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.