Virginia Gov. Northam Cannot Recover From Racist Yearbook Depiction

By Daily Editorials

February 7, 2019 4 min read

There is no question that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam needs to resign. On Friday, the Democrat admitted to appearing in a 1984 medical school yearbook photo that depicted one man in blackface and another dressed in a Ku Klux Klan costume. That should have ended the discussion.

Then on Saturday, Northam recanted, declaring he was not in the photo. But he confessed to once putting shoe polish on his face while dressed as Michael Jackson. Northam almost demonstrated his "moonwalk" routine before his wife smartly intervened.

He still refuses to resign despite overwhelming condemnation from Democrats and Republicans alike, both within Virginia and across the country.

An ugly trend later developed as some Democrats quietly began pumping the brakes. One was former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, who tweeted, "The choice of his continuing in office is his to make."

Other leading Democrats, including Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine and Rep. Robert C. Scott, also sat on the fence until after the Saturday press conference. All but Fairfax issued calls for Northam's resignation.

As Northam's would-be successor, Fairfax was probably correct to stay out of the fray. During months of controversy in Missouri surrounding Gov. Eric Greitens, then-Lt. Gov. Mike Parson also avoided commentary.

Former Virginia Rep. Jim Moran called for "redemption," not resignation: "Even if the worst-case scenario is true, is it not possible that the power of redemption might present an even greater opportunity for Virginia to heal from its original sin? ... He asks for a chance to learn from his failings and prove who he is today."

The issue isn't whether Northam is redeemable. It's whether he can continue to lead Virginia — a state struggling mightily to tamp down its image as a haven for white supremacists — after exposure for having immersed himself in that very world.

Democrats cannot credibly claim to champion equality for women and minorities if they also appear to defend Northam's continuation in office. Had any Republican been exposed for having this kind of past behavior, the Democratic outrage would be immediate, unanimous and deafening. Whatever work Northam has done to promote African-American issues seems more than artificial against the context of disrespect depicted on his yearbook page.

Virginia Democrats are no more anxious to see their governor resign in disgrace than were Missouri Republicans when a succession of scandals paralyzed Greitens' administration. But there comes a time to recognize the political reality.

Northam is hobbled. He cannot realistically request patience from the people of Virginia while he tries to redeem himself on taxpayer time. Every time he appears in public henceforth, that yearbook page will come back to haunt him. It's time to call it quits.


Photo credit: at Pixabay

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