Shock! I totally agree with a piece by Bret Stevens, the New York Times columnist who usually tilts too far rightward for my progressive taste.
But "Why Ralph Northam Should Not Resign" is absolutely correct in its condemnation of judging people by a few missteps that they've made, rather than the totality of the path they've taken in life.
Stevens notes that almost all of us have done things that, in retrospect, make us cringe. Here's some personal examples from the high school period of my 70-year-old life. I want to note that my behavior was shared by most of my white, middle-class friends, so I'm using "we."
-- We called anybody who seemed the least bit effeminate "faggot." Well, actually we used that term as an insult for anybody, not just possible homosexuals.
-- We used "retard" with wild abandon for anyone who had a mental disability.
-- We called our Mexican-American classmates spics, taco benders, and greasers. They had their own insulting terms for us, though spoken in Spanish.
So am I a bad person? Of course not.
Back in 1962-66, my high school years, there was virtually zero attention paid to diversity, sensitivity, political correctness. Girls took Home Economics. Boys took Shop and Mechanical Drawing. Feminism was just dawning, if not still below our horizon.
Sure, it could be argued that my inconsiderate behavior occurred when I was a teenager, not in my 20s, as was the case with Virginia Governor Ralph Northham wearing blackface. But that really isn't the point.
The question is whether society is going off the rails when there's an expectation that people in public life, such as politicians, must be held to a standard that few of us could meet.
Here's some excerpts from Stevens' opinion piece:
It’s probably for the best that Ralph Northam seems determined not to resign as governor of Virginia. He may have done something ugly and dumb many years ago, when he was a young man and prevailing notions of socially permissible behavior were uglier and dumber than they are today.
In the face of a political and reputational disaster he has stumbled badly in explaining himself. If he weathers the scandal, it will mainly be because all of his potential successors have grave compromises of their own.
In the 35 years between those two points he has, by all appearances, lived an upstanding life without a hint of racial bias. If we are going to embrace a politics where that’s not enough to save a sitting governor accused of no crime, we’re headed toward a dark place.
...each of us might want to perform an internal audit before we join the cast-the-first-stone coalition. [Stevens then cites his own history of mild bigotry.]
I admit to all of this not as a form of moral — or immoral — exhibitionism, but because I think it’s true of the overwhelming majority of people irrespective of their race or gender. (If you don’t agree, audit yourself twice.) Few of us are proud of these lapses. Many of us are trying to be considerably more mindful about them.
But most of us don’t rip ourselves to pieces over them, either.
That’s because we believe that our worst moments and dumbest utterances shouldn’t define us.
That our youthful behavior is more of a reflection of what is around us than a representation of what’s inside. That we deserve to be judged by the decency of our intentions and the totality of our deeds. That we are entitled to a presumption of innocence, a measure of forgiveness, a sense for our times, and multiple opportunities for redemption.
A poll has found that Virginians are divided on whether Northam should resign, with 47% saying he should, and 47% saying he shouldn't. It's interesting that African-Americans are more supportive of Northam than whites, with 58% wanting him to stay in office and with 37% wanting him to resign.
Now, obviously there are degrees of bad behavior.
I'd rate wearing blackface and doing a Michael Jackson imitation, the only offense Governor Northam has admitted to, as a mild infraction. But sexual assault, which Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has been accused of by two women, that's much more serious.
I'm fine with Northam apologizing and remaining as Governor. However, if Fairfax's accusers turn out to be credible, almost certainly he needs to resign.
Apologies aren't enough in many cases. Often, though, apologies are too much. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank makes this case in "The Democratic apology tour is a sorry spectacle."
He observes that Elizabeth Warren is apologizing for claiming Native American heritage. Joe Biden regrets backing tough-on-crime legislation. Kirsten Gillibrand regrets her previous pro-gun and tough-on-immigration positions. Meanwhile, Trump never apologizes for anything, even though he has done hugely more that merits an apology.
Democrats are just big on apologizing, even when this isn't justified.
