The most influential newspaper in the state of Virginia, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, has called on Governor Ralph Northam to resign after he admitted that photos from his med school yearbook showed him appearing in blackface. The paper also cited Northam’s “intemperate and careless” remarks earlier in the week on late-term abortions.
Earlier this week, Northam made remarks about late-term abortion that troubled many of his constituents. Some of the attacks against him were cynical and misleading. But the governor’s remarks on such a sensitive subject were intemperate and careless. We deserve better from our leaders, especially given the current national political environment.
But it is the revelation of a photo from his medical school yearbook page, showing a man in blackface standing next to someone dressed in Ku Klux Klan robes, that injures his standing and reputation beyond repair. We all act foolishly in our youth. But a college graduate, studying to be a physician, in a state with Virginia’s troubled racial history, should know better than to reduce that history to a callous joke. The photograph reveals a lack of adult judgment that is disturbing. It does not erase Northam’s service in the military or his compassion as a physician. It does, however, strongly suggest that he should, for the good of Virginia, step down from its highest office and allow Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax to succeed him.
The Times-Dispatch has a point about it being a lack of “adult judgment.” Northam wasn’t some stupid, drunken high school kid. He was turning 25 at the time — an age where such hijinks would be considered immature and juvenile, not to mention extraordinarily insensitive.
But whatever happened to judging a man based on the totality of his life? The same thing happened to Brett Kavanaugh, whose stellar career and model family life was completely trashed by unprovable allegations of sexual misconduct from his high school days. If you were to place that allegation on a scale, balanced against the rest of his life, how is it that one dubious accusation was enough to keep him off the Supreme Court?
Sure, we expect better from our public officials. But Northam was, by all accounts, a good and decent man who served the country, the state, and his patients admirably and with honor and compassion. Should this incident lead to his downfall? Has the rest of his life been meaningless?
I don’t have the ability to peer into Northam’s heart and soul to determine if he is truly a racist. That kind of insight is denied to all of us, which makes “racism” accusations pointless.
I daresay that all of us have something in our past that, using these standards, would disqualify us from employment, or any kind of recognition. Sadly, Northam will probably bow to the onslaught coming at him from all sides and slip away from public service — a ruined man brought low by one incident in an otherwise consequential and honorable career.