Let the record reflect that when news broke late Friday that Ralph Northam's medical school yearbook contained a picture of him in either blackface or a Klan outfit, I was the only one in the informal Free Beacon office pool to predict he'd last through the weekend. As I am now writing about sitting Virginia governor Ralph Northam on a Tuesday, I'm feeling rather pleased with myself.
What made the prediction easy is that while people can change, they tend not to. It's not as though blackface or the Ku Klux Klan were acceptable in 1984. The sort of person who was bold and shameless enough to take the photo back then is probably going to be bold and shameless enough to believe he can get away with it today.
You can make the case, as Charles Cooke does over at NRO, that the photo in isolation is not a resignation-worthy and it is "downright illiberal" to "force a resignation from a man on the grounds of a mistake he made 34 years ago." Others might counter that the photo is so racist that he cannot conceivably maintain the confidence of his constituents even decades later.
That's all been made irrelevant by the way Northam has reacted. At first, he did the right thing and apologized "for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo." But as early as Saturday morning, the Associated Press reported that Northam was privately telling Democrats that he wasn't in the photo. He then proceeded to go public with that claim, saying in a press conference, "I believe now and then that I am not either of the people in this photo."
Bizarrely, Northam then admitted that he does remember doing blackface when dressing up as Michael Jackson. "I had the shoes, I had a glove and I used just a little bit of shoe polish to put under, or on my cheeks," he said. "The reason I used a very little bit is because, I don't know if anybody has ever tried that, but you cannot get shoe polish off." Northam smiled when asked by a reporter to moonwalk, and only chose not to when his wife chimed in about the "inappropriate circumstances."
Now it's being reported that Northam has hired a private investigator to clear his name. One can only imagine how that conversation is going to go down: "I found out who spread the allegation that it was Ralph Northam in the blackface photo. It was Ralph Northam. That'll be ten grand."
It's almost irrelevant whether Northam is or was a racist when it is abundantly clear that he does not give a damn about his black constituents, or anyone but himself for that matter. He apologized—because he thought it would save his job. He backtracked—to save his job. He shows no remorse, no shame, no judgment. He's so dense, he thinks that it's somehow exculpatory to admit he once wore blackface when denying he was in a blackface photo.
At every step, Northam has indicated that he lacks the competence to govern Virginia. But it turns out the guy who would take over in his stead, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, has his own issues, with a woman alleging Monday that he sexually assaulted her when they both attended the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
Again, I'm of the opinion that a he-said, she-said sexual assault allegation with no corroborating evidence should not be career-ending. Fairfax deserves the presumption of innocence, and it is fundamentally unfair to demand his resignation over a charge that is effectively impossible to disprove.
But Fairfax then, in the span of a few hours:
- lied about The Washington Post finding inconsistencies in his accuser's story;
- accused The Washington Post of smearing him when they corrected him;
- threatened to sue The Washington Post;
- accused Northam of leaking the story;
- backtracked on that accusation;
- then accused Richmond mayor and potential 2021 gubernatorial election rival Levar Stoney of leaking the story.
Fairfax also not-too-subtly suggested race was a factor in the charges against him, saying they came during his "historic inauguration," and asking "What other major elected official in the Commonwealth of Virginia would be smeared with sexual allegations that were presented without corroboration?" Both his accuser and the man he baselessly accused of generating the story are also black.
Who, examining Fairfax's reaction, thinks he comes off like a man who could step up and competently govern?
I feel similar to the way I did last year, when MSNBC host Joy Reid found herself in hot water after crude and homophobic blog posts she made over a decade ago resurfaced. Initially, Reid apologized, saying her views had changed. After damaging blog posts kept coming, she reversed herself and implausibly blamed hackers.
"People are allowed to mature," I wrote at the time. "That the Joy Reid of 2006 was an ass is forgivable. That the Joy Reid of 2018 refuses to act like an adult and own up to her mistakes is not."
Had Northam and Fairfax responded differently to the charges against them, I might've defended them. They responded like unapologetic, arrogant jerks. That's disqualifying in itself.