an important opportunity — an obligation — to “break the cycle.”

      1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

        Acbar – irrespective of what happens to Northam, do you really think that the Democrats won’t be calling virtually every Republican a racist in the 2019 and 2020 elections?

        For the cycle to be broken, both sides have to change their behavior. That means no more running around talking about statues when people want to hear about traffic. No more calling people racists or unpatriotic. It won’t happen and, in large part, because the media feeds upon this stuff.

  9. musingsfromjanus Avatar

    Steve is dead right with the message of this article. Other arguments for Northam to resign aside…

    Evictions from elected office and the evisceration of the careers of men and women for purported and even unverified statements, pictures, or actions in their past is a socio-political Ebola virus exploiting ideological shibboleths like racist, misogynous, homophobic, sexist,,,- and spread by shallow, feckless politicians, pundits, SJWs, twitter and grudge-bearing owner-driven media combined with a grotesquely misdirected academia aggressively constructing the foundations for something at least as hideous as Orwell’s 1984 vision.

    It becomes more and more deadly as the body-politic grows weaker and weaker from the destruction of codes of due process, fairness, rational analysis, historical context and reason– the current trend throughout our educational systems.

    If unchecked this will be the death of democracy and principled leadership.

  10. Andrew Roesell Avatar
    Andrew Roesell

    Dear Steve,

    Something else to think about is that the hatred directed toward Governor Northam’s foolish yearbook photos is exactly the same how the Left feels toward America, and their lack of response towards his statements earlier in the week about infanticide, are their views, too. A hatred for all that America was and a cold indifference toward the protection of innocent life right now. And how can they then claim “moral superiority” toward the Klan, whose victims numbered in the thousands, while their own, in their support of abortion and infanticide, number in then tens of millions (exceeding 60 million as I understand it)? “They strain at gnats and swallow camels.” And these are the guardians of what is “acceptable” and “unacceptable” in public opinion, public service, and policy!



  11. musingsfromjanus Avatar

    A despicable and Democracy-destroying act.
    “The revelations about Ralph Northam’s racist past were absolutely driven by his medical school classmate’s anger over his recent very public support for infanticide,”

    In an effective democracy, we shape our society with reason, logic, and votes and we accept the decisions of our fellows until the next vote. If we come to a place where any tactic, method, or action to defeat or eliminate our opponents is acceptable, we destroy our society and ultimately our own voices.

  12. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    I am so conflicted on this. I initially agreed with Jim and Steve that a stupid action from 35 years ago should not override many years of good service from someone who, according to most accounts, is a good and decent man. I was disappointed that his initial statement did not include the word “ashamed”, in reference to the photograph. But, with his second statement, one has to wonder where the truth is. Did he not see the photograph before he issued the statement? If not, why issue a statement before seeing the photograph? It would be hard to forget whether one was in such a photograph, it seems to me.

    There is a lot of piling on. And as Steve points out, the Democrats’ angst may not be pure; they may be thinking of next fall’s elections. This is one of those situations where there is no good answer: stay in office at what price of credibility; or leave office and vindicate the purists.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Dick. I do not think this a partisan issue at all, not in the least. And I don’t think there is any political advantage at all to anyone here. Nor do I think there is any piling on. No body should be happy about this place we are all in. We all have to confront the reality of events, admit them, weep together and join hands, to heal wounds and rebuilt respect and trust. It is the only way to more forward. We need everyone to heal, or no one will.

  13. Perhaps the temperature would decrease by a few degrees if the General Assembly and state government in general did not seem so far removed from the reality of most Virginians 50 years old and younger.

    Poll after poll after poll keeps showing supermajorities of Virginians in favor of gun control, marijuana decriminalization, the ERA, etc. And yet, a group of less than 10 people meet in a cramped committee room and kill these initiatives year after year.

    Obviously, the walls appear to be cracking, and perhaps they give way in the 2019 elections…but until they do, I don’t think the broader sentiments that Steve describes will change. The state is “blue” to “solid blue” on so many social issues. And yet, the legislative process is perverted by gerrymandered districts that give rural and exurban voters disproportional influence.

    Steve knows this. He understands that the General Assembly is, in effect, representing about one third of the state’s positions on most social issues.

    And to pour gas on the fire, it’s been obvious to most Virginians, even those who don’t live in Augusta, Nelson, etc. that Northam and the General Assembly are basically plowing over a group of Virginians in the name of corporate Dominion cash. People in NoVa see this and are as disappointed as those in Buckingham. Dominion owns most of Richmond and the politicians are allowing them to steamroll landowners in rural Virginia.