Us liberals often have unduly high expectations of politicians. We want them to have hewed to an ideal of progressive purity throughout their career, even though in everyday life we all learn from our mistakes (frequently more than we learn from our successes).
So stay in office, Governor Northam. And cut down on the apologizing, fellow Democrats. No one is perfect. It makes no sense for someone to resign or apologize when at the time they supposedly erred, they had no idea that what they were doing was wrong.
Right on, I totally agree. While it may have been just as inappropriate in the 1980's it was not a subject that was discussed widely back them so people were just ignorant about it, but not maliciously so. We did not have the Internet or social media in the 80s either, making it a totally different world in terms of being able to quickly learn was is socially acceptable or offensive by other cultures. We cannot judge the past by present norms.
Posted by: Sharon | February 09, 2019 at 07:48 PM
Good points, Sharon. You're right about social media. And when it came to news, there was the nightly news and a daily newspaper, plus weeklies like TIME and Life. The times were much different back then, for sure. I remember when I got my first transistor radio sometime in high school. It seemed like a miracle, to be able to walk around with a radio playing. Now I'm sounding old... because I am.
Posted by: Brian Hines | February 09, 2019 at 07:55 PM
I didn't think he should either but given if they all resigned, it'd be a Republican taking the governor's job, I am sure the dems wouldn't want that. After watching the documentary on Netflix about Sam Cooke's life and death, I keep thinking how horrible racism has been and things that seemed innocent to whites were much more significant to blacks. A few years back, I cringed when I saw Holiday Inn one of the Astaire and Crosby musicals from way back. There is a black face number in it. There was a lot of it back then as well as painting blacks with a stereotypical brush.
I had none of the experiences with guys using terms like Brian described. I'd have dumped a boyfriend fast if I had heard those kind of insults from him toward others. Maybe I dated such guys and they saved the expressions to impress their guy pals, I think being PC can go too far but when it's cruel, then it's always been bad in my view.
Posted by: Rain Trueax | February 10, 2019 at 06:02 AM
Brian, you said: "The totality of one's life is what counts, not a few screwups"
I wish democrats gave Kavanaugh the same consideration especially when, after extensive investigation, no evidence was found in the Kavanaugh situation. The charges didn't match the man. Unfounded charges did not match the man. But in the intense 'hate Trump' psychological malignancy prevalent today, anything he does must be obstructed even if the obstruction makes no logical sense.
I hear you saying, "Yeah, but the charges against Kavanaugh were much more serious." That's right. The charges were, but not the evidence. Democrats just wanted to believe them because of their 'stop Trump at any cost' pathology. Kavanaugh was the victim of hatred of Trump. It's real hatred, unfounded in Trump's actions, but only in a perception of him due to his lack of political correctness and the perception of his crude, at times, unpresidential demeanor.
This wall thing is absurd. I live near the border. There is a flood of people coming in. Some of them are bad hombres. I've seen them in action. Tucson has one of the highest property crime rates in the country and a high violent crime rate. Many performed by illegals. That's just the way it is. You can't turn a blind eye and chant kumbayah. I know a rancher who always carries a gun because of threats, vandalism and theft on his property. The illegals stress resources and cost the taxpayer public far more than what Trump is asking. It's a no brainer. Simple. Logical. But hate prevails.. Vile, irrational hate inflamed by the prejudiced agenda of the dishonest, corrupt mainstream media. It is others, not Trump who are hateful.
Pelosi and Schumer know this. Of course they do. Schumer has made strong border security speeches in the past. Unfortunately it's all politics.
This sick hate of Trump literally trumps all logic and common sense. Of course a wall-fence-barrier is needed and will help. But Trump must be made to look bad in their minds. They hate him. They cringe at the sight of him. The mere mention of his name initiates revulsion. People have been conditioned like Pavlov's dogs. They don't want him to succeed in 2020. That's all it is. Hate and perverted politics. Not sound reason.
Posted by: tucson | February 15, 2019 at 08:33 PM