Ralph Northam Panders to Save His Own Skin

Mr. Sincerity

by Hans Bader

It’s unsavory for a politician to try to buy forgiveness from those he has offended with taxpayer dollars. But that is what Virginia Governor Ralph Northam is doing. In an interview with the Washington Post, he announced plans to spend more money on government programs like “affordable housing” in the name of racial “equity” and fighting “white privilege.”

How this would actually benefit black people is unclear. Many wasteful and destructive programs exist in the name of “affordable housing.” Cities like Detroit have blighted and decaying public housing projects that consumed taxpayer money only to end up producing concentrated crime and poverty. One national “affordable housing” program produced 50 rapidly decaying slums, according to the Los Angeles Times.

As Jazz Shaw notes, Northam’s aides are also “saying that he will be focused on things like new legislation to enforce diversity and equality along with pushing through new funding for Virginia’s five historically black colleges and universities.”

Northam plainly hopes that new government spending will purchase goodwill from black voters offended by the revelation that his medical-yearbook page contained a racist depiction of a hooded member of the Ku Klux Klan — and that he performed in blackface as a young man and had the racially derogatory nickname “Coonman.” (Ironically, a Washington Post poll shows that many black voters don’t care what Northam did in his youth, and 39% are not offended by the revelations.)

Middle class people may not be happy to see their income taxes go up to pay for such programs, after the Democrats take control of the Virginia legislature in 2019 — as analysts expect them to do, thanks partly to court-ordered redistricting that favors Democrats. But Northam is plainly hoping that his big-government proposals will help him with the Democratic base. That could help him limp to the end of his term in January 2022, by quieting calls for his resignation from fellow Democrats.

Northam is also seeking to shore up public support after he was criticized by many for condoning infanticide. As Scott Jennings described in USA Today, Northam made remarks on the radio “advocating for abortion after delivery.” As CNN reported, Northam “is facing backlash after he voiced his support for a state measure that would significantly loosen restrictions on late-term abortions” that are conducted in the “third trimester.” In his remarks to Washington’s WTOP radio station, Northam was discussing the provision of an abortion after birth — in his words, after the “infant would be delivered.”

In essence, Northam is trying to atone for his own sins by using the tax dollars of other people. He is trying to make amends using other people’s money, which is an abuse of his position.

The Washington Post quotes Northam about expanding access by “minority-owned businesses” to “state contracts.” That’s probably a euphemism for expanding racial set-asides in Virginia government contracts. But Northam’s own embarrassing past behavior is not a constitutionally valid reason for Virginia state government to have racial set-asides in contracts.

The Supreme Court has said that racial set-asides in contracts are only permissible to remedy the present effects of the government’s own widespread discrimination in the relatively recent past. Government officials can’t adopt a racial set-aside, or other racial preference, to remedy discrimination from the distant past, like Northam being a racist back in the 1980s. Even when the government is remedying the present effects of its own past discrimination, discrimination that happened twenty or thirty years ago is too old to justify giving minorities a racial preference, according to the courts. (See, e.g., Brunet v. Columbus, 1 F.3d 390 (6th Cir. 1993) (appeals court rules that gender discrimination that occurred 17 years ago does not support affirmative action today); Hammon v. Barry, 813 F.2d 412 (D.C. Cir. 1987) (appeals court rules that racial discrimination that occurred 14 years ago does not support affirmative action today)).

Also, widespread discrimination, not just a few individual instances of discrimination, has to be shown to justify using race, according to judges. (See, e.g., Middleton v. City of Flint, 92 F.3d 396, 405 (6th Cir. 1996)).

So even if Northam’s racist yearbook page were deemed discrimination by the state of Virginia — as opposed to Northam’s own misbehavior as a private citizen — it wouldn’t be a justification for a racial preference or set-aside by Virginia’s government today. Also, the mere fact that Northam wore blackface as a young man, however stupid and racist that may have been, doesn’t constitute illegal racial discrimination. In fact, the federal appeals court in Richmond has twice ruled that wearing blackface is expression protected by the First Amendment, when it is done by a student, or an off-duty government employee. (See Iota Xi Chapter of Sigma Chi Fraternity v. George Mason University, 993 F.2d 386 (4th Cir. 1993) (appeals court ruled that blackface skit by students was protected speech); Berger v. Battaglia, 779 F.2d 992 (4th Cir. 1985) (appeals court ruled that blackface performances by state employee off duty were protected speech)).

Stupid and racist it may be, but a hate crime it is not.

Virginia already has racial set-asides in some areas of government contracting. Those set-asides have largely avoided being stuck down despite their dubious constitutionality because of legal “standing” requirements that make it difficult to get courts to rule on constitutional challenges. The federal appeals court in Richmond, unlike most federal appeals courts, usually doesn’t let contractors associations have associational standing to challenge such set-asides. In its Maryland Highway Contractors Association decision, it claimed that such associations have a conflict of interest among their white and non-white members. Meanwhile, individual white contractors often can’t sue over an unconstitutional racial preference because a challenge to the denial of an individual contract can quickly become moot after it expires or is performed.