    I think the general population might be more forgiving if they felt like politicians in Richmond represented their interests. Instead, the current state political interests (including Northam D-Dominion) seem to have zero in common with your average voter in most of the state. So long as that gulf remains, you can be sure that people will be less than forgiving.

    1. I’ve found myself agreeing on more than one occasion with someone here who calls our GA the Richmond imperial clown show. Our ICS may indeed represent only 1/3 of our population; and certainly northern Virginia isn’t in that 1/3. But times change. This November will be yet another such time and another such change. Meanwhile, let us consider how we got where we are with Mr. Northam. The RPV, that most recently asked us to choose between Kaine and Corey Stewart, offered up Gillespie to ward off Northam; not just Gillespie but a redesigned proto-Stewart hard-line Gillespie. And for that he lost again. Northam ran with the revulsion and won soundly. And since, yes, he has chosen to follow a middle path and speak to both sides, even to Dominion, and to do what has to be done to move forward with the RPV clinging to control over the GA. And yes, that has not entirely pleased the anti-ACP forces, the save-Buckingham and Nelson forces, that to my mind have also pushed the envelope of public support for the greening of Virginia’s economy. But those political judgments are not grounds for tossing out in the manner of an impeachment a good, if imperfect, man. Let’s save impeachment for officials whose conduct in office clearly warrants it.

      1. djrippert Avatar

        That’s “The Imperial Clown Show in Richmond” to distinguish it from “The Imperial Clown Show in Washington.”

        The real problem is that Ole Ralphie is just another member of the Virginia elite. Family wealth built through Eastern Shore farming using slaves. Granddaddy and Daddy were both local judges in a state where the Byrd Machine controlled the state through local officials. Needless to say the local officials who played ball with Harry Byrd were rewarded for their loyalty.

        I can’t count the number of Virginia elite I’ve met … mostly Richmond preppies at UVA. The plaid pants, the topsiders, the tales of fabulous family history (especially by that particularly pernicious breed who consider themselves to be the First Families of Virginia). They put forth a good clean image but when the hour got late and the bourbon had flowed … out came the racism. Stupid comments, bad jokes, bizarre stunts (like wearing blackface to imitate Michael Jackson).

        Scratch a member of the Byrd Machine’s rural Virginia elite and there’s a Confederate flag underneath. Scratch the Confederate flag and there’s a racist under that.

        Having said all that … being a jackass isn’t an impeachable offense. And the provision for the General Assembly to remove a sitting governor is meant for use in cases of senility or mental incapacity, not idiotic behavior from days past.

        If Ralphie wants to stay – nobody should try to use any government processes to force him out. Moral suasion is the only reasonable route for removal.

    2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      The Virginia Senate was also gerrymandered in 2011. But it was gerrymandered by the Democrats. I was having coffee with Chap Petersen before the process began. I asked him what he expected from redistricting. He told me that Democratic Senators could essentially have whatever district they wanted. That redistricting too went to, and was approved of by, the Obama DOJ.

      Of course, no one talks about this. Gerrymandering is only wrong when the GOP does it. Sort of like racist behavior. Only the GOP is racist. Ask the Post.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        Our political class stinks to high heaven.

  14. Former Va. Gov McAuliffe was on CNN with Jake Tapper, discussing the situation and saying he still feels Northam will resign. And, big AND, it sounds like McAuliffe will be running for Pres. So there’s a pragmatist who could possibly beat Trump, despite Trump saying nobody can beat him…there is one person we know.

  15. musingsfromjanus Avatar

    … Who was the white Southerner who used the N-word almost like a “connoisseur” and routinely called a landmark civil rights law “the n—– bill.”
    That was President Lyndon Baines Johnson, the greatest civil rights champion of any modern-day president.

    1. As in, it took a racist to know racism? I’ve never doubted the sincerity of Johnson’s belief that the Nation needed to move beyond Jim Crow suppression of due process of law and voting rights, needed to get the separate-but-equal mythology behind us, in order to grow as a People. He believed in civil rights for all. But that did not make him any less blunt or crude or calculating when talking about race to others, especially to avowed racists, and the evidence suggests he knew exactly how to establish rapport with the people he was up against. By comparison, the thoughtless highjinks 35 years ago of a young, pre-politics medical student are evidence of — thoughtlessness. In both cases, should we judge them by what they once said, or by what they eventually achieved?

  16. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    On the bright side, did you see the Washington Post super bowl advertisement?

    We can all break through this dark period into the sunrise of a new day. What Amazing Grace!

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