AFTER enraging voters on both the right and the left over the past few days, embattled Gov. Ralph Northam is no longer able to lead the commonwealth in any meaningful way. He should realize that he has lost his credibility and therefore his ability to govern, and resign.
Northam’s defense of a bill that would have allowed abortions to be performed in Virginia up to the point of birth was quickly followed by the equally shocking revelation that a photo of two individuals—one in blackface and one wearing a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood—was published on his 1984 medical school yearbook page.
Then, exactly one day after apologizing for appearing in the photo, Northam bizarrely denied that was him, while admitting he put “a little bit of shoe polish” on his face to appear as Michael Jackson in a dance contest in San Antonio that same year.
Were these mere mix-ups or misunderstandings, as Northam and his dwindling number of supporters would have us believe, or cracks in the carefully cultivated façade of a man lacking a moral compass, an incurable character defect that no amount of after-the-fact rationalizing or apologizing can fix?
Only he knows for sure. But his mishandling of both of these highly incendiary issues shows that he is clearly not up to the job.
The governor’s self-inflicted political immolation started last Thursday during a radio interview on WTOP, when he was asked about a bill patroned by Del. Kathy Tran, D–Fairfax, and co-sponsored by 22 House Democrats, that would have, according to Tran’s own testimony, removed all restrictions on late-term abortions–until and even during the natural birth process.
During the interview, which went viral, Northam, a pediatric neurologist, endorsed Tran’s bill, clarifying that if the laboring mother decided at the last minute that she wanted an abortion, the full-term baby would be delivered alive and “kept comfortable” while the physician and the mother had “a discussion” on what to do next. That seemed to support infanticide, which is a Class 4 felony under current Virginia law.
Shortly afterwards, the website Big League Politics reported that it found the racist photo, which also went viral, that had been published on Northam’s Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook page after receiving a tip. According to the Washington Post, “the source of the tip appears to have been a medical school classmate or classmates of Northam who acted as a direct result of the abortion controversy that erupted earlier in the week.”
On Friday, the governor admitted that he was one of the individuals in the racially offensive photo and apologized, stating that “I am deeply sorry for the decision to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now.”
But during a press conference the very next day, Northam repeatedly walked back his own apology, telling reporters in Richmond that he wanted to “set the record straight” by claiming that, “I am not either of the people in that photo.”
So the governor wants Virginians to believe that he apologized for something he didn’t do, using the excuse that “it has taken time to make sure that that is not me.”
We’re not buying it, and neither are members of Northam’s own party, including the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, the Virginia Democratic Party, Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, and the Democratic National Committee, all of which have called for his resignation.
More likely, it took time for Northam to realize the enormity of his blunder and try to come up with what he thought was a plausible excuse to save his political hide.
That said, we deplore the rush to judgment that is becoming increasingly common in our society. People accused of terrible offenses, especially those that allegedly happened decades ago, deserve the presumption of innocence, the benefit of the doubt, or an opportunity to explain.
But Northam’s credibility was compromised by his own words, and whatever possibility he had to rebuild trust with Virginians was seriously damaged by his strange news conference Saturday. That he has had a distinguished career as a soldier, physician and public servant makes his swift political destruction at his own hands all the more tragic.
All politicians are flawed human beings who sometimes make grave mistakes. When they sincerely admit it (which Northam initially appeared to do) they deserve forgiveness and a chance for redemption. But that doesn’t mean they deserve to remain in high public office. Northam should now do what’s best for the commonwealth and resign.