So if Virginia expands racial set-asides in government contracts, it may be years before anyone manages to challenge that in court.

Hans Bader, a senior attorney at the Competitive Enterprise Institute until 2017, lives in Arlington. This essay was published first in the Liberty Unyielding website.

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12 responses to “Ralph Northam Panders to Save His Own Skin

  1. Observant Democrats and Republicans know that the weapons of racial insensitivity and #MeTo are about defeating and destroying Republicans and non-liberals and deserve very different treatment if a Democrat is so ensnared.

    Nevertheless, who thought the Black Caucus and the SJW Twitter mob would let Northam and crew off without extracting some goodies? The Caucus owns Northam now and probably Fairfax for what it’s worth. It would have happened anyway; but the gates have opened wider for a parade of social-re-engineering projects and who knows what other kinds of pandering (a good word) over the rest of his term.

  2. Geeze.. there is ample evidence that Northam supported a diverse litany of issues/policies that affected blacks BEFORE the election – removal of Confederate statues (Herring also), refundable EITC, affordable housing, affordable tuition, eviction reform, criminal justice reform, and Medicaid.

    But see, the GOP really does considers most all of these things “pandering” anyhow… you know…. that virtue signaling thing.. and all that ROT…. !!!

    Rather than actually deal with some of these issues itself as a party – they prefer to distract by pointing at the Dems “pandering” and then they select folks like Corey Stewart to carry their banner.

    Of course.. all of this is the Dems “fault” with Northam in charge of “pandering” … blah blah blah…

    yet another mindless hit piece to keep the goobers happy…..

    Oh.. and black folks also read these hit pieces… and gain more insight into the thinking of the GOP in Virginia , … not pretty… and they have worked hard to earn that moniker “Clown Show”. Their response to the courts saying the districts are racially drawn? Well, of course, the judge is a “liberal”… and they’re gonna appeal to the SCOTUS ! Guess how black folks feel about this…..

    so .. by accusing Northam of pandering.. they hope to get votes? 😉

    • Isn’t it somewhat ironic to see a guy who had or almost had two degrees and was going to practice medicine but still appeared in blackface opposing statues memorializing Confederate generals? Especially when he grew up in Virginia and had to know the history of race relations in the Old Dominion. It’s more of Northam denying his personal responsibility and trying to shift the blame others (who must all be white “red necks” that Hillary would have called “deplorables”) who, for whatever reason want to keep the statues.

      And then he wants to repent for Virginia’s sins by spending more tax dollars. Northam has the integrity of Al Capone. He’s trying to save his neck based on the fact that many Democratic voters, including blacks, believe Northam’s appearance in blackface is acceptable solely because he is a Democrat.

  3. all that ROT!!!…blah,blah,blah… mindless hit piece,,,goobers happy…your guys is worse than our guy…
    What credentials or logic support such calculated puerile snark and contempt?
    Northam is obviously pandering as hard as he can for better or worse. Whether or not he would have done the same without his serial faux pax might be an interesting question for some but is not very relevant to the post.

  4. Consider the source here. The Competitive Enterprise Institute is a hard-right outfit that denies climate change.

  5. Writing in the Wall Street Journal today, columnist William McGurn makes some related points:

    Mr. Northam’s road to public redemption highlights the blight of a modern politics that rewards offenders less for genuine contrition than for striking politically correct poses. That’s what Mr. Northam did when he told the Washington Post he’s planning “sensitivity training” for his cabinet, and what his staffers did when they leaked that his reading list now includes Alex Haley’s “Roots” and “The Case for Reparations,” a 2014 essay in the Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

    Northam used black face 35 years ago, and how his staff needs sensitivity training?

    And his quest for better historical understanding includes reading “Roots“? The book has been panned for the vast number of fraudulent claims. I’ll never forget watching a scene in the TV production of white slavers in the jungles of West Africa escorting enslaved Africans to the coast. Such a thing NEVER happened. The Guinea Coast was called the “white man’s graveyard” for the diseases that afflicted Europeans living in forts on the coast. Whites rarely entered the interior. Trading slaves for guns and other goods, African chiefs and kings did all the raiding and enslaving of other Africans. The history of West Africa sin the 1600s and 1700s is largely the history of the rise of these kingdoms.

    “In other words, a Southern white male governor now intends to buy forgiveness by demonstrating how woke he is. For those who hoped the yearbook episode might be an occasion to damp down the identity-politics furies, it’s now clear that Mr. Northam intends to make offerings to them—and lecture the rest of us about white privilege.

    ” Instead of taking personal responsibility for his actions—he still hasn’t given a good explanation for how that photo came to be on his yearbook page—he apparently believes he can mute criticism by moving left.”

    One group Northam is not apologizing to is Ed Gillespie and his followers, the target of attack ads insinuating they are racist. Northam’s apology tour, which will take him to Virginia Union University, means apologizing to the Left for offenses committed 35 years ago, not to conservatives for libels committed two years ago.

  6. In dictionaries I have consulted, “pandering” has the connotation of appealing to someone’s “ignoble”, “immoral”, or “distasteful” desires. In his interview, Northam touched on several concerns of the black community that he said he would like to look at: access to education, access to health care, access to state contracts, infant and maternal mortality, public transportation, etc. The author of this post focused on affordable housing and access to state contracts. Would he contend that the desires for affordable housing and access to state contracts are “ignoble”, “immoral”, or “distasteful”?

    Yes, affordable housing is a tough nut to crack and efforts in the past to address it have led to disastrous results. But, that does not mean that we should stop trying. We need to learn from past mistakes. Measures to increase income (education, higher minimum wages, perhaps?) might be a more productive approach.

    Rather than pandering, I see Northam as trying to see past his blind spots and address the legitimate needs of his black constituents. However, these are entrenched problems that call for long-term approaches. And he is in danger of botching his efforts by going for catchy stuff like “sensitivity training”, reading “Roots”, and taking apology tours that have more PR value than intrinsic value. (James Hohmann of the Washington Post, after consulting with historians, compiled a much better reading list for the Governor.) He should stop listening to his advisers, who have ill-served him in this whole mess, and focus on meaningful actions. The Legislative Black Caucus has given him a hint of where he needs to go by flexing its leverage and getting some attention paid to its long-term budget priorities, some of which the Governor had included in his introduced budget proposals.

    • Dick – should all the state legislators from both parties simply abandon their duties to their constituents and enact laws and budgets that allow Northam to buy his way out of the political doghouse (to be kind) with taxpayer money irrespective of the merits and effectiveness of the legislation or program?

      One could make a very good case that, given NoVA’s massive tax subsidies to RoVA that enables basic government functions to be performed with extremely low local taxes, African Americans living in NoVA would be better off with fewer state tax dollars heading south and west. Their quality of life might well be better with more of their tax dollars spend where they live. They might be better off with lower state taxes and higher disposable income.

      Northam has proven that he is a low-life. His attempts to spend taxpayer money for programs designed to get him out of a bad situation for which he is totally responsible is the icing on the cake.

  7. Jim,
    Have you ever considered doing your own Apology Tour? A few topics: autism, denying climate change, Dominion and portraying Mexicans as Outer Space aliens wearing sombreros.

  8. Ralph Northam on his present course will only make matters far worse. He has not clue as to how to deal with these chronic problems.

    Ralph Northam knows only how to repeat past mistakes that have over the past 50 years made these social problems far far worse. He thinks he is going to gain redemption (translate that into holding on to his own power for his own personal advantage) by his buying his redemption with other peoples’ money, the money of other Virginians. This is an insult to all Virginians, no matter their race, class, or ethnicity. The only way this problem will be solved is by a vast cultural shift in our society, a cultural shift demanded of all of us. The first and most critical component of that shift must be that no one here is going buy off, shake down, show preference for, pander to, or pay off, other people or groups of people. No more money can shift hands to turn this sick ship and its sick society around. Instead a new spirit must shift all of us together. All else is demeaning and insulting to all involved. As FDR said long ago now, “we have nothing to fear but fear itself”. And I would add that there is nothing more to give each other but love, understanding and respect. None of that can ever be bought with money and/or false promises. It does however requires honesty, morals, accountability, responsibility, and equal opportunity by and for everyone, no more and no less.

  9. “The essence of racism, and the reason we find it wicked, is that it falsely extrapolates from the individual to the group and from the group to the individual. It is an especially pernicious form of collectivism, striking as it does against the notion of personal responsibility which is the basis of western civilization. It judges people not by their intelligence, their kindness, their generosity, their honesty, or their courage, but by their physiognomy. Our personal characteristics are overlooked in favor of the IMAGINED characteristics of our group …

    What is wrong with this idea? … It holds that Person X is responsible for the misdeeds of Person Y, even if Person X has never met never met or even heard of Person Y. Indeed, if anything, it is more absurd even than that. It judges Person X not by the actions of Person Y, but by those of Person A who lived many years ago and whose moral code reflected his own age rather than ours. This notion is so Preposterous that it barely merits servious refutation.” See Dan Hannan, The Continuing Creep of Social Injustice, found in Washington Examiner, February 12, 2019. Emphasis Added in quote.

    Mr. Hannan’s comment also raises the important question of who exactly are the racists and bigots in American society today?

